6 November 2003, Volume 2, Number 39
ASSESSING THE DRAFT CONSTITUTION (Part 1): PRESIDENTIAL POWERS AND THE ROLE OF RELIGIONBy Amin Tarzi
The Afghan Constitutional Commission unveiled its official draft of a proposed constitution on 3 November. Nematullah Shahrani, chairman of the 35-member Constitutional Commission, stressed that the 12-chapter, 160-article document is "not the final and complete" version. During the unveiling ceremony the same day, Shahrani explained that after the consulation process is completed and a text is approved by the Constitutional Loya Jirga in December, the resulting document will become the country's new constitution.
One Afghan official boldly declared that the draft constitution had been crafted with the stability of Afghanistan in mind for the next two centuries. However, critics have suggested that the document in its current format has been tailored to grant Afghan Transitional Chairman Hamid Karzai the power to consolidate his rule after a possible victory in the presidential elections scheduled for June 2004.
Issues related to the current draft constitution that might present a challenge at the Loya Jirga -- or in the event of a smooth approval process, might prove difficult to implement given the current realities in Afghanistan -- include the powers of the president, the role of religion, rights for women, and the monopoly over the use of force.
In the first of a two-part series, we will review the powers of the president and the role of religion. (In Part 2, we will study the rights of women and the monopoly over the use of force.)
Powers Of The PresidentThe current draft envisages a strong presidential system, arguably similar to that of the United States, but without the checks and balances of the U.S. system.
The Afghan president would enjoy virtually unlimited power under the document as it currently stands. The Afghan president chooses his or her own vice presidential candidate, for instance, but the draft is unclear about whether the two run on a joint ticket or the vice president is nominated by the president. The removal of the president may only be effected through a seemingly implausible chain of events. The process can be set into motion with a one-third vote in the Wolesi Jirga (House of People) in which those representatives accuse the president of crimes against humanity, treason, or another, unspecified crime. Only then may a sitting head of state be officially charged, with a subsequent two-thirds of the same Wolesi Jirga required to convict the president. Following a guilty vote, the Wolesi Jirga must convene a loya jirga (or grand assembly), at which the accused president may be dismissed with a two-thirds majority.
Under any circumstances aside from the question of his own dismissal, the president has the power to convene a loya jirga, which, according to the draft constitution, would comprise members of both houses of the Melli Shura (National Assembly) and also chairmen of the provincial and district councils. While the election or selection process of such council members is unclear in the draft constitution, the president is granted the power to select one-third of the members of the upper house, the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders) -- giving the president formidable powers and influence in governance.
In the light of Afghanistan's recent past -- when under the mujahedin governments of 1992-96 the president and the prime minister were waging war in the streets of Kabul and elsewhere in the country -- the proposition of having a single center of power appears logical (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2003). However, there is a danger that the individual elevated to that position might not possess the good intentions of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, but rather those of a despot. In such a case, the constitution as drafted could be manipulated to create a virtual autocracy with democratic trimmings.
Role Of ReligionAmong the most divisive issues in virtually all seven constitutions drafted for Afghanistan since 1923 has been the role of religion -- namely Islam -- in the affairs of the state.
To be sure, Articles 1-3 of the current draft constitution touch on the role of Islam in Afghanistan. Article 1 declares the country to be "an Islamic Republic." Article 2 establishes Islam as the religion of the country and affords freedom of worship to followers of other religions "within the limits of the provisions of law." Article 3 stipulates that "no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam" and the values enshrined in the constitution. Additional roles given to Islam in the draft constitution are the requirements that the president and vice president be Muslim, and that no political party may have a charter "contrary to the principle of the sacred religion of Islam."
But despite labeling the country "an Islamic Republic," Article 4 (following the example of the 1964 Afghan Constitution) stipulates that "national sovereignty in Afghanistan belongs to the nation." In establishing the sovereignty of the people -- and not of God -- the draft can fundamentally be viewed as a secular document. By comparison, Afghan's two officially Islamic neighbors do not grant sovereignty to the people. The preamble to the 1973 Pakistani Constitution proclaims that "sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone." The 1979 Iranian Constitution links the foundation of the Islamic republican regime to the "exclusive sovereignty of Allah."
Moreover, and most importantly, the draft constitution does not elevate sharia (Islamic jurisprudence) to the position of the source of all laws in the country. An Islamic state or republic in the true sense of the term is distinguished from other forms of states according to whether or not sharia is afforded the status as the main source of the law. In fact, many countries with Muslim majorities today have adopted a combination of sharia and secular law.
The Afghan draft constitution as it stands does not anywhere refer directly to "sharia," although there is one rather vague reference to a sharia-based issue. Article 131 states that "courts will apply Shi'a school of jurisprudence in cases dealing with personal matters" involving Shi'a Muslims. Two uncertainties are raised by the clause, which is the only reference to a sharia-related matter. First, there is no mention of which school of jurisprudence would apply for those who are not Shi'a. Since most Afghans are followers of the Hanafi Sunni school, it might be inferred that the drafters of the constitution assumed that the Hanafi school would apply to Sunnis in Afghanistan. But this detail must be specified in the final draft in order to avoid misinterpretation. Secondly, it is unclear whether sharia is to be applied in all "cases dealing with personal matters," or only if the parties to the dispute request it. These roles -- of the Sunni and Shi'a schools of jurisprudence -- unless clarified in the constitution, could lead to serious legal disputes and disagreements down the road.
The most dangerous legislation here regarding the role of religion remains Article 3, however, because it might easily be used by conservative religious forces to undermine legislators that they deem to be "un-Islamic." The interpretation of which laws might be "contrary to...Islam" is an open-ended proposition that is not immune to abuse.
Expectations And RealitiesIn the last seven decades, Afghanistan has not experienced a regular transfer of power outside of President Sebghatullah Mujaddedi reluctantly relinquishing power as part of a United Nations plan in 1992. Each new ruler has tried to change the constitution. Today, with foreign assistance, the country has a chance to become a viable state in which the rule of law and respect for international norms would determine the future -- not the rule of the gun. The current draft constitution, while idealistic and tailored to today's needs on the ground for the establishment of a viable central authority, unfortunately risks becoming a tool of future despots or tyrants.
Afghan constitutional history has also clearly illustrated that Islam is a central fact of life for the people of Afghanistan and, as such, must be represented and respected in any constitution created for the country. This draft attempts to strike a balance between secular statehood and Islamic tradition and values. Yet, at the same time, it risks losing acceptance by both the Islamist and the more secular sides.
Afghanistan's experience suggests that not only is the content of a constitution important, but how and by whom -- and in what historical context -- it is drafted and implemented. Islamic symbols and references, if used in a constructive and non-exclusionary manner, may allow governmental authorities to utilize the constitution to transform Afghanistan into a functioning and inclusive nation-state in which most people feel they are citizens regardless of their ethnicity or religion. Only then will the people of Afghanistan collectively have a vested interest in normalcy and in improving the conditions of society after so many years of internal strife and warfare.
AFGHANISTAN UNVEILS NEW DRAFT CONSTITUTION.At a formal ceremony in Kabul on 3 November, Afghan Constitutional Commission Chairman Nematullah Shahrani handed copies of that draft document to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, former Afghan King Mohammad Zaher and the UN's special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi.
The draft was originally supposed to be made public on 1 September (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 September 2003.
"Praise be to God that we offer today, in the presence of all of you, the national document of the Afghan people, which is the draft constitution of the Islamic Transitional Administration of Afghanistan," Shahrani said. Publication of the draft constitution is considered a key step toward defining a political system and the role of Islam in the country.
Under the internationally backed Bonn Agreement on post-Taliban reforms, the draft constitution is to be debated and voted on in December month by a 500-member Constitutional Loya Jirga. Approval of the document by the Loya Jirga is needed to create the legal framework for democratic elections tentatively scheduled for June.
But UN officials and nongovernmental organizations have warned that those elections could be threatened by clashes between the militias of factional warlords, as well as by the resurgence of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.
Among those to issue such a warning is Germany's UN ambassador, Gunter Pleuger. He arrived in Kabul on 2 November (see below) as part of a UN Security Council delegation that is investigating the implementation of the two-year-old Bonn accords.
"The biggest problem is security. Without security, it won't be possible to prepare the elections so that they can take place in June. And without security, of course, political and economic reconstruction is difficult. Therefore, our biggest concern is the implementation of security in order to put the Bonn process into place," Pleuger said.
A variety of divisive issues emerged recently over the draft, including how power will be split among the branches of government, the role of former Afghan King Mohammad Zaher, and the role that Islam will play within Afghanistan's legal system.
Correspondents and political analysts say these issues sparked serious behind-the-scenes negotiations during the last two months. Publicly, Afghan officials blamed "technical issues" for repeated delays in releasing the draft document.
Constitutional Commission member Shukrya Barakzai said the draft outlines a strong role for the Afghan president and a bicameral legislature. She said it calls for the president to be directly elected by the Afghan people rather than face a vote in parliament. The president also would have the power to dissolve and appoint the cabinet "with consultation from parliament."
The draft also says the president will nominate half of the members of the upper house of parliament -- known as the Meshrano Jirga, or House of Elders. The lower chamber of parliament will be called the Wolesi Jirga, or House of the People.
Significantly, Barakzai said the draft does not envisage a post of prime minister. That development follows a preliminary draft leaked to the press in September, which had suggested power would be shared between a prime minister and a president.
Today's draft also recognizes the importance of Islam in Afghan society but stops short of introducing Islamic law, or sharia, as the basis of criminal law.
While the former king has not been given any administrative powers under the draft document, he is recognized as the "Father of Afghanistan." At today's ceremony, Zaher Shah stressed the importance of national unity and a society that is free from oppression and violence. "I hope that this constitution guides the people of Afghanistan toward prosperity and happiness," he said. "I wish that this constitution should be based on Islamic laws and democracy, and I ask God for prosperity for the people of Afghanistan forever."
However, the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch is warning that security concerns could undermine the legitimacy of the Constitutional Loya Jirga that is due to approve the final version of the constitution. The process of selecting the Constitutional Loya Jirga began last month in regional centers around the country. Representatives of last year's Emergency Loya Jirga have been meeting to decide who the 500 delegates will be for next month's gathering.
John Sifton, a researcher on Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch, told RFE/RL recently that Loya Jirga candidates who want to enshrine human rights in the constitution are being threatened by warlords and their militia fighters. "That does not allow an open debate," he said. "That just allows one side -- the side with the guns, the side with the power -- to write the constitution. Literally."
Human Rights Watch conducted dozens of interviews last month to document cases in which regional military commanders and militia fighters allegedly have issued death threats against Loya Jirga candidates and regional representatives. (Ron Synovitz)
DRAFT CONSTITUTION IS POSTED ON INTERNET.The Afghan Constitutional Commission posted its draft constitution on its website (http://www.constitution-afg.com) on 3 November. The website contains the official draft in Pashto and Dari languages, as well as an unofficial English translation of the document. (Amin Tarzi)
PUBLIC DEBATE ON CONSTITUTION MOVES INTO FULL SWING.Thousands of copies of Afghanistan's draft constitution are being sent to remote parts of the country as authorities seek input from ordinary citizens ahead of next month's Constitutional Loya Jirga.
Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told RFE/RL on 4 November that views expressed by Afghans during the next month could be incorporated into a final draft. "Lots of work has been done on Afghanistan's constitution and its different aspects. People's views have been largely reflected, and now people have the opportunity to study the text of the constitution," Abdullah said. "And, finally, the representatives of the people in the future [Constitutional] Loya Jirga, God willing, will express their final opinion about the different articles of Afghanistan's constitution."
In fact, the release of the draft surprised many of those who had seen an earlier working version of the text. That version had suggested a government in which power would be split between a president and a prime minister. "The New York Times" reported as recently as 19 October that such a system was still expected.
But the draft released this week does not provide for an Afghan prime minister. Instead, it appears to centralize authority under a stronger presidency with powers that span the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
For example, the Afghan president would appoint cabinet ministers, a central bank chief, and the nine Supreme Court judges, with the approval of parliament. The president also would appoint one-third of the deputies in the upper chamber of the bicameral parliament. As the commander in chief of the Afghan armed forces, the president would be able to declare wars and cease-fires, again with the approval of the legislature. Presidential authority also would include the power to appoint and dismiss lower-level judges, military and national-security officers, police and other officials -- without any vote in parliament.
Sidiqullah Patman, a member of the Afghan Constitutional Commission, defends the idea of such strong presidential powers. In an interview with RFE/RL, Patman said the draft constitution aims to avert the kind of internal fighting that destroyed much of Kabul during the early 1990s when one faction controlled a powerful prime minister's post and a rival faction controlled the presidency.
"This would benefit the people and Afghanistan's national interest. It is possible that at some later stage the people in Afghanistan may want a regime with a prime minister," Patman said. "This is conceivable if we have developed a mature democracy by that time. But at the present stage, a system with a prime minister would open the door to a series of small [political] factions that could cause some nuisances."
Ratification of a constitution is a key aspect of the internationally backed Bonn process on post-Taliban Afghan reforms. A new constitution is needed to create the legal infrastructure for presidential elections scheduled for June.
Amin Tarzi, a regional analyst for RFE/RL who specializes in the history of Afghan constitutional law, said he agrees that reforms in the country could benefit from such a strong presidency. But Tarzi warned that the proposal could backfire if Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai fails to win next year's elections.
"This constitution, under the circumstances right now, seems to be a Karzai-tailored constitution which will foresee Hamid Karzai as the next president of Afghanistan -- as a benevolent autocrat with some sort of checks and balances for the future," Tarzi said. "Therefore, if President Karzai is elected next June, this could be something good. However, if somebody else takes [office under] this constitution as it stands, [they] could become a virtual dictator."
Tarzi also notes numerous loopholes and omissions in the draft document that he says could lead to behind-the-scenes political wrangling at the Loya Jirga. "[The issue of having both a president and a prime minister] may be one of those things that could be debated. Maybe they will add one more vice president, because this was talked about [in the past]. They may change the vice president to a prime minister as a way to get this thing passed through the Loya Jirga. There may have been some voids [intentionally] created just to have a certain degree of bargaining power [during the Loya Jirga]," Tarzi said.
John Sifton, a researcher on Afghanistan for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, told RFE/RL that the draft Afghan constitution appears to contain largely symbolic language on key issues -- including the protection of human rights. "The language is good on human rights, but language doesn't protect human rights. Institutions do. And what we don't have in this constitution is a strong indication that there will be institutions to guard human rights," Sifton said.
For example, Sifton said, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission is not given the power to initiate legal proceedings against alleged war criminals, to subpoena witnesses or investigate alleged abuses in depth and seek remedies.
"The people who have the most to fear from these provisions are not stupid men. They know very well that they can be sidelined in the future because of their pasts. Some of these men were involved not just in small-scale atrocities but enormous atrocities which took place in the early 1990s -- the era when Kabul city itself was destroyed," Sifton said. "They know that if those crimes come to light, they will not only be politically damaged but they could be pushed out [of government]. That language [on a stronger Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission] did not make it into the draft. That's no accident. There were people who wanted that language gone -- and they won."
Sifton believes it is too early to raise concerns about the issue of power being centralized under the Afghan presidency, particularly, he says, considering the fractured political landscape that exists in the country after two decades of war. (Ron Synovitz)
WOMEN'S RIGHTS GROUP DISSATISFIED WITH DRAFT CONSTITUTION.In a statement released on 4 November, the New York-based rights group Women for Afghan Women said it is "disappointed that Afghanistan's newly released draft constitution is weak in its affirmation of women's rights." The statement said the organization's "overriding concern is that the draft constitution, with its heavy reliance on Islam, leaves the law of the land vulnerable to extremist religious interpretations that are in opposition to women's human rights." (Amin Tarzi)
FORMER AFGHAN PRESIDENT'S PARTY SAYS CONSTITUTION COULD LEAD TO DICTATORSHIP.Jamiat-e Islami, the party of former Afghan President Rabbani, said on 4 November in a statement that it believes the draft constitution gives "excessive powers to the president and that this would bring about a dictatorial system" in Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported. (Amin Tarzi)
DATE SET FOR CONSTITUTIONAL LOYA JIRGA.According to Faruk Wardak, head of the Secretariat of the Constitutional Commission, the Constitutional Loya Jirga will be begin on 10 December, the Kabul daily "Anis" reported on 26 October. According to Wardak, the venue for the Loya Jirga will be the gymnasium of Kabul Polytechnic Institute. Originally the gathering was scheduled to be held in October and the draft of the constitution made public by 1 September (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 September 2003). With the Loya Jirga a little more than a month away, the public has yet to see the draft of the constitution. (Amin Tarzi)
JUSTICE MINISTER BACKS 'POLITICAL COMPETITION.'In a speech on 25 October, Justice Minister Abdul Rahim Karimi appealed to Afghan political parties to engage in "political competition" and to shun violence and the use of weapons and to exercise "forgiveness" and "tolerance," RFE/RL reported. Citing German scholar Max Weber, he called elections "a son of democracy" and promised that the Transitional Administration of Chairman Karzai will "pave the way" for them. Speaking in front of representatives of emerging political forces and of the international community at the inauguration of a new Kabul office of the National Democratic Institute, Karimi also announced that an election law has been drafted and will be published "within the next days." (John Heller)
STATUS OF DARI, Pashto LANGUAGES A SENSITIVE TOPIC.Article 16 of Chapter 1 of Afghanistan's draft constitution, presented to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman President Hamid Karzai at a ceremony in Kabul on 3 November, formally recognizes the official status of both the Dari and Pashto languages.
"Among Pashtu, Dari, Uzbek, Turkmen, Baluchi, Pashayi, Nuristani, and other languages spoken in Afghanistan, Pashto and Dari are the official languages of the government. The government will provide and implement effective programs to promote and strengthen all languages in Afghanistan. Publications and radio and television broadcasting in all languages is without restriction," the draft says.
Despite such constitutional guarantees, however, many Pashtuns say their language has always been discriminated against in Afghan society. Although Pashto is spoken by the largest ethnic group in the country, they complain that Dari is the dominant language in Afghan government offices, at official meetings, in the courts, in publications and on radio and television programs.
The origins of the language dispute go back many centuries. Persian has long been one of the dominant languages in the region surrounding Afghanistan. Today, Persian is the national and official language in both Tajikistan and Iran. Tajiks are also the largest ethnic minority in Uzbekistan, while several hundred thousand Persian speakers live in China.
By contrast, Pashto is spoken primarily only in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan.
Anwar al-Haq Ahadi is the leader of the Afghan Mellat political party and the chief of the Afghan Central Bank. He told RFE/RL that even in predominantly Pashtun regions, such as Nangarhar Province, nearly all official communication takes place in Dari. "Although I don't have exact statistics, we can say that 95 percent of official paperwork takes place in Dari both in predominantly Pashtun or predominantly Tajik regions," he said. "Pashto speakers complain that while Pashto is our country's national and official language according to the law, in reality it is stripped of both statuses. Its status as an official language is extremely weak in reality."
More than 200 newspapers and magazines have been started in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. Almost half of them are published in Dari, while some 30 percent are printed in Pashtu. The rest of the publications are officially bilingual.
According to Afghan journalist Zia Bumiya, however, around 80 percent of all articles in bilingual newspapers and magazines are published only in Dari. Bumiya said the situation is the same on Afghan National Television and Radio broadcasting. "Some 80 percent of Afghan national broadcasting is in Dari, and around 20 percent in Pashtu," Bumiya said. "National television translates some foreign movies into Pashto and sometimes broadcasts insignificant announcements or statements in Pashtu. All important interviews and statements, as well as important programs that would attract many viewers, are broadcast in Dari."
According to the law, Afghans are free to choose their language of education. Primary and secondary educations are available in both Dari and Pashtu, as well as in Afghanistan's other languages, such as Uzbek. However, in most Afghan universities, lessons are taught in Dari.
Professor Abdulshokur Rashad, a prominent Afghan scholar, told RFE/RL that apart from the Faculty of Pashto Language and Literature, all other departments at Kabul University function only in Dari. "Some people says that Pashto is also one of the official languages, but it is only on paper. It is not the case in reality. The language of education is Farsi. The language of offices is Farsi," Rashad said.
Rashad said that while most ordinary Pashtuns are capable of basic communication in Dari, a fluent knowledge of spoken and written Dari is the norm for educated Pashtuns. "Many Tajiks, however, do not try to learn Pashtu," Rashad said.
Sahebnazar Muradi, the editor in chief of the "Aina" (Mirror) newspaper in Kabul, acknowledges that Pashtuns are indeed the biggest minority in Afghanistan, but says Dari is still the language of the majority because Dari is used by all the country's ethnic groups to communicate with one another. Muradi said Pashtuns learn Dari voluntarily because some 70 percent of the country's scientific and historic literature has been written in Dari over the past centuries.
"No one forces people to learn Dari. There is no need for that. People of all ethnic groups learn Dari with their own initiative to be able to communicate with each other. That's why Dari is an effective language of offices, universities. It is a language of culture. It has taken this role in a very natural way," Muradi said.
All Afghan constitutions -- starting from the first constitution, which was introduced in 1923, to the latest draft constitution, which was presented to Afghan leader Karzai on 3 November -- have provided equal status to both languages.
Abdulhamid Mubarez, a deputy at the Ministry of Information and Culture, told RFE/RL that the law is obeyed. "We have two official languages in Afghanistan -- Dari and Pashtu. Everyone is free to communicate, write their letters or requisitions in one of these two languages. There is no discrimination. I have never come across any discrimination," Mubarez said.
However, Ahadi, who is chief of the Aghan Central Bank, said many Pashtuns, especially university students, are dissatisfied with the current situation. "We have to address the issue," Ahadi said, "since our country is officially bilingual, all official workers at least have to be able to communicate in both Dari and Pashto languages."
People like Ahadi express their concern that if the issue is not acknowledged and addressed properly, groups such as the ousted Taliban will capitalize on the popular dissatisfaction, especially the discontent of young Pashtuns, to ignite hostilities between ethnic groups. (Farangis Najibullah)
HIGH-LEVEL UN SECURITY COUNCIL DELEGATION VISITS AFGHANISTAN.A delegation comprising representatives of all 15 member states of the UN Security Council, headed by German Ambassador to the UN Guenter Pleuger, met with Chairman Karzai and other senior Afghan officials on 2 November, Afghanistan Television reported. During its weeklong stay in Afghanistan, the delegation will visit Mazar-e Sharif, Herat, and Kandahar to invite the local commanders in those cities to work with the Transitional Administration in Kabul, dpa reported on 2 November. Karzai told the UN delegation that his country has been demanding the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond Kabul "for a long time" and the Security Council's recent vote for expansion "will improve security and accelerate the process of reconstruction in Afghanistan," Afghanistan Television reported. Karzai acknowledged that "some problems" exist on the path to Afghan recovery, citing "terrorism, internal wars that break out from time to time, and the cultivation and trafficking of narcotics." Karzai said that overcoming such problems is possible through the efforts of the Afghan people and the assistance of the international community (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 and 30 October 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
NATO COMMANDER CAUTIOUS ON EXPANSION OF ISAF.Supreme Allied Commander General James Jones said on 30 October that the political enthusiasm to expand the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is not matched by available resources, Reuters reported. The political will to expand ISAF "is fine," he said, but added that NATO does not have complete resources for ISAF in Kabul. Jones suggested that the enthusiasm to expand ISAF should be tempered "a little bit." NATO is capable of expanding ISAF, he added, but currently the alliance is "on a more measured pace." Afghanistan represents NATO's first direct involvement in the Greater Middle East and, while there has been political agreement on allowing the alliance to take command of ISAF, members of NATO are less unanimous in their political will to contribute increased forces and equipment for expanding rapidly throughout the country (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
VIOLENCE ERUPTS AGAIN IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN.Clashes between rival warlords in the Koshestanat District of Sar-e Pol Province on 2 November claimed seven lives, Radio Afghanistan reported. The fighting pitted forces loyal to Junbish-e Melli party head General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a special adviser to Chairman Karzai on security and military affairs, against Jamiat-e Islami forces under the command of 7th Army Corps commander General Ata Mohammad. General Abdul Sabur, a spokesman for Jamiat-e Islami, said two civilians were among those killed, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 3 November. General Sabur said the British Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Mazar-e Sharif mediated an end to the clashes. The UN delegation is planning to meet with Dostum and Ata Mohammad in an effort to persuade them to stop the violence in northern Afghanistan, the BBC reported on 2 November. Those two warlords' forces have clashed intermittently since the Taliban forces were defeated in Afghanistan in late 2001 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May and 16 October 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
FIGHTING BETWEEN COMMANDERS LOYAL TO KABUL CLAIMS LIVES.Five people were killed in armed clashes on 31 October in the Greshk District of Helmand Province, Hindukosh news agency reported on 1 November. The fighting erupted after a commander, Mohammad Edris, and his deputy were killed in an apparent conflict between commanders loyal to the Afghan Transitional Administration. The district head of Greshk, Abdul Qodus, confirming the fighting, said a delegation from Helmand and neighboring Kandahar Province has been appointed to investigate the incidents. Abdul Qodus said the fighting stopped after U.S. warplanes appeared overhead. A report by the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press quoted by dpa on 1 November asserted that the clash in Greshk claimed 25 lives. Helmand is one of the most important opium-poppy growing areas in Afghanistan, and some analysts have attributed some of the fighting in that province to disputes over narcotics (see below). (Amin Tarzi)
U.S. SOLDIER KILLED IN CENTRAL AFGHAN PROVINCE.A U.S. soldier was killed in the Deh Rawud area of Oruzgan Province in a clash with suspected neo-Taliban forces, the BBC reported on 31 October. The unidentified soldier was part of a joint patrol of U.S. forces and Afghan militia that is based in the neighboring Helmand Province. One neo-Taliban fighter also died in the clash, while an Afghan militiaman and another U.S. soldier sustained injuries. (Amin Tarzi)
MILITANTS KIDNAP TURKISH ENGINEER, THREATEN TO KILL HIM.Militants with presumed ties to the former Taliban regime kidnapped a Turkish engineer and his driver on a road in Ghazni Province on 30 October, the Hindukosh news agency reported on 2 November. Turkish national Hasan Onal has been participating in the reconstruction of the Kabul-to-Kandahar highway. The militants, presumably neo-Taliban forces, have threatened to kill Onal if the Afghan Transitional Administration fails to release six "high-ranking" former Taliban members. The Turkish Embassy in Kabul has called on Pakistan to "play an effective role" in helping resolve the kidnapping case "through the border tribes," Turkish NTV television reported on 2 November. According to NTV, however, the group has demanded the release of 18 jailed comrades in exchange for handing over Onal. (Amin Tarzi)
EIGHT PEOPLE KILLED IN AERIAL BOMBING IN NORTHEASTERN AFGHAN PROVINCE...An air raid thought to have been carried out by U.S. military planes on 31 October led to the deaths of eight people in a former provincial governor's family home in the Vegal District of Nuristan Province, Reuters and Cairo-based MENA news agency reported on 2 November. The bomb reportedly destroyed the house of former Konar Province Governor Gholam Rabbani. Nuristan's police chief said that while the "total number of casualties has not been ascertained,... eight people in Rabbani's house have been killed," Reuters reported. (Amin Tarzi)
...AND SPOKESMAN DENIES COALITION PLAYED ROLE IN TRAGEDY.A spokesman for the coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Colonel Rodney Davis, on 5 November denied reports that coalition forces had bombed a civilian target in Nuristan Province, Hindukosh news agency reported. Colonel Davis said on "that day none of the coalition forces' planes had a flight passing over" Vegal District. (Amin Tarzi)
FORMER MUJAHEDIN LEADER SAID TO CALL FOR HOLY WAR AGAINST 'CRUSADERS' IN AFGHANISTAN...Mawlawi Mohammad Yunos Khales, leader of Hizb-e Islami (Khales faction), on 29 October issued a declaration of jihad against "crusaders" in Afghanistan, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. In his declaration, Khales urged Muslims to "wage jihad against America and its allies because their countries have been invaded by the crusaders and their homes are savagely bombed and hit by rockets. Muslims are held in steel cages and their children are martyred." Khales, who led one of the seven Mujahedin parties based in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, has compared the U.S. presence in Afghanistan with the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979. Early in the struggle against the Soviet Army, Khales and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar led one party, but later they split forming two Hizb-e Islami factions. Since the fall of the communist government in Kabul in 1992, Khales has mostly been outside of the political maneuverings and the civil war. His base of support was Nangarhar Province. (Amin Tarzi)
...ALTHOUGH NANGARHAR PROVINCE GOVERNOR DENIES REPORT...Nangarhar Province Governor Haji Din Mohammad on 2 November denied reports that Khales declared a "jihad" against foreign forces in Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported. (Amin Tarzi)
...AND CLAIMS THAT FORMER MUJAHEDIN LEADER HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED.Din Mohammad said at a news conference on 2 November that Khales was kidnapped from his house sometime after 29 October, Radio Afghanistan reported on 3 November. Din Mohammad said it is unclear who the kidnappers are or where they took Khales. The Nangarhar governor added that neither he nor members of Khales's family has any information about his purported declaration of jihad. He added that Khales has been ill and was in no condition to make statements "about such sensitive issues." Din Mohammad also stressed that Khales "repeatedly" has stated his support for Hamid Karzai and the Kabul-based Afghan Transitional Administration. (Amin Tarzi)
CLASHES BETWEEN AFGHAN AND PAKISTANI FORCES REPORTED...Afghan and Pakistani forces exchanged fire along the disputed border between the two countries on 2 November, "The News International," an English-language Pakistani daily, reported on 3 November. According to the report, the military confrontation that lasted for 13 hours began when Afghan forces "targeted three check posts of the Pakistan Army" at Spina Bara, Yaqubi, and Gosari. According to the report, eight Afghans were injured. Mustafa Khan, an Afghan commander in the area, however, said that Pakistani "militias" attacked Afghan positions, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 3 November. Mustafa Khan said that two of his men were killed and 13 others injured in the fighting. Clashes between Afghan and Pakistani forces along the border between the two countries in July nearly led to a wider conflict (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 and 24 July and 7 August 2003). The Afghan-Pakistani border has never officially been recognized by Afghanistan, and has been at the core of disagreements between the two countries since Pakistan was created in 1947. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS ISLAMABAD WANTS TRIPARTITE COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE INCIDENT.Pakistan wants to bring the "violations of its western border by Afghan troops" to the attention of the Tripartite Commission, which will meet on 12 November in Kabul, the Pakistan-based "Nawa-i-Waqt" reported on 4 November. The Tripartite Commission, made up of representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States, was established after the July border clashes. According to the report, Afghan sources have indicated that they will protest the construction by Pakistan of a security fence along parts of the border (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
PAKISTANI FORCES KILL TWO SUSPECTED AL-QAEDA MEMBERS ALONG AFGHAN BORDER.Pakistani security forces killed two suspected members of Al-Qaeda on 4 November along the Afghan-Pakistani border, the Pakistani daily "Dawn" reported on 5 November. The men were reportedly trying to cross into Pakistan's semi-autonomous region of South Waziristan from Afghanistan's Paktiya Province. Rahmatullah Wazir, deputy administrator of the border village of Wana, said that after seeing the bodies of the men it appears that they are "neither Pakistani tribesmen nor Afghans. They looked like foreigners." He added that a third man had escaped across the border to Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHANISTAN REPATRIATES THREE DETAINED PAKISTANIS.Three Pakistani citizens "recently caught by Afghan security forces" were handed over to the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul on 1 November, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. The statement added that the Pakistanis were captured in the Spin Boldak District of the Kandahar Province and their return to Pakistan was a "gesture of goodwill." According to the Afghan Foreign Ministry, "documents and other evidence captured from the three individuals are indicative of their military-related functions." (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHANISTAN SAYS IT WILL ERADICATE POPPY CULTIVATION WITHIN A DECADE.Mirwais Yasini, the director of Afghanistan's Counternarcotics Directorate, said on 30 October that his country wants "to eliminate all drugs and narcotics around the country in 10 years," AP reported. Yasini's comments came in response to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime that asserts that opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 8 percent since 2002, and that 77 percent of the global opium supply comes from Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003 and http://www.unodc.org/pdf/afg/afghanistan_opium_survey_2003.pdf). Yasini acknowledged the drug problem in Afghanistan, calling it not only an Afghan problem but also "an international problem." He called for a "holy war [on drugs] that all sectors of the human community are agreed upon." He warned that "statistics may get worse before they get better." The increase in opium-poppy production in Afghanistan is generally viewed as being linked to the spread of lawlessness and warlordism in the country. Until the central government in Kabul is able to extend its control over the entire country, talk of reducing Afghan drug production is arguably premature. (Amin Tarzi)
CHAIRMAN OF AFGHAN TEACHERS UNION REPORTS THREATS ON HIS LIFE.Abdul Jabar Paikar, chairman of the Teachers Union in Afghanistan, claimed that his life has been threatened several times in recent days, "The Kabul Times," reported on 29 October. Paikar said unidentified callers have told him to terminate the activities of his union and stop the publication of the union's paper, "Amuzgar," or be killed. Paikar said he legally established the union and registered it with the Justice Ministry. The Education Ministry has set up an official government union in an apparent effort to neutralize the influence of Paikar's union. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN SUPREME COURT DENOUNCES 'MISS EARTH' CONTESTANT.Members of the High Council of the Afghan Supreme Court at a meeting held on 29 October denounced the participation of an Afghan woman in the Miss Earth contest to be held in Manila in November, Afghanistan Television reported. Vida Samadzai, an Afghan woman who resides in the United States, is to compete for the Miss Earth title (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003). The report said that Deputy Chief Justice Sayyed Amar Monib indicated that the High Council unanimously agreed that the Miss Earth contest in which women "show their naked bodies is a completely indecent, irreligious act that is against the traditions of the Afghan people and violates the dignity and honor of mankind." According to the report, Monib added that anyone who participates in beauty contests such as the Miss Earth title, regardless of his or her religion or nationality, is condemned by Islamic rules. Samadzai is the first Afghan woman to compete in a beauty contest since 1974. (Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY3 November 1929 -- Habibullah Kalakani, who ruled Afghanistan for a brief period after rebelling against King Amanullah in 1929, is caught and killed on the orders of Mohammad Nader, who proclaims himself the new ruler of the country.
31 October 1931 -- King Mohammad Nader confirms new Afghan Constitution, which overturns many of the reforms of King Amanullah's 1923 constitution.
2 November 1965 -- Prime Minister Mohammad Hashem Maiwandwal presents his cabinet to Wolesi Jirga and gets a vote of confidence (190-7 with three abstentions and 16 absent). Entire proceeding is broadcast over Radio Afghanistan.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghan Afghanistan" by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1997).