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Afghan Report: November 20, 2003

20 November 2003, Volume 2, Number 41

"RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" will appear again on 4 December 2003.
By Robert McMahon

After hearing warnings for months from UN and Afghan officials about instability in Afghanistan, the UN Security Council has seen for itself how the lack of security is affecting the peace process there. A Security Council mission headed by German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger reported back on 11 November that its visit to Afghanistan had found a country gripped with concern about terrorism, factional warfare, and drug trafficking. Those three threats were cited repeatedly during the 15-member mission's meetings last week with officials in Kabul, Herat, and Mazar-e Sharif.

Pleuger said there has been obvious progress in the two years since the Taliban was ousted from the country. But reconstruction has been significantly slowed, he said, by the triple threats. "The conditions necessary for a credible national political process are not yet in place," he said. "National reconciliation requires greater focus. Political parties need time to develop. National institutions must undergo reform. And the power of the factional leaders must be diminished."

Pleuger's briefing took place amid a backdrop of troubling new violence in the country on 11 November. A car bomb exploded in front of UN offices in Kandahar, wounding at least two people. Separately, an attack on a convoy south of Kandahar killed one Romanian soldier participating in the U.S.-led coalition there and wounded another (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 November 2003).

Pleuger told RFE/RL after the briefing that Afghan and UN officials were confronted with very different security challenges in the north and south. Commander Mohammad Ata, who commands the 7th Army Corps with loyalties to the Jamiat-e Islami party, and General Abdul Rashid Dostum, nominally a special adviser on security and military affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, are vying for power in the north and have resisted demilitarization and integrating local soldiers into a national force.

But Security Council members were able to meet the two factional commanders and press the case for participating in reforms. In the south, by contrast, there is an absence of any major leaders to engage with, according to Pleuger. "The little village and the town commanders, they are ruling the south, and they have a very limited perspective of what's necessary for the country," he said. "And as a consequence, not only reconstruction is hampered but the [majority] Pashtuns are feeling they are not included in the reconstruction work and they are not included in the political process, and that's very dangerous."

The mission heard complaints that throughout Afghanistan, local commanders and factional leaders continue to abuse the rights of Afghans. It received reports from women's groups and civil society organizations of intimidation, harassment, and exclusion from social, economic, and political activities.

Pleuger told the Security Council that the narcotics economy, fueled by a new surge in opium-poppy cultivation, poses a particularly serious threat to efforts to revive Afghan society. "Judicial institutions remain weak, and the narcotics economy is largely unchecked," he said. "In particular, the rapid growth of the narcotics economy in recent months has the potential to dwarf the legal economy and threaten the small gains in the field of reconstruction and economic stabilization achieved to date."

To cope with these developments, the mission issued a series of recommendations aimed at bolstering the authority of the Afghan Transitional Administration led by Chairman Hamid Karzai. These included an appeal for more international financial support for a UN-established fund to pay police salaries.

The mission also said it supports Karzai's call for a follow-up conference to the Bonn process early next year to rally donor nations to contribute to the completion of Afghanistan's reforms.

Spanish UN Ambassador Innocencio Arias, who took part in the mission, told reporters that funding is a pressing need for Afghanistan's security structures. "What the international community promised them has not completely arrived, and they need help, especially to form the army and the police and to pay them later," Arias said.

Afghan officials have maintained a constant appeal for reconstruction aid and security assistance from the international community for much of the past two years. Both requests have taken on added urgency now that the political process has reached a critical phase.

A Constitutional Loya Jirga is planned for December. A new constitution is needed to create the legal infrastructure for presidential elections scheduled for June. The Security Council recently authorized an expansion of the NATO-led security force outside Kabul, but there has been no decision yet by the alliance on whether to broaden its deployment.

Pleuger told the Security Council on 11 November that U.S. officials informed the mission of plans to deploy a new series of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the south and southeast of the country. They told the mission they would also consider pilot projects of development zones. No other information on the U.S. plans was immediately available (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January and 30 October 2003).

Afghan and UN officials have welcomed the teams, but say they are not adequate to deal with the security demands, especially as the country prepares for elections. Ambassador Arias of Spain echoed this view: "PRTs are not enough, unless you make them very big and very wide -- unless you make them very wide."

U.S.-led coalition troops have established PRTs in Gardayz, Bamiyan, and Konduz. British forces have established a team in Mazar-e Sharif. There are four more such units under creation in Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, and Charikar.

Germany recently assumed command of the operation in the northern city of Konduz and may expand to up to 400 personnel, at least four times the normal size, to establish a zone of stability ahead of elections. Troops from New Zealand recently took over the PRT in Bamiyan.

Robert McMahon is RFE/RL's UN correspondent.

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 12 November said that he expects that the enemies of stability in Afghanistan will increase their attacks, and called on Afghans to be vigilant, Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai said during a ceremony to announce his decree on voter registration for the 2004 elections that he believes that the rise in the number in attacks might be related to the Constitutional Loya Jirga set to begin on 10 December (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003). The loya jirga is expected adopt a new constitution for the country. (Amin Tarzi)

The United Nations halted operations across southern and eastern Afghanistan on 17 November following the killing of a French official with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), AFP reported. UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe announced the shutdown, saying in New York, "We hope it's a temporary suspension." UNHCR worker Bettina Goislard, 29, was shot while in her car at a bazaar in the town of Ghazni on 16 November. The shooting, at point-blank range by two gunmen, was the second killing this year of a foreign aid worker at the hands of suspected neo-Taliban insurgents. Goislard's death marked the first killing of a UN official since the world body renewed work in Afghanistan after forces led by the United States overthrew the Taliban. Including Afghan nationals, 12 humanitarian workers have been killed in Afghanistan since March in a rash of attacks blamed on neo-Taliban guerrilla forces. (Marc Ricks)

The UNHCR announced on 18 November that it is temporarily pulling 30 foreign staff members from parts of eastern and southern Afghanistan and closing four refugee centers in neighboring Pakistan, "The New York Times," reported. The decision comes after the killing of a French national working for UNHCR in Ghazni on 16 November. The head of the UN refugee agency in Afghanistan, Filippo Grandi, said the slaying of their employee "tragically proved" that the UNHCR cannot carry out its mission alone. Grandi said the agency will review the situation on the ground in two weeks before considering reopening its offices. In an 18 November report, Radio Afghanistan said the UNHCR will resume its work in two weeks. (Amin Tarzi)

The South Korean Foreign Ministry announced on 18 November that it evacuated its embassy staff from Kabul in response to an intelligence report identifying the country's mission as the target of a possible terrorist attack, Yonhap news agency reported from Seoul. Most of South Korea's diplomats have left Afghanistan for an unspecified neighboring country, with just one official at a "safe place" in Afghanistan. The South Korean Embassy reportedly received information from UN sources in Afghanistan that it might be the target of a suicide bomb attack. Speculation regarding a motive for the threat has focused on South Korea's decision to dispatch troops to Iraq. There are about 40 South Korean civilians living in Kabul, while some 200 South Korean soldiers are in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. (Amin Tarzi)

One solider loyal to the Afghan government and eight suspected loyalists of the former Taliban regime were killed on 8 November in a clash that took place in Khak-e Afghan District of Zabul Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 10 November. Meanwhile, two explosions reportedly occurred in the provincial capital Qalat on 8 November. The Afghan Interior Ministry confirmed the clash in Khak-e Afghan District, but said it had no information regarding explosions in Qalat. Reports attributed the information about the Qalat explosions to Mawlawi Mohammad Omar, the deputy governor of Zabul. He was quoted in the reports as saying that four districts in the province are not under government control (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 November 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

At least four Afghan civilians died on 12 November when their car was blown up in Asadabad, Konar Province, Reuters reported the next day. The explosion was apparently set off by remote control. Eyewitnesses said the likely target of blast was a U.S. military vehicle. The blast, which occurred about 2 kilometers from a U.S. military base, came as U.S. forces were leading operation Mountain Resolve to clear antigovernment and anticoalition forces from areas of Konar Province and neighboring Nuristan Province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 November 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Air strikes launched by U.S. forces in Afghanistan killed six civilians in the eastern Paktika Province, Governor Mohammad Ali Jalali said on 17 November, according to a Reuters report. The bombings came as U.S.-led forces undertook operations against militants in Paktika on 15 November, Jalali said. "Six civilians lost their lives," Jalali said. "I don't know if they were all members of the same family or from different families." Jalali said the bombs fell in the Barmal District of Paktika, close to the Pakistani border, near a U.S. base in Shkin. Forces led by the United States have come under frequent attacks from forces loyal to the former Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda militants in the area, Jalali said. U.S. military spokesman Major Bryan Hilferty, speaking to AP, acknowledged fighting in the area but denied U.S. involvement in civilian deaths, saying the dead were insurgents. (Marc Ricks)

Forces loyal to the Afghan government clashed with residents of Nangarhar Province's Shewa District on 11 November after residents fired shots in the air to celebrate a birth, Radio Afghanistan reported. Participants from both sides reportedly sustained injuries. The security commander of the district, Gol Jan, said gunfire is banned, and that security forces intervened when the celebratory gunshots began. (Amin Tarzi)

A blast that was alternately reported as having come from unexploded ordnance or a deliberately planted explosive device killed an 11-year-old Afghan boy in Jalalabad in Nangarhar Province on 18 November, Radio Afghanistan reported. The child was collecting scrap steel when he set off an unexploded missile, according to Radio Afghanistan. However, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 18 November that the child was killed by a bomb that "was planted by unidentified people." (Amin Tarzi)

In order to compensate for serious shortfalls in its military capabilities in Afghanistan, NATO diplomats are contemplating the deployment of small mobile units of troops, the "Financial Times" reported on 13 November. An unidentified NATO diplomat offered an example of how the system would function by saying that if the UN asked the alliance for "troops for a few days to provide security for voters to register for the election or help with other security issues," then such mobile units would be deployed temporarily in areas where they were needed. The first test for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) expansion beyond Kabul will come when Germany takes command of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the northern Afghan city of Konduz in December. Based on the German experience, NATO might assume command of other PRTs around the country. Since taking command of ISAF in August, NATO has been unable to secure pledges for sufficient troops and equipment from either NATO member states or other countries (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Nearly 600 Afghan fighters have traded their arms for food, clothes, and cash in the eastern Afghan town of Gardayz, a UN official quoted by AP in a 17 November report said. The weapons, ranging from rifles to tanks, were given up by 595 fighters during the past week, said UN spokesman Jim Ocitti. The weapons swap was part of an ongoing $41 million program, funded mostly by Japan, aimed at disarming 100,000 Afghan fighters. Fighters who hand over their weapons to the newly created Afghan Defense Ministry earn a voucher for $100, clothing, 200 kilograms of food, and identification papers. The disarmament in Gardayz came after another swap in October in the northern province of Konduz, where some 1,000 soldiers gave up their weapons. Afghan Defense Minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim said, "Implementation of this program will take Afghanistan out of its problems." Many Pashtun tribesmen remain reluctant to disarm, however, because ethnic Tajiks dominate the Afghan Defense Ministry. (Marc Ricks)

An estimated 1,000 students staged a protest in Mazar-e Sharif in Balkh Province on 12 November over the draft Afghan constitution, Reuters reported. The protestors demanded a parliamentary government, rather than the presidential system envisaged in the draft. The students also said the Uzbek language should be recognized as an official state language alongside Pashto and Dari. The protestors rejected the title of "Father of the Nation" that is bestowed in the draft on the former Afghan monarch Mohammad Zaher. Basir Bahrawi, one of the organizers of the protest, reportedly said the students "will continue...[their] demonstrations until" their "demands are met" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

An unspecified number of Kabul University students demonstrated on 18 November against the draft constitution that was recently circulated by the Afghan Constitutional Committee, the official Bakhtar news agency reported. The students were specifically protesting Article 43 of the draft, the news agency reported, without providing details. Article 43 stipulates that the state must provide free education up to the level of secondary school. (Amin Tarzi)

The European Union on 17 November hailed Afghanistan's efforts to adopt a constitution but voiced concern over a resurgence of opium-poppy farming in the country, AFP reported. An EU foreign ministers' statement said they hope to see a final constitution for Afghanistan "based on the primacy of international law, democratic principles, respect for human rights including gender equality and social justice." A Constitutional Loya Jirga of 500 delegates is to meet beginning on 10 December for a constitutional debate in a further step toward presidential elections slated for June 2004. EU ministers said they have "serious" concerns about poppy farming and opium production in Afghanistan nonetheless. The ministers cited "little effective law enforcement" while praising a new antidrug strategy announced by the government of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai. The ministers also welcomed initiatives to broaden Afghanistan's NATO-led ISAF beyond Kabul, as well as plans by several EU countries to field PRTs (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October and 6 and 13 November 2003). (Marc Ricks)

A decree from Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai on voter registration for the 2004 presidential elections in Afghanistan was made public on 12 November, Afghanistan Television reported. The 23-article decree makes Afghan citizens aged 18 years or older eligible to vote. According to the decree, separate polling stations should be set up for women and voter registration cards should be issued for all eligible voters. The issue that might force a postponement of the election -- a lack of security -- is discussed in the last article of the decree, stipulating that the "the Ministry of the Interior, in consultation with relevant departments and ministries, shall take action to ensure cooperation of the National Army soldiers and national security and with the police in restoring security during the registration phase." The Afghan National Army has fewer than 4,000 soldiers, while independent or semi-autonomous warlords and commanders rule most large swaths of Afghanistan. The decree does not touch on a mechanism for ensuring that those powerful elements do not interfere in the election process. (Amin Tarzi)

The decree of Hamid Karzai, the head of the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan, on the registration of voters for the 1383 [2004] election.

The Bonn agreement says that free elections will be held in 1383 [2004]. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution which endorsed the Bonn agreement and established the UNAMA [UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] office to discharge the responsibilities of the United Nations envisaged in the Bonn agreement.

Under the Bonn agreement, free elections, Emergency Loya Jirga will be held and the constitution [drafted]. There follows the decree by the head of [the Transitional Islamic] State of Afghanistan on the temporary [election] commission, the Joint Election Office and on voters' registration for the 1383 [2004] elections:

General Clauses

Article 1 -- Objectives: This decree was issued for the registration of voters for the 1383 [2004] elections and will be referred to thereafter as the decree on voters' registration.

Article 2 -- Definitions: The following terms bear the following meanings, until another meaning emerges for them:

- Afghan: A person identified as an Afghan national according to the valid law.

- The registration program: Consisting of the registration of those eligible to vote and launched for the preparation of the elections. The civil and instructional training for the dissemination of information on general voting rights, the registration phase and the elections shall also be included in this program.

- The general director of the elections: A person appointed by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) office as the general director of the elections.

- Public information: Any kind of information on registration released by television, newspapers, radio, and other mass media.

- Residence: A place in one of the provinces of Afghanistan named by the applicant as his residence.

The Board of Directors of the Registration Process

Article 3 -- The authority of the director: Under the Bonn agreement, the UNAMA office, under the supervision of the Joint Election Office established by the decree of 4 Asad 1382 (26 July 03), shall be in charge of voters' registration affairs.

Article 4 -- The mandate of the Joint Election Office:

1. The Joint Election Office has the authority to determine the procedures and information for putting the objectives of this decree into effect.

2. The Joint Election Office can implement, through its secretariat, its mandates determined in this decree or in the directives and guidelines issued in compliance with this decree.

3. The personnel appointed by the Temporary Election Commission to perform the voter's registration are administered on the daily basis by the secretariat of the Joint Election Office and are accountable to the secretariat.

Article 5 -- Performing voters' registration:

1. Based on registration, the surnames of Afghan nationals eligible to vote in the 1383 [2004] elections, are registered according to the provisions of the law on elections.

2. Civil, informative, and election education programs shall be conducted in order to prepare the registration and dissemination of information on general voting rights. The Joint Election Office shall be able to allow, under a specific policy, nongovernmental organizations to contribute to civil, informative, and educational programs.

3. The Joint Election Office shall determine the date of voters' registration and make it public through the mass media.

4. The secretariat of the Temporary Election Commission shall determine the locations and itinerary of the registration teams and make them public.

5. Separate places, different from men, shall be considered for female eligible voters.

6. If the Joint Election Office deems it appropriate to conduct the registration of the refugee voters abroad, it should acquire the permission from the relevant countries before conducting the registration.

Article 6 -- Government officials and local representatives of the people shall cooperate with those who conduct the registration during the process of voters' registration.

The Registration of Voters

Article 7 -- Eligibility for registration: Taking into consideration the provision of this decree, any Afghan national of 18 years or older is eligible to register as a voter before the date announced by the Joint Election Office.

Article 8 -- Application for registration: Any eligible person wishing to register shall personally refer to the registration team and apply for registration according to the guidelines of the Joint Election Office.

Article 9 -- The registration of applicants: According to this decree, voter registration cards shall be issued for those recognized as voters. The characteristics of the registration cards shall be determined by the Joint Election Office.

Article 10 -- The right to complain: Any person whose application for registration as a voter is rejected has the right to complain about the rejection of his application according to the conditions set by the Joint Election Office that will be published for public information.

Article 11 -- The submission of documents: All the documents bearing the registration of voters, collected under his decree, shall be immediately submitted to the general director of the elections.

Supervisors and Monitors

Article 12 -- Supervisory committees: The Joint Election Office can agree with the establishment of field supervisory committees. These committees shall supervise the voters' registration process. According to Article 7, they shall inform the people in charge of the registration of those not eligible for the registration when they apply.

Article 13 -- Participation of political parties:

1. The political parties registered in the Afghan Ministry of Justice have the right to supervise the process of voters' registration through their local representatives in their places according to the conditions published by the Joint Election Office. To this aim, the Joint Election Office shall determine and announce the starting and closing dates for political parties' application for their participation in the registration process.

2. Under the guidelines made public by the Joint Election office, the political parties which obtained the authorization to participate in the registration process have the right to complain if Article 7 and conditions of registration were breached.

Article 14 -- The participation of supervisors: The Joint Election Office can allow foreign and domestic organizations to participate as supervisors in the process of voters' registration according to the instructions published for public information by the office.

The Initial and Final Lists of Voters

Article 15 -- The initial lists of voters: The general director of the elections shall collect initial lists of voters from each province. These lists are published for public information at the times and places determined by the Joint Election Office.

Article 16 -- Application for name[s] inclusion in the initial list: If the name of a registered voter, a holder of an authentic registration card, is not on the initial list, he/she has the right to apply for his/her name being included in the initial voters' list.

Article 17 -- The right to complain about the existence of a person's name on the voters' list: Any registered voter can complain that a person, not eligible for voting under Article 7, is registered on the voters' list or that his/her name is included in the initial list more than once. This complaint can be made under the conditions published by the Joint Election Office.

Article 18 -- The authority to cancel registration: Before the publication of the final voters' list, the general director of the elections can make an amendment if, according to authentic evidence, the registration list looks dubious. If the general director of elections decides to cancel the registration list, he/she shall issue a decree on amending the list or invalidating the registration card.

Article 19 -- The submission and publication of the final list of voters: Under this decree, the Joint Election Office, having made a decision on all acceptable complaints and having examined all relevant documents and other information, shall prepare and submit to the permanent Election Commission of Afghanistan the final list of voters that is based on the initial list and the modifications made in line with this decree.


Article 20 -- Complaints and evaluations: The Joint Election Office shall announce for public information the conditions and procedures for the evaluation of complaints, investigations and other issues relevant to the process of registration including the probable disorder.

Article 21 -- Violations and punishments: Under this decree, the Joint Election Office has the authority to determine actions which constitute violation and make them public. Furthermore, the Joint Election Office is authorized to determine the individuals and organizations which committed violations and give them a warning. The Joint Election Office shall present the proven cases of violation to the relevant authorities of the Afghan government for immediate evaluation.

Article 22 -- Data filing and protection: Personal data collected during voters' registration shall be used only for compiling the final list of voters.

Article 23 -- Security: The Ministry of the Interior, in consultation with the Joint Election Office, shall provide security for all participants during the process of voters' registration. The Ministry of the Interior, in consultation with relevant departments and ministries, shall take action to ensure cooperation of National Army soldiers and national security with the police in restoring security during the registration phase. The Ministry of Defense and the General Security Command shall cooperate in restoring security during the registration phase at the request of the interior minister. (Amin Tarzi)

At a conference titled "Youth and Constitution" held in Kabul on 18 November, Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani indirectly criticized members of the cabinet for misusing the powers linked to their governmental positions, RFE/RL reported. "Ministers' chairs are no abode of power, but of service to the people," Ghani said. He strongly encouraged the 250 participants -- young men and women who participated in the Young Leaders Forum program run by the German-based Friedrich Ebert Foundation/Stiftung -- to actively participate in shaping the new constitution that will be discussed at the Constitutional Loya Jirga slated to open on 10 December in the Afghan capital. Ghani also called the current leadership a "bridge" that the young generation can cross toward a more democratic Afghanistan. At the same meeting, The Friedrich Ebert Foundation/Stiftung's Kabul representative, Almut Wieland-Karimi, called for another Bonn conference "providing for a long-term commitment of the international community, the Afghan government, and the Afghan people for security, democratization, and reconstruction" in Afghanistan that should "integrate the Bonn and Tokyo [donors] processes." She added that efforts for the "creation of a democratic state" go back to "the constitutional movement and Mahmud Tarzi [in the 1910s and 1920s]." (John Heller)

Retired General Rahmatullah Safi has declared his candidacy for Afghanistan's 2004 presidential elections, Hindukosh news agency reported on 12 November. Safi, who represented the ousted Taliban regime in Europe, has formed a new political party called Adalat, according to the news agency. (Amin Tarzi)

In a 12 November interview with EurasiaNet, Kandahar Province Governor Yusof Pashtun said that "security has been the number one item" on his agenda since he assumed the post in August (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 21 August 2003). Pashtun said that over the past six months, "the Taliban has started sending small groups from across the border in Pakistan" into Kandahar to "hit some soft targets, such as aid agencies" in order to block reconstruction efforts. Pashtun also blamed the former governor of the neighboring Zabul Province, Hamidullah Tokhi, for ignoring "the Taliban threat to the extent that they established a firm foothold" in some districts of his province. He said that while opium poppy is not cultivated in his province, Kandahar "is a major transit route" and as such is the "second major problem" for him. The Kandahar governor expressed doubt that the presidential elections slated for June 2004 will be held on time, adding that holding elections, "unfortunately," will not be possible next year. Pashtun suggested getting "some fresh mandate" for the Afghan Transitional Administration if elections are postponed. (Amin Tarzi)

Scientists in Switzerland say they have created a detailed computer model of the largest of two giant Buddha statues destroyed in central Afghanistan's Bamiyan Valley during the rule of the Taliban. The model would make it possible to rebuild exact replicas of the statues, a controversial idea that has not yet been decided on by the Afghan government or international donors.

The project by a team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich has been two years in the making. It required hundreds of thousands of measurements to create a three-dimensional computer image of the largest, 55-meter-high Buddha. The result reflects the condition of the statue before it was dynamited in March 2001 on the orders of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who considered the Buddhas as idols and an insult to Islam.

A smaller Buddha -- which stood a half-kilometer away and was about 38 meters high -- also is being mapped with the same technique. Both Buddhas stood for some 15 centuries in niches carved into a cliff face near the Afghan city of Bamiyan, about 140 kilometers northwest of Kabul.

In an interview with RFE/RL on 13 November, Swiss scientist Armin Gruen explained that detailed mapping of the statues was possible because of three high-resolution photographs taken in 1970 by an Austrian scientist.

"[Those photographs were made] by a colleague of mine from Austria at the University of Graz," he said. "He was on a mission at that time in Afghanistan to produce topographical maps. And on his way back to Kabul he took those photographs with a special camera -- we call it a photogrametric camera -- producing large-format glass plates [with high-resolution detail]. This makes it much easier to reconstruct the model and also allows us to do it much more precisely."

Gruen says he hopes Kabul approves of the project and that private financing can be secured to build exact replicas of both Buddhas in their original niches. After visiting the Bamiyan Valley in August, Gruen thinks it is not possible to rebuild the Buddhas using the remaining fragments of the originals. "There is not enough original material left," he said. "You would need large pieces of leftovers. And those are just not here anymore. Most of it is dust or small gravel. And there are only a few very large pieces left. This is just not sufficient to put it together into a complete model."

Gruen recommends instead that replicas be built at the same location as the originals around a core of concrete -- a method experts estimate would cost around $30 million for each statue. Gruen says funds for such a project should be independent of aid for rebuilding Afghanistan's war-shattered infrastructure. "I personally would use a kernel of concrete and some plaster on the outside, which can be used in order to model the details of the structure," he said. "This is, by the way, basically also the old technology. Originally the Buddhas were carved out of the rock, but only the core shape. And this was covered by mud and straw -- a mixture which allowed people then to model all the fine detail."

The idea of constructing replicas of the Buddhas at their original location is controversial. UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency in Paris, rejects the idea as a "profanation."

Muriel de Pierrebourg, a spokeswoman for UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura, said rebuilding the statues in the original niches would be a "double treachery." She says the technique suggested by Gruen has been rejected by the vast majority of specialists. Instead, she said, UNESCO prefers to leave the niches empty as a "memorial to destruction." UNESCO officials say funds used to rebuild the statues would be better used to develop the Bamiyan Valley as an area of cultural heritage, including a museum. UNESCO declared the area a World Heritage Site earlier this year.

But Gruen believes rebuilding the Buddhas would benefit all of Afghanistan by dramatically boosting tourism. "The question really is: 'Do you want to help the Afghan people?' And if you want to develop the area -- for instance, touristically and economically -- then it would be appropriate to bring the Buddhas back because, I guess, tourists won't be coming just to look at the empty niche," he said. "But they want to have the Buddhas back. They want to see the Buddhas. And this is, of course, a very significant economic factor -- not only for the valley of Bamiyan, but for Afghanistan as a whole."

In any event, Gruen told RFE/RL his team at least plans to build a small-scale version of the largest Buddha. "We have already made a small model [of the largest Buddha] at a scale of 1 to 200 with a milling machine, [and] we have donated it to some politicians in Afghanistan," he said. "Now, what we are doing is to plan a model at a scale of 1 to 10 which will be donated to the National Museum in Kabul. We are just in the planning phase. I would assume it may take something like three months [for the 1 to 10 scale model to be completed]."

He says he is confident he can secure the $10,000 needed to build that small-scale model from contributions from individuals and nongovernmental organizations. (Ron Synovitz)

20 November 1955 -- During a five-day session, a Loya Jirga gives its approval to resolution calling for plebiscite to decide future of Pashtun area disputed with Pakistan.

18 November 1964 -- Discovery of the first Greek city to be found in Afghanistan announced by French archaeological team at a site now known as Ai Khanum.

20 November 1980-- The UN General Assembly votes 111 to 22 with 12 abstentions for a resolution that calls for the "unconditional" pullout of foreign troops from Afghanistan. The resolution did not name the Soviet Union.

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