Accessibility links

Breaking News

Afghan Report: December 20, 2002

20 December 2002, Volume 1, Number 4

"RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" will appear again on 2 January 2003. The editor wishes everyone a joyful holiday season and a peaceful 2003.
By Amin Tarzi

"NATO has quietly begun supporting" the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, "The Washington Post" reported on 12 December. So far, NATO has provided support to German and Dutch contingents in the ISAF, as the two countries are preparing to take command of the force by mid-February, the report added. Some with the alliance are pushing NATO to assume command of the ISAF, the daily reported, which quoted an unidentified NATO official as saying that "if it happens, it will be very significant." On 17 December, ISAF spokesman Major Gordon Mackenzie told a 17 December briefing that NATO will provide supplies and logistical support to the ISAF, Reuters reported. "We have a lot of individual supply lines at the moment," Mackenzie said. "In order to rationalize this process, NATO is going to play a role in putting all these logistics together." Mackenzie said the details have not yet been finalized, but NATO's support activities are expected to start at the beginning of 2003.

While the exact nature and scope of NATO's assistance to ISAF is still a matter of debate, the fact the that alliance is moving beyond its traditional role marks a new chapter which may have been lost in the expansion euphoria of the NATO summit in November.

Post Cold-War Expansion of NATO

With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there was much discussion on the role and even the relevancy of NATO in the newly emerging security environment in Europe. It was not until March 1999 that NATO as a united force was called upon to act in Kosova -- not in defense of one of its members, but in a relatively new role of safeguarding larger European security issues and human rights. Just prior to the Kosova military campaign, the alliance accepted three new members, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland -- all former members of its former rival the Warsaw Pact -- and further moved away from its original mission. At the 21-22 November NATO summit in Prague, seven new members -- Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia - - three of which were part of the former Soviet Union, were invited to begin accession talks to join the alliance. These countries are to join NATO in 2004.

NATO's Role After 11 September

A day after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, NATO for the first time invoked Article 5 of its founding treaty, which states that an armed attack against one or more NATO member states is considered an attack against all. While the gesture was historic, what followed in Afghanistan was not an alliance-wide involvement in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism but help from individual NATO members in the military campaign in Afghanistan. Whether the alliance would have actually invoked Article 5 and participated in the Afghan campaign as one force is open to debate. But for several reasons, the United States did not invite NATO to take part as a whole. First, the United States considered its experience in Kosova, where the majority of the air sorties were carried out by U.S. forces and coordination of military efforts was hampered by the bureaucratic procedures of one or another member state. The U.S. also sought independence of movement and direct command of the operations. Second, when on 20 September 2001 U.S. President George W. Bush announced that the war on terrorism would not be limited to law-enforcement measures alone but would include a military response, not all NATO member states voiced their readiness to act militarily in a U.S.-led operation. A third reason for U.S. reluctance to call on NATO was the fact that the war on terrorism required the support of states that were not members of the alliance and had no experience operating within a NATO environment. By October 2001, the military campaign against international terrorism, codenamed Operation Enduring Freedom, began in Afghanistan. Not all NATO members were ready -- either politically, logistically, or both -- to participate. As part of the contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom, the alliance did provide Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft, and elements of NATO's Standing Naval Forces were sent to patrol the eastern Mediterranean. To date, 14 NATO members have forces directly involved in Operation Enduring Freedom, but the operation remains a U.S.-led campaign.

Addressing the alliance's contribution to the war on terrorism, an unidentified U.S. diplomat quoted by the "Financial Times" of 12 November 2002 said that in "retrospect, NATO as an alliance was marginalized. It did little for its morale.... That may now change in the coming weeks." What the U.S. diplomat may have been referring to is NATO's expected future role in the war on terrorism -- initially in Afghanistan through the provision of communications and logistical support to the international peacekeeping force operating there.

ISAF Members Look to NATO

At the Prague Summit, Germany and the Netherlands, perhaps backed by the U.S. and some other NATO members, requested that alliance become officially involved with the ISAF. Seeking NATO's official involvement in the ISAF is not a new issue: The United Kingdom, which led the force from its inception until June 2002, reportedly explored a peacekeeping role for NATO following the end of the ISAF's initial six-month mandate. However, Turkey agreed to lead the force for its second six-month mandate. A European diplomat was quoted by the "Financial Times" of 13 March 2002 as saying that NATO "would not be visible on the ground" but would "be looking at the planning end of things -- strategy, resources, force structures."

U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, commenting on possible NATO-ISAF cooperation, said in a U.S. Defense Department report of 23 September that while discussions are taking place on this issue, it "has a lot of moving parts, and so until we pin various aspects down, we can't start narrowing the list of options."

Thus far the U.S. and countries contributing troops to ISAF have been reluctant to expand the area of operation of ISAF beyond Kabul, but if the United States becomes involved in a military conflict in Iraq and reduces the size of its 5,000 to 7,000 troops in Afghanistan while the security situation in Afghanistan remain volatile, then the ISAF may assume security responsibilities beyond Kabul.

"If we [with the ISAF] went outside Kabul, then we would need many, many more troops," a NATO diplomat told the "Financial Times" of 12 November, and in this event the alliance could even have the leading role, the diplomat added. If NATO were to take the lead, the ISAF mandate would likely be amended so the ISAF's command would not be changed every six months as it is now, but countries wishing to contribute more or less could choose to do so within an established structure. On 27 November the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1444, authoring the extension of the ISAF mandate until 20 December 2003, without mentioning any role for NATO in the peacekeeping force.

The Prague Declaration

In the Prague Summit Declaration of 21 November, NATO leaders approved a role for NATO in Afghanistan, but remained vague as to the nature of the alliance's support.

NATO welcomed the "willingness of Germany and the Netherlands jointly to succeed them" and "agreed to provide support in selected areas for the next ISAF lead nations, showing our continued commitment." However NATO leaders stressed the fact that "the responsibility for providing security and law and order throughout Afghanistan resides with the Afghans themselves." The vagueness of the statement that NATO will provide "support in selected areas" is not surprising as the German-Dutch command of ISAF has yet to establish its requirements and areas in which they would need support. Moreover, the vagueness of the statement may be related to disagreements within NATO as to the nature of support that alliance is prepared to give to the ISAF. On the other hand, the "selected areas" could be anything, leaving the commitment of NATO open-ended.

The statement by NATO leaders is unrealistic in assuming that the administration of President Hamid Karzai has the ability to provide "security and law and order throughout Afghanistan." It is unclear how the Afghans would be able to provide security and law throughout the country under circumstances in which the government in Kabul has only a nascent police force and no national army. A fact stated by Zalmay Rasool, national security adviser to Karzai, who on 21 November welcomed NATO's decision to provide support to the ISAF, stating to the Voice of America that as "long as Afghanistan lacks a competent national army, it will be dependent on such help to ensure [its] security."

The idea of NATO's involvement in Afghanistan, however limited, is not without political and technical hurdles. Within the alliance, opposition seems to have emerged from France, which left NATO commands in 1966 and may view a NATO role as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy in an area where Paris has no direct influence. Beyond this, there are technical problems as to how to coordinate a peacekeeping force such as ISAF that includes non-NATO countries under the alliance's command and the coordination of possible military activities between NATO and Afghanistan's neighbors in the event of cross-border incursions. Beyond these issues, if NATO begins playing a leading role in the war on terrorism, some members of the alliance could find themselves fighting a war they are currently not directly participating in. Moreover, the presence of NATO in the heart of Central Asia would undoubtedly be used by Islamist extremists and terrorists in the region to claim that the West, led by NATO, has officially launched a war against them.

With all of these difficulties, the stated role of NATO "is to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries. Its first task is to deter and defend against any threat of aggression against any of them," according to the organization. Today, the freedom and security of some -- if not all -- members of the alliance is being challenged by international terrorism. As such, if NATO were to assume a role in Afghanistan, despite the difficulties involved, it would be a natural progression of the organization's changing mandate, however, beyond military matters, NATO countries may have to adjust their political and security priorities if they get involved in the war on terrorism. The price for joining NATO may well be higher than the provision of new military equipment to the alliance, in the face of new forms of international terrorism only a unified response can be effective.

Deputy Defense Minister General Baryalai told RFE/RL on 12 December that after the initial success of the disarmament program in northern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 November 2002), the program is to be extended to other Afghan provinces. Baryalai said the program in the northeast is being conducted by General Abdul Rashid Dostum "under the supervision of the Defense Committee and the defense minister, and is in its initial stages. But our next program, which will start next week with seminars and courses that will take up to three weeks, will involve all of Afghanistan," he said. (Amin Tarzi)

Deputy Defense Minister General Baryalai, responding to 3rd Army Corps spokesman commander Mohammad Ismail Zazai's 11 December statement that unofficial armed units have 10 days to hand over their weapons before action is taken against them (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 December 2002), told RFE/RL that the "matter of 10 days was not official."

"The process of collecting weapons, which was discussed at the Defense Ministry and was announced to the head of the government, was [estimated to take] three to six months," he said. "Of course, if there is such an entity that considers itself a part of the Defense Ministry and the national army, and uses the weapons against the national interest, then [their deadline will be immediate]." He also rejected Zazai's claims that the ISAF is involved in the disarmament operations.

While the ISAF is not involved in the arms-collection program in southeastern Afghanistan, the program is part of the efforts of civil-military teams from the United States and its coalition partners, known as Joint Regional Teams (JRT). These teams will concentrate on providing security and helping in rebuilding projects in areas of Afghanistan outside Kabul where the ISAF is not present, the plan is to gradually introduce the new Afghan national army to take charge of these areas (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 December 2002). Gardayz, the provincial capital of Paktya, is to serve as the first test of this plan. (Amin Tarzi)

The exact mandate and scope of operation for the JRT has not been clarified. Manoel de Almeida e Silva, spokesman of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said on 12 December that while the UN welcomes all initiatives on reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in Afghanistan, in the particular case of JRT, the UNAMA does not "have all the details yet and I think even the Americans have not yet concluded all the details on how they are going to do it. We do have some questions, which we have shared with them, so we do not have the full picture yet on this project." Almeida e Silva added that Gardayz will serve as a pilot project for the JRT and advised that this project should be viewed as "an ongoing situation and that [members of JRT] are also trying to clarify how to do it." The UNAMA spokesman did not indicate a link between the disarmament program underway in the southeastern provinces of Afghanistan and the reconstruction program of JRT which is scheduled to begin in a month in Gardayz. The JRT cannot begin any effective reconstruction program in Gardayz until it ensures relative peace and security there. (Amin Tarzi)

Pacha Khan Zadran, one of the Afghan warlords and the former governor of the Paktya Province opposed to Karzai's government said that under the current circumstances he is not ready to hand over his weapons to the central government, Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 18 December. Zadran said that the "disarmament was a pretext, and in actual fact, everything was directed against Pashtuns," AIP added. He added that "I do not recognize the present government, then how I shall turn my weapons over to them?" AIP reported. Zadran is one of the most powerful warlords in southeastern Afghanistan, and was once an ally of Karzai and the U.S. as well as a signatory of the 2001 Bonn Agreement, but later began armed opposition against Kabul. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan President Karzai issued a decree banning political leaders from engaging in military activities, Kabul's Radio Afghanistan reported on 15 December. The decree, which goes into effect immediately, was released as Karzai headed for Oslo to participate in a conference on Afghanistan's reconstruction. The presidential decree said: " No military or civilian official is allowed to offer dual services in both military and civil affairs. The governors of the provinces, authorities, and commanders of the military-police units should legally operate within the limits of their authority. They have to strictly abide by the rules and regulations governing their duties." The independent power exercised by regional leaders -- politically, economically, and militarily -- is seen as undermining the central government's authority and power to act.

Since coming to power Karzai has been "powerless to impose his authority across" Afghanistan, commented the BBC on 16 December, adding that "regional warlords have continued to use violence to resolve ethnic and territorial disputes." BBC added that the "warlords include [Herat Governor] Ismail Khan in the west, [Deputy Defense Minister] Abdul Rashid Dostum in the north, and [Kandahar Governor] Gul Agha in the south" (Bill Samii and Amin Tarzi)

Afghans and international aid workers cautiously welcomed Karzai's executive order of 15 December, which bans political leaders from participating in military activities, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported on 16 December. According to Rostar Tarakai, an Afghan intellectual living in France, Karzai's directive is "a welcome development, but its real test will be implementation on the ground," IRIN reported. An exiled Afghan political activist, Babrak Shinwari expressed similar views, asking: "Who will bell the cat?" IRIN reported. Shinwari said that on "a symbolic level, the move enables people to distinguish between right and wrong," and that in the "future, politics should remain an exclusive domain of civilians," the report added. Paul Baker, the director of CARE, told IRIN that Karzai has taken a courageous "step in the right direction," adding that factional fighting between competing warlords has at times endangered humanitarian relief workers, IRIN reported. (Amin Tarzi)

During a 16 December meeting in Oslo with Norwegian Defense Minister Kristin Krohn Devold, Karzai asked for Norway's assistance in the establishment of a new army, Oslo's "Vart Land" tabloid reported the same day. Karzai said that the creation of the new Afghan army is going well, and said that "we are looking forward to Norwegian assistance with respect to teaching and training Afghan soldiers and pilots." The Norwegian publication speculated that this would take place when a new Norwegian civilian-military unit is established under the ISAF. "Local needs will determine what we will contribute," Krohn Devold said. "It could be everything from building schools and kindergartens to giving instruction to soldiers and the police plus help in establishing local courts," she added. Norwegian special-operations forces have been active combatants in Operation Enduring Freedom (see "Vikings Reach Afghanistan" in "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 March 2002). (Bill Samii)

The Danish government on 17 December decided to extend the duration of its military contingent stay in Afghanistan as part of ISAF for an additional six months, Danish radio reported on the same day. Denmark has about 50 soldiers serving in Kabul, the report added. (Amin Tarzi)

Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Wardak told reporters at a Kabul news conference on 18 December that authorities have arrested three men accused of perpetrating the attack against two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002), Radio Afghanistan reported. Wardak said two of the men are foreigners, "while the third one introduced himself as a Saudi citizen, but later it was determined that he was from Herat Province." Wardak said the three men arrested "have openly admitted their crime and admitted they came" to Kabul for the sole purpose of carrying out such attacks, the radio reported. According to Wardak, the link between the three arrestees and any group will be announced after the investigations are completed, Radio Afghanistan reported. The report did not indicate the nationalities of the two men said to be foreigners. (Amin Tarzi)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 17 December released a report entitled "'We Want to Live as Humans': Repression of Women and Girls in Western Afghanistan" ( The HRW report is especially critical of Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan, and Reuters quoted report co-author Zama Coursen-Neff as saying: "Ismail Khan has created an atmosphere in which government officials and private individuals believe they have the right to police every aspect of women's and girls' lives: how they dress, how they get around town, what they say." The report describes forced gynecological examinations as chastity checks, as well as bans on walking or riding in automobiles alone with a man or men to whom a woman is not closely related. Women are not allowed to drive cars; nor may they ride bicycles. The report describes other restrictions that curtail women's ability to attend school or to work. HRW also criticized Khan in a November 2002 report titled "All Our Hopes Are Crushed: Violence and Repression in Western Afghanistan" ( (Bill Samii)

In a separate report titled "Fatally Flawed: Cluster Bombs and Their Use by the United States in Afghanistan" ( published on 18 December, HRW estimates that during its air war in Afghanistan, the United States dropped nearly a quarter of a million cluster bomblets that killed or injured scores of civilians, especially children, both during and after strikes.

The 65-page report says that although the U.S. made some efforts to reduce the civilian harm caused by its cluster bombs in Afghanistan, the fundamental problems of the weapon remained.

HRW found that the United States did not take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties, as required by international humanitarian law, when it used cluster bombs in or near populated areas. U.S. cluster bombs also left an estimated 12,400 explosive duds -- de facto antipersonnel landmines -- that continue to take civilian lives to this day.

"As war looms in Iraq, the United States should learn from the lessons of its Afghanistan air war," said Bonnie Docherty, researcher in the Arms Division of HRW and the author of the report. "It should not use cluster bombs at all until the dud rate has been brought way down. At the very least, it should never use cluster bombs near inhabited towns and villages."

In Afghanistan, the HRW report analyzes three examples of the use of cluster bombs in or near populated areas, during which at least 25 civilians died and many more were injured. At least 12 civilians died and many more were injured when five cluster bombs landed on the village of Ishaq Suleiman, near Herat. The United States had used older, less accurate munitions to attack a nearby military base. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Vice President Hedayat Amin Arsala said on 18 December during an official visit to Islamabad, Pakistan, that "substantial progress has been achieved to sign a tripartite agreement" for laying the Trans-Afghan pipeline to carry Turkmen gas to Pakistan through Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 17 December 2002 and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 December 2002), the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 19 December. At a news conference with Shaukat Aziz, a financial adviser to Pakistan's prime minister, Arsala said the Asian Development Bank has shown interest in the pipeline project and has funded its feasibility study, and that a "number of contentious issues" regarding the project have been sorted out, "Dawn" reported, without indicating what the contentious issues were.

The pipeline project faces problems beyond the issues of security and lack of central-government control in western Afghanistan. One question not debated much is the issue of availability of markets for Turkmen gas in Pakistan where new deposits of natural gas have been found in recent years and months. An idea which was floated when the plan to lay this pipeline was first made public, in the mid-1990s, was to extend the pipeline from Pakistan to India, where there is a large market for natural gas. However, given the tense relations between Islamabad and New Delhi, it seems very difficult to imagine that India would base its energy supply on a pipeline which goes though Pakistan. On the other hand, if the political problems can be overcome, the economic linkage can provide India and Pakistan a great opportunity to work on a mutually beneficial project. (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan told a news conference in Islamabad on 16 December that foreign ministers from Afghanistan's six immediate neighbors -- Iran, Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- will meet in Kabul on 22 December to sign a pledge not to interfere in Afghan politics, Reuters reported. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council are expected to send observers to Kabul for the signing and, afterward, the noninterference pledge will be submitted to the UN Security Council. (Bill Samii)

Dubai-based Savanna International Telecommunications on 11 December launched Internet service in Afghanistan in an early bid to tap private-sector demand for connectivity, company Chairman Ahmed Khan Achikzai told RFE/RL in Dubai the same day. Afghanistan's notoriously poor high-tech infrastructure has hampered the development of anything resembling an Internet culture in the past. "We want to reach out to the private sector," Achikzai said, adding that Internet access is largely limited to "a handful of offices -- mostly government, hotels, and NGOs" at the moment. Two Internet cafes that will soon be opened in Kabul and eight other customers in Kandahar and Jalalabad will receive Internet access through Savanna, according to Achikzai. (Tanya Goudsouzian)

A new report from UN experts says there are signs of renewed activity in terrorist training camps in a remote area of eastern Afghanistan. The UN group monitoring sanctions against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban said in its latest report that it has received information about a number of new, small, and "very simple" training camps, RFE/RL reported on 18 December. The group's chairman, Michael Chandler, told reporters the camps appear to be located near Asadabad, the capital of Kunar Province. He said U.S.-led antiterrorism-coalition forces in Afghanistan are aware of the camps but that the terrorists using them are not easy to detect. "[The terrorists] are conscious of the fact that the coalition forces have extremely good surveillance capabilities these days, and therefore it is unlikely they would have anything that would stand out. They would keep it as small as possible and as discreet and as mobile as possible," Chandler said.

Chandler said the expert group is alarmed by the prospect of new recruits joining a terrorist network that has already trained many people who are still at large. "What is actually happening is [that] more young men who are disillusioned and perhaps have a feeling for Al-Qaeda -- and let's face it, the sympathy for this organization is actually quite widespread in many countries -- are happy to turn up and be trained. They believe it's the thing they should be doing," Chandler said. (Amin Tarzi)

President Karzai said on 18 December that that large-scale terrorist training camps no longer exist in Afghanistan, but that minor violence is likely to continue for a long time, RFE/RL reported the same day. Speaking in Stockholm after talks with Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, Karzai said that the Al-Qaeda training camps formerly based in Afghanistan no longer exist. His comments followed a new UN report saying that "small, discreet and mobile" Al-Qaeda training camps are operating in eastern Afghanistan. But Karzai acknowledged that small groups of militants are still hiding in Afghanistan, and that incidents like a grenade attack in Kabul on 17 December are likely to continue. (Amin Tarzi)

18 December 1955 -- Afghanistan and the Soviet Union sign an agreement extending the 1931 treaty of Afghan neutrality and nonaggression pact between the two states. Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Naim says that the agreement does no weaken his country's determination to remain neutral. Twenty-four years later, on 27 December 1979, the USSR invaded Afghanistan.

15 December 1991 -- The Soviet Union stops delivery of weapons to Afghan President Najibullah, signaling the end of the communist regime in Afghanistan.

14 December 2000 -- Michael A. Sheehan, the U.S. State Department's counterterrorism chief, said that Afghanistan has been at the heart of U.S. measures to defeat terrorism, adding that the U.S. "will continue to put political, diplomatic, and economic pressure on the Taliban to make them realize that they will not be an accepted member of the international community until they comply with internationally accepted norms on terrorism."

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