29 April 2002, Volume 5, Number 15
IRANIAN-BACKED TERRORISM IN SOUTH AMERICA. The U.S. State Department's Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Mark F. Wong, told the House International Relations Committee (HIRC) on 24 April that Hizballah has penetrated the Western hemisphere more broadly than any other terrorist organization, and it has a presence in virtually every country in North and South America. According to the State Department, Hizballah receives "substantial amounts of financial, training, weapons, explosives, political, diplomatic, and organization aid from Iran and Syria." After describing some of Hizballah's terrorist activities, Wong said, "Hizballah has a global reach and a bloody track record in this hemisphere."
Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson added in his 24 April testimony to the HIRC that South America's tri-border area -- where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet -- continues to be a safe haven for Islamic extremists, and the two major groups in this area are Hizballah and Hamas. Hutchinson said that it is suspected that these terrorist groups fund their activities by producing counterfeit money and smuggling illegal substances. The tri-border area has been identified as a focal point for Islamic extremism in Latin America in the past (see the U.S. Department of State's "Patterns of Global Terrorism" for 1998, 1999, and 2000).
Iranian terrorists may have provided the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) with explosives training, the Majority Staff of the House International Relations Committee asserts in its findings on Irish Republican Army (IRA) activities in Colombia, and this has "markedly improved" the FARC's proficiency in urban terrorism in the last few years. Presented at the 24 April HIRC hearing, the report says that Colombian authorities believe Iranians are operating in the former FARC safe haven, and the FARC, IRA, Iranians, Cubans, and Basque terrorists have been sharing techniques, honing their skills, and using proceeds from the narcotics trade to fund their activities. "Colombia is a potential breeding ground for international terror equaled perhaps only by Afghanistan." Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on 18 April told the foreign appropriations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that Hizballah and Al-Qaeda are active in the tri-border area of Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador, according to Spain's EFE news agency. Armitage called for more Ecuadoran cooperation. Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Heinz Moeller said that his government knows nothing about this situation officially, AP reported on 19 April, and he added that his government is very concerned. (On Tehran's unusual interest in Colombia, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 December 1999). (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI HAILS UNPRODUCTIVE CASPIAN CONFERENCE. Iran's President Mohammad Khatami on 24 April said that the first summit meeting of the leaders of Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan was a great success, Interfax reported, because it proved that they could meet to settle their disputes peacefully. Yet the participants in the two-day summit could not agree on the wording of their final declaration, and Khatami himself walked out of the proceedings.
Discussing the failure to produce a final document, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev explained, "There are more problems than we expected," while Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov explained that it would have been difficult to explain some of the decisions to domestic constituencies. Even Khatami allowed that all the Caspian's problems could not be settled in a day, according to Interfax. Khatami appeared to have walked out at the end of the 23 April meeting, rather than waiting for a photo opportunity. Iranian officials and their local hosts, however, explained that Khatami was suffering from back pain. The individual presidents' opening speeches also indicated that there would be tensions, with Turkmenistan's Niyazov accusing his Azerbaijani counterpart of intransigence.
Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Shafei explained that the main problem is the littoral states' disagreements over the legal regime on use of the Caspian's resources. He explained in a 24 April interview with Tehran radio that Iran's position is based on 1921 and 1940 treaties signed with Russia and the Soviet Union, respectively. Iran considers this a shared sea, Shafei said, and it wants a 20 percent share. He went on to say that Russia has reached individual agreements with its immediate neighbors, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, and these countries have urged Iran to make bilateral agreements with its immediate neighbors (Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan). Nevertheless, Shafei said, Iran believes in working multilaterally on the basis of equal shares.
Iran may have to be satisfied with a smaller share. According to Tehran University lecturer Sadeq Zibakalam, the Caspian states are well aware of Tehran's difficulties with Washington and there is no reason for them not to take advantage of this situation, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 23 April. Because of American sanctions, Zibakalam said, Iran cannot sign any deals with the oil companies to exploit the Caspian's resources.
Regardless of the outcome of the meeting, Khatami did have the chance to meet with his counterparts ahead of his trip to the Central Asian states, and he also exchanged views with Russia's President Vladimir Putin. Putin proposed holding the next summit in Tehran, Turkmen President Niyazov told reporters on 24 April according to RIA-Novosti news agency. Kazakh President Nazarbaev recommended holding the next summit in his country. (Bill Samii)
KURDS MEET AND WILL TRAVEL TO REPORT TO TEHRAN. The U.S. government has rejected a recent press report about "secret" American-Kurdish meetings that are intended to unify the main Kurdish parties' military activities. Nevertheless, the heads of the two main Kurdish groups did meet recently, and they emphasized the importance of Iran and Turkey in any future activities.
The U.S. State Department spokesman said during the 22 April press briefing: "We are not aware of any recent meeting between U.S. government officials and Kurdish leaders in Germany. We regularly schedule meetings with Kurdish leaders. Deputy Assistant Secretary Ryan Crocker recently led a delegation to northern Iraq for that very purpose" (on Crocker's trip, see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 April 2002).
In a report that appeared in London's Arabic-language "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" one day earlier, an anonymous "Iraqi Kurdish source" asserted that U.S. military commanders, State Department representatives, and Central Intelligence Agency officials held secret meetings with Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) leader Mas'ud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani. This anonymous source said that the three days of secret meetings, which were held near Berlin, focused on uniting the military efforts of the KDP and PUK.
Barzani and Talabani did meet in Frankfurt, however, and their summit was held "under the auspices of the Americans," an anonymous "highly placed source" said in the 24 April "Turkish Daily News." This source denied that the Kurds discussed the use of northern Iraq as a launching pad for military activities against Saddam Hussein's forces. Rather, he or she said, the focus of the discussions was the creation of a regional parliament, elections, and revenue sharing, and Barzani and Talabani agreed about the threat of terrorism from Islamic extremists. They concurred on the importance of the U.S., but because Turkey and Iran are much closer, relations with these countries must be enhanced. "Turkish Daily News" reported that Talabani will travel to Tehran to report on the Frankfurt meeting, and Barzani will head to Damascus and report to President Bashir Assad and other officials. (Bill Samii)
REFUGEES PREPARE FOR THEIR POLITICAL FUTURE. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) claims that Afghan refugees are coming home at a pace that exceeds expectations. Steps have been taken to account for them in the Loya Jirga process, but many of the repatriated refugees are returning to Iran.
UNHCR spokesman Yusef Hassan said recently that under the UNHCR's repatriation plan, it was expected that 800,000 refugees would come home from Iran, Pakistan, and Central Asia, but almost 400,000 have come back in just the first eight weeks of the program. Almost all of the returnees are coming to their original homes, Hassan said -- 60 percent have returned to rural areas and 39-38 percent are going to cities such as Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, Kondoz, and Mazar-i-Sharif. Aid agencies are dealing with thousands of internally displaced people, too.
The head of the UNHCR in Zahedan, Sistan va Baluchistan Province, Surando Pondi [phonetic] believes that this year 110,000 Afghan refugees will leave Iran's three southeastern provinces voluntarily. Pondi said that 10,000 refugees would return from Hormozgan Province, 30,000 from Kerman Province, and 70,000 from Sistan va Baluchistan Province, Mashhad radio reported on 27 April.
Efforts are under way to prepare the refugees for participation in their country's political future. A three-person delegation from the committee that is laying the groundwork for the Loya Jirga arrived in Mashhad on 19 April, and from there it will go to Isfahan, Kerman, Qom, Shiraz, Tehran, Zahedan, and other cities to invite the refugees to participate in the selection process. Some 30 people from refugee camps in Iran will be chosen to participate in the Loya Jirga. The number of representatives will be in proportion to the number of refugees in each town. Seven will be from Tehran, three will be from Mashhad, and 11 seats are reserved for women, Mashhad radio reported on 20 April.
Regardless of the UNHCR's efforts to facilitate repatriations and regardless of efforts to make the refugees feel like stakeholders in Afghanistan's future, many of them refuse to stay repatriated. Mohammad Reza Rostami of the Interior Ministry's Bureau of Alien and Foreign Immigrant Affairs said on 15 April that the majority of the repatriated Afghan refugees try to get back to Iran, "Gulf News" reported. Rostami explained, "they change their minds when they realize that there are no jobs for them in their homeland, as they feel that going back to Afghanistan is the beginning of the end for them." In a related matter, Sistan va Baluchistan Province Governor-General Mahmud Husseini complained that Iran is doing all the work in protecting the Iran-Pakistan border. Husseini added, "Pakistan is expected to block illegal entries into Iran by strengthening its control over the joint border," Noruz" reported on 27 April. (Bill Samii)
NEW POINT OF TENSION WITH TURKEY. Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilaz said at the 22 April re-opening of the Gurbulak border gate: "Iran is one of our most important neighbors. We want to further develop our relations with Iran, too, on the basis of mutual respect for one another's regimes and noninterference in internal affairs," Ankara's TRT 2 television reported. This statement probably is connected with Turkish concern that Tehran backs Turkish Islamists and the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK; also known as the Congress for Freedom and Democracy in Kurdistan or HADEK after a recent name change) (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 and 22 April 2002).
But tensions between Ankara and Tehran soon could arise over gas supplies. Gokhan Bildaci, general manager of Turkey's national Botas pipeline company, said at a mid-April energy conference in Ankara that his country is trying to get reductions in the amount and price of gas it buys from Iran and Russia. Turkey's economy has slowed down and Turkish estimates of gas requirements now appear to have been exaggerated. Under the contracts that Turkey signed with Iran and Russia, it must pay for a specified amount of gas, whether or not it actually takes delivery of the gas. Yet Bildaci denied that Ankara must pay any fines because the amount of gas in the first three months may have fallen short of the required volume. Normally, he asserted, penalties are assessed on the volume of annual purchases.
Turkey may be pursuing a gas pipeline to Greece so it can sell any surplus Iranian gas (on Iranian-Greek and Iranian-Turkish discussions about this subject, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 February 2002). Greece and Iran signed an agreement on cooperation between their natural gas sectors on 13 March, Athens' daily "To Vima" reported the next day. This agreement provides for completion of a natural-gas pipeline from Iran to Greece via Turkey. This would turn Greece into a natural-gas transit center, as the gas is sold to other European countries. (Bill Samii)
PRESS FREEDOM DAY IN IRAN. World Press Freedom Day will be celebrated on 3 May this year. This date marks the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of principles drawn up in 1991 by African journalists calling for a free, independent, and pluralistic media on that continent and throughout the world. The declaration affirms that a free press is essential to the existence of democracy and a fundamental human goal. It seems unlikely that the Iranian press will have much to celebrate. Almost 60 Iranian publications have been closed since a March 2000 speech by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ended parliamentary efforts to eliminate restrictive laws, and a number of journalists have been jailed.
Among the closed dailies are: "Aftab-i Imruz," "Ahrar," "Arya," "Asr-i Azadigan," "Asr-i Ma," "Bahar," "Bamdad-i No," "Bayan," "Dowran-i Imruz," "Fath," "Gonbad-i Kabud," "Guzarish-i Ruz," "Hambastegi," "Ham-Mihan," "Manateq-i Azad," "Mellat," "Mosharekat," "Nosazi," "Payam-i Azadi," "Sobh-i Imruz," and "Talieh."
Among the closed weeklies are: "Aban," "Amin-i Zanjan," "Arzesh," "Ava," "Ava-yi Varzish," "Bazar-i Ruz Tehran," "Cheshmeh," "Cinema-yi Jahan," "Farda-yi Roshan," "Golbang-i Iran," "Gunagun," "Hadis-yi Qazvin," "Harim," "Iran-Javan," "Jahan-i Pezeshki," "Jameh-yi Madani," "Jebhe," "Khalij-i Fars," "Mehr," "Mihan," "Milad," "Mobin," "Nakhl," "Omid-i Zanjan," "Payam-i Hajar," "Qeseh-yi Zendigi," "Rahiyan-i Fayzieh," "Ruzdaran," "Sepideh Zendigi," "Shams-i Tabriz," "Sobh-i Omid," and "Tavana."
Monthlies and quarterlies have faced problems, too. Among those that have been closed are: "Guzarish-i Film," "Iran-i Farda," "Javanan-i Qorveh," "Kiyan," and "Payam-i Imruz." This list of banned publications does not include student newsletters, and it does not necessarily include all the banned provincial publications.
The Association of Iranian Journalists (AIJ) on 23 April issued a communique to mark the second anniversary of the initial press closures, according to IRNA. The AIJ stressed the need to revise the press law and improve freedom and security for journalists. Five days later, reporter and AIJ spokesman Ahmad Zeidabadi received a 23-month prison sentence and a five-year ban from public activities, including journalism, running for public office, or serving in the government. Zeidabadi told the Iranian Students News Agency that he was accused of propagandizing against the system, questioning the foundations of the Islamic Republic, disseminating lies, insulting officials, undermining national security, and membership in illegal organizations. Zeidabadi said that he would appeal the sentence.
Jalal Jalalizadeh, managing editor of Sanandaj's "Sirvan" weekly, said on 28 April that he had received a court summons, IRNA reported, but neither the charges nor the complainants were mentioned. The previous day, Mostafa Kavakebian, editor of the daily "Mardomsalari," received a summons to the Tehran administrative court for unspecified reasons.
International media organizations are very critical of the situation faced by Iran's press. In the "Annual Survey of Press Freedom 2002" from Freedom House, Iran was classified as Not Free (as were 60 other countries), because of the predominance of laws and regulations that influence media content; political pressures, controls, and violence that influence content; and economic pressures and controls that influence content. The New York-based Freedom House describes itself as "a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, [that] monitors political rights and civil liberties worldwide."
Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) is particularly critical of the situation in Iran. RSF Secretary-General Robert Menard said in a 23 April statement from his organization, "Everyone knows the [Iranian] regime abuses freedom of expression on a daily basis." Speaking at the 16 April meeting of the UN's Commission on Human Rights, RSF protested strongly about the presence of delegates from Iran (and China, Burma, Vietnam, Cuba, and Zimbabwe) "where press freedom is abused and journalists regularly imprisoned." RSF describes Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a "predator of press freedom," and it reports that 12 Iranian journalists are in jail. RSF regards Iran as an "enemy of the Internet."
The Committee to Protect Journalists placed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the top of its annual accounting of press tyrants in 2001, and he also was on the list in 2000. The World Association of Newspapers is critical of Iran because of the number of journalists it has jailed. (Bill Samii)
HUMAN RIGHTS WHITEWASH SHOWS EMERGENCE OF NEW BLOCK. During the 58th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights on 22 April a draft resolution criticizing the situation in Iran (E/CN.4/2002.L.33) was defeated by a roll-call vote of 19 in favor to 20 against, with 14 abstentions. Tehran welcomed this development, but the vote also demonstrates a pattern of manipulating the commission and the emergence of a powerful new voting block.
The draft resolution would have noted, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights website (http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/
FEDFF4AB08ED3E6DC1256BA400259B39?opendocument), "continuing human rights violations in Iran; failure to comply with international standards in the administration of justice; the occurrence of cases of disappearances; systematic discrimination against women and girls in law and practice; that the circumstances surrounding the killings of intellectuals and political activities in 1998 and 1999 had still not been fully clarified; expressed concern at a deterioration of the situation with regard to freedom of opinion and expression; continued executions in apparent absence of respect for internationally recognized safeguards, in particular public and especially cruel executions, such as by stoning; the use of torture; called upon Iran to abide by freely undertaken international human rights obligations; and would have extended for one year the mandate of the special representative of the situation of human rights in Iran."
Many of the votes against the resolution came from members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), as well as Iranian allies such as China. Pakistani representative Munir Akram said that the OIC has "consistently opposed" resolutions that were "selectively critical of some developing Islamic countries." The resolution on Iran, he said, "steadily ignored the existing realities in Iranian society." Mohammad-Salah Dembri of Algeria said that the resolution is surprising because "it would appear to all that Iran was making progress internally," and furthermore, "the continuous draft resolutions on Iran took no account of the changes that had taken place in Iran." Dembri said that there were no human rights resolutions on Iran when the Shah was in power, but when the government changed, "resolutions came flooding in."
Omer M.A. Siddig of Sudan said the draft resolution was selective, it did not recognize the "great improvements in human rights in Iran," and its references to Islam "were not productive." Toufik Salloum of Syria said that the resolution was part of a selective attack against "Third World countries." Sha Zukang of China said that the draft resolution "was an example of exerting political pressures on a country with a different cultural and political system under the pretext of human rights." The Chinese representative added that the draft resolution "totally disregarded progress made by Iran in the field of human rights." This person explained that Tehran has been "working to strengthen democratic institutions and promote economic, social, and cultural rights as well as the rights of women and national minorities."
Speaking before the vote, Iranian representative Payman Hastei said that most of the draft resolution contained "baseless accusations and illusions." Hastei said that Iran's reform process is "bound to lead to further institutionalization of rule of law and democracy as well as promotion and protection of human rights." And afterwards, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said that the defeat of the resolution showed that "the realities and the successes of the Islamic Republic of Iran have captured attention," according to IRNA. Iran's permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Mohammad Reza Alborzi, described the vote as a success for Iranian diplomacy and a reflection of Iranian realities.
Other observers did not see the situation in quite the same way. Human Rights Watch's (HRW) executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division, Hanny Megally, said: "We're very disappointed that the Iran resolution failed. The human rights crisis in Iran is only getting worse, and this unfortunate decision will not help it to get better." Megally cited as examples of the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran the existence of illegal detention centers and the jailing of political prisoners, as well as the increase in public executions and floggings. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "We remain deeply concerned about the human rights situation in places like...Iran.... I guess what I would say is that we continue to believe that it is important for all nations to stand up in support of human rights."
In fact, the voting indicates changes in the Commission on Human Rights. Many "highly abusive governments," according to HRW, have fought to get on the Commission in order to fend off criticism. "Countries with disturbing human rights records now command a significant block of votes on the commission." According to HRW's UN representative, Joanna Weschler, "Today's votes underscore a serious crisis at the Commission on Human Rights."
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson acknowledged such complaints on 26 April. She said, "I hear distress and concern voiced by the human rights movement over allegations of increased politicization of issues in the commission to the detriment of true human rights concerns." Although she offered no remedy, she counseled, "This is a time to remind ourselves of the essential role of the commission on human rights in protecting human beings against gross violations through highlighting and publicizing these violations." (Bill Samii)
TENSION MOUNTS AS AFGHAN LOYA JIRGA APPROACHES. Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, chairman of the 21-member committee creating the ground rules for the Loya Jirga or grand council that will appoint the next Afghan government, said in late February that there would be at least 500 people in that body. Now it is reported that there will be more than three times that number on that body -- 1,051 people representing the country's districts and 450 people appointed by and from groups determined by Qasimyar's committee. The Loya Jirga must meet by 22 June, and the tensions over its membership, about the future role of former monarch Mohammad Zahir Shah, and about Afghanistan's future leadership, are becoming palpable.
Afghan religious scholars at the end of a four-day meeting with interim administration chief Hamid Karzai, former President Burhanudin Rabbani, and other political and Jihadi figures said that the country should be declared an Islamic republic and it should adopt Islamic laws, Mashhad radio reported on 27 April. They also called for an increase in the proportion of religious scholars in the Loya Jirga. And during Kabul's Friday prayers, Ayatollah Mohammad Assef Muhseni of the predominantly Shia Harakat-i Islami movement urged his congregation to choose religious people, and he warned that some people are using deception to get seats in the Loya Jirga, according to Mashhad radio.
Bamiyan Province Governor Mohammed Rahim Alliyar told RFE/RL recently that it would be difficult to create a Loya Jirga that accurately reflects the wishes of all Afghans. "It is not difficult to find what the Afghan people want. The problem is to convince those in power to allow the people to voice their opinion. I hope that in the upcoming Loya Jirga, this will be possible." Yet he insisted that the Loya Jirga is the best hope for democracy that his countrymen have had in many years.
The reaction in Mahmud-i-Raqi village to the Loya Jirga may be more typical of Afghanistan's hinterlands. Many at a gathering of local men seemed "bored, bewildered, or hesitant to hope" when officials from Kabul came to explain the process of selecting delegates to the Loya Jirga, "The Boston Globe" reported on 25 April. Some in the audience just walked away, and villager Mohammad Hakim said he probably would not vote and voiced unhappiness about not having a salary.
Afghans from the Panjshir Valley and Northern Alliance (United Front) loyalists dominate the current interim administration and head the three power ministries -- Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Interior. Pashtuns linked with the so-called Rome process are represented in the interim administration, too, but in smaller numbers. Moreover, Human Rights Watch has reported that Pashtuns in northern Afghanistan are the subjects of an intimidation campaign intended to dissuade them from participating in the Loya Jirga. Nevertheless, the Rome process is associated with Zahir Shah, who returned to Kabul in mid-April after a 29-year absence, and he will inaugurate the Loya Jirga and is legally eligible to head the next government if called upon to do so.
Reactions to the return of Zahir Shah have varied greatly. Great Britain's Lieutenant Colonel Paul Harradine said on 20 April that assassins posing as journalists could try to kill the king, "The New York Times" reported the next day, and Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad said that the interim administration knew of several such conspiracies that are the work of Taliban and Al-Qaeda personnel and other "radical groups." Indeed, Zahir Shah's return was postponed when Italian officials learned of a plot against him.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the former monarch's return "strengthens national unity, helps the political process, [and] increases stability." Nor did he think that Zahir Shah's presence would hurt Afghanistan's relationship with its neighbors (Tehran had indicated its dissatisfaction with the monarch's potential role in postwar Afghanistan). In Abdullah's words: "I don't think that the return of the former king to Afghanistan is a threat or in any way dangerous to the neighboring countries. This is purely Afghanistan's internal affair. If the return of the king increases stability, restores national unity, and improves affairs then it would be beneficial to neighboring countries."
Afghan Deputy Defense Minister and northern commander Abdul Rashid Dostum told "Eurasia View" that he has been in touch with Zahir Shah over the last nine years, "during the good days and during the bad days." Dostum praised the monarch, saying, "He is the old father of Afghanistan and from the Loya Jirga to the government to the ethnic chiefs, everyone has respect for him." Dostum also seemed enthusiastic about the Loya Jirga, saying that the people of the north do not want any more warfare so they support the Loya Jirga and are doing everything they can to facilitate its work. It is noteworthy that Dostum was constantly at the former monarch's side when he arrived in Kabul, whereas Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim was not there at all.
A possible explanation for this comes from Ahmed Rashid, who wrote in "The Wall Street Journal" and "Eurasia View" on 18 April that northern warlords from the minority Uzbek, Turkmen, and Hazara ethnic groups distrust the Panjshiris and therefore welcome Zahir Shah as a counterweight. Defense Minister Fahim and other Northern Alliance figures oppose a future role for Zahir Shah or his relatives, and they want him to have only a ceremonial role. A 16 April report by Rory Carroll of "The Guardian" corroborated this analysis. It said that cabinet ministers, such as Defense Minister Fahim, had mobilized troops to intimidate the royalists, and this was the cause of fighting on the outskirts of Kabul. According to an anonymous Western diplomat, Fahim is trying to intimidate those who will not be bought: "He's got the most muscle and he's making a lot of promises."
Herat Governor Ismail Khan expressed his opposition to Zahir Shah when he said, according to Reuters on 15 April, "As an Afghan he can stay in Afghanistan, but we do not need any kingdom system in Afghanistan." This hostility might stem from the recognition that Zahir Shah could strengthen the Pashtuns to Herat's south. Forces representing Ismail Khan and Gul Agha Shirzai, his Pashtun counterpart in southern Kandahar Province, almost engaged in open battle in February (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 February 2002). Ismail Khan also has a special relationship with Tehran, and this may explain his antipathy towards Zahir Shah.
Perhaps the most prominent opponent of the Loya Jirga is former Afghan President Rabbani. He told a gathering of Afghan clerics that the Loya Jirga could be "just a piece of theater" and the elections could be rigged to exclude Islamist parties such as his Jamiyat-i Islami, the "Financial Times" reported on 22 April. Gulbudin Hekmatyar, whose exact whereabouts are unknown, is almost certainly another opponent of the Loya Jirga. Hundreds of his supporters were arrested in Kabul in early April for plotting against the interim administration (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 April 2002). (Bill Samii)
LABOR DAY CELEBRATED DURING UNEMPLOYMENT CRISIS. Parliamentarian Alireza Mahjoub, who is also secretary-general of the state-affiliated Workers House and a founder of the Islamic Labor Party, told a 21 April press conference that Labor Week would be commemorated from 25 April to 1 May and would culminate in a nationwide workers' rally. The weeklong celebrations would draw attention to the danger of globalization, he added according to a 21 April IRNA dispatch. Regardless of his concern about globalization, Mahjoub is aware of at least some of the other concerns of Iranian workers -- he said that 80,000 have not received their wages. Other Iranian observers are concerned about unemployment, while some warn about a pending collapse of the economy.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in his No Ruz address of 20 March, which was aired by state television, said that unemployment is one of the major issues confronting the government. He added: "This is an area which necessitates persistence and serious efforts on the part of the country's officials. This is a vital area for our country and nation." President Khatami echoed this concern about unemployment in his 20 March address, according to IRNA. He said that job creation has been at its highest rate in the last two years, but the government has fallen behind its target of creating 700,000 new jobs a year. Khatami noted in October 2001 that the unemployment rate stands at 13.8 percent (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 October 2001).
RFE/RL Persian Service economics commentator Fereydoun Khavand noted on 7 April that growing joblessness is one of the major trends in the Iranian economy. To keep unemployment at the current level of 3 million, Iran must create 765,000 new jobs annually, but the best estimates put Iran's job creation capacity at 400,000 per year.
And in a 12 March interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service, Isfahan University economist Mohammad Hussein Adib painted an even gloomier picture about the economy as a whole. Punitive tariffs for failing to join the World Trade Organization by 2004 would make it impossible for Iran to export anything but crude oil, and as of winter 2004, Iran would have to pay 1.2 million barrels of oil per day to meet obligations accrued in current buy-back contracts. Domestic consumption, Adib added, would leave Iran only 400,000 barrels of oil per day to export, lowering the country's annual take from crude sales to $3 billion, or a fourth of the current level. Adib predicted in his interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service that the number of jobless in Iran would reach 11.6 million within five years. He estimated that Iran must create some 800,000-1.2 million new jobs a year.
Officials and experts are not the only people to express concern about unemployment and economic problems. Abbas Darvish-Tavangar editorialized in the 14 April "Resalat" that real inflation exceeds the Central Bank figure of 11-12 percent, electricity prices are going up, and at the same time, price increases are not matched by wage increases. Darvish-Tavangar wrote that these developments will affect the unemployment rate adversely. An increase in tar prices, for example, will mean that up to 100,000 tar-appliers will be laid off because the building trade will face decreased demand. A commentary in the 7 March "Abrar" warned that unemployment would get worse in light of "the limitations of our national economy and the state's unlimited interference in economic affairs, [as well as] the marginalization of the private sector and lack of necessary incentives for investment due to the absence of planning and security."
The parliament is investigating ways to alleviate difficulties faced by the jobless. One plan it considered and then rejected was the payment of unemployment benefits to every individual over the age of 18 who had not gotten a job after searching for six months, "Tehran Times" reported on 10 April. A 19 February Iranian state radio report stated that the budget for 1381 (the year ending on 21 March 2003) allocated some 4.5 trillion rials (about $562 million at the open rate) to create jobs for people who would enter the workforce that year. Parliamentarian Mohammad Talai-Nik added that banking credits would be allocated to projects that create employment opportunities, and special credits have been put at the disposal of the Fund for Supporting Employment Opportunities (Sandoq-i Hemayat az Forsat-ha-yi Shoqli).
But sometimes the government is behind workers' problems. Thirty-three employees of the Tabriz Carpet and Blanket Company said in a letter published in the 9 February "Mahd-i Azadi" newspaper that a court verdict that favored their employer led to the dismissal of 52 employees. The court based its judgment partly on a letter from the Ministry of Industries and Mines, and the workers, who had not been paid for four months, felt forced to accept the settlement in order to pay their bills. On dismissing the employees, the company replaced them with temporary workers who would work for less money. Employees of the Chit-Rey textile factory on 23 April staged a sit-in at the offices of the para-statal Oppressed and Disabled Foundation (MJF), IRNA reported. Chit-Rey was sold by the MJF under a privatization scheme, and this has led to problems in payment of wages. (Bill Samii)