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Iran Report: November 5, 2001

5 November 2001, Volume 4, Number 42

MORE AFGHAN COMBATANTS ENTER THE FRAY... The Northern Alliance (United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan) is the main force of Afghan combatants in the current conflict with the Taliban, but more and more people are joining the battle. Afghans with experience in the 1980s' conflict against Soviet invaders and their Afghan proxies are promising to enter the conflict or have already done so, and there are defections in all directions. Questions about the combatants' loyalty, however, will make it difficult to determine their ultimate objectives.

Gulbudin Hekmatyar of the Hizb-i Islami-yi Afghanistan, who has been living in Iran since the Taliban takeover in 1996, said in a 26 October interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service that he would fight against American troops if they entered Afghanistan. He speculated that U.S. ground troops would enter the country from Uzbekistan and occupy the major cities, and Turkish commandos would be active in Afghanistan, too. Hekmatyar said in the 19 October "Hayat-i No" that by imposing Mohammad Zahir Shah on Afghanistan the U.S. wants to create a hand-picked government, and he warned that "America, with its presence in Afghanistan, will surround Iran." Hekmatyar also condemned the Northern Alliance for accepting American support, and Hekmatyar said that "Iran must not support the Northern Alliance." He added that Iran must stop the U.S. attack on Afghanistan.

Former mujahedin commander Abdul Haq also was disturbed by the current conflict in Afghanistan. According to London's "The Times" on 29 October, he appealed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to use his influence in Washington to stop the bombing. Haq took a more active approach when he infiltrated southern Afghanistan with some of his supporters and tried to persuade local Pashtuns to abandon the Taliban and start a rebellion, thereby creating a southern front. The Taliban captured and executed Haq around 26 October.

Hamid Karzai of the Pashtun Papolzai tribe entered Afghanistan on 8 October in an effort to organize an insurgency, also. On 1 November the Taliban claimed to have captured 25 of Karzai's men, and they claimed to be hot on Karzai's trail. Karzai's family, on the other hand, claimed that he had started an uprising against the Taliban and had captured 12 of them, according to "The Washington Post" on 2 November.

Regardless of efforts to encourage defections in the south, there have been many defections to the Northern Alliance, which is made up of 13 organizations that are locally and/or ethnically based. These include the Harakat-i-Islami Afghanistan (Islamic Movement of Afghanistan), Hizb-i-Islami (Islamic Party), Hizb-i Wahdat-i Islami Afghanistan (Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan), Jamaat-i-Islami Afghanistan (Islamic Afghan Society), Jumbish-i-Milli (National Front), and Mahaz-i-Milli-i-Islami (National Islamic Front).

Department of Defense specialists said during a 12 October briefing that forces that used to be under the command of Ahmad Shah Massoud number around 15,000, the Hizb-i Wahdat has from 5,000-15,000 troops, and Ismail Khan has between several hundred and several thousand troops. Defectors are valuable because they provide additional manpower for the Northern Alliance and because they can provide information on the Taliban. In theory, furthermore, defections would sap the morale of the Taliban.

Yet the defections are not always genuine, according to Mustafa Etemadi, who is a member of the Hizb-i Wahdat central council. He said in the 18 October "Entekhab" that he believes that this is a means for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to save some of their forces. Etemadi explained, "It is only a tactic for them to send some of their cadre to the opposition camp in order to save their lives, in order to prevent a complete destruction of their movement." Etemadi also said that Hekmatyar's forces cooperate closely with the Taliban and will continue to do so.

Past experience, furthermore, shows that the Afghans' loyalties are unreliable. According to former Pakistani intelligence (ISI) chief General Hamid Gul: "They say you can always rent an Afghan. But you can never be sure you own them." "Newsweek" goes on to report that the ISI was expected to encourage defections from the Taliban, but some U.S. officials suspect that the Pakistanis actually warned the Taliban about Abdul Haq's mission. A 2 November report in "The Washington Post" also suggests that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is trying to encourage defections by offering the Afghans money and offers of future posts, but because the CIA has few Pashto speakers, it must rely on Pakistan. (Bill Samii)

...AS DO PAKISTANIS... Iranian state radio's Mashhad broadcast stated on 28 October that Northern Alliance forces killed 20 Pakistanis who were fighting for the Taliban. Other Taliban were taken prisoner, and one commander and his men defected. The Northern Alliance's General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said in the 29 October "Entekhab" daily from Qom that these Pakistanis share Deobandi religious roots with the Taliban. Another commonality, according to Azimi, is that Deobandism has many followers in Pakistan's Pashtun tribal areas. Indeed, many Pakistani tribesmen are demonstrating near the Afghan border, expressing solidarity with the Taliban and trying to join the fray. Islamabad is trying to stop this exodus, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 October. It instructed provincial authorities to disallow the use of mosques for antigovernment propaganda and to prevent the financing of volunteers who want to go to Afghanistan. On 1 November, however, two convoys of approximately 1,200 armed Pakistani tribesmen entered Afghanistan, Islamabad's "The News" reported on 2 November. (Bill Samii)

...AND PEACE INITIATIVES. Creating a united Afghan opposition would facilitate the ground war against the Taliban, while forming a government to succeed the Taliban would decrease the chance of anarchy after they are eliminated. Nevertheless, the numerous efforts to find a political solution to the Afghan conflict had not made much progress by the first week of November.

Former mujahedin commander Pir Seyyed Ahmad Gailani organized a late October meeting in Peshawar, Pakistan, of 700-1,500 Afghan elders, mujahedin, and religious leaders. When Gailani addressed this gathering, he claimed that he had met with former Afghan monarch Mohammad Zahir Shah and had his support, "The New York Times" reported on 25 October Yet nobody representing Zahir Shah attended the meeting, Zahir Shah's grandson Mustafa Zahir said that the monarch had "not officially sanctioned any meeting," and Zahir Shah's ally Gul Agha Shirazi said that Gailani was "using the king" to pursue his own ends, according to "The Washington Post." For that matter, nobody representing the Northern Alliance was in attendance. This gathering's final statement called for a Loya Jirga and the involvement of the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, according to "The News" from Islamabad. It also called on Zahir Shah to play a role in ending the crisis.

The "Supreme Council for the National Unity of Afghanistan" announced by Zahir Shah and the Northern Alliance on 1 October has not created a Loya Jirga yet. By mid-October the Northern Alliance still had not designated its representatives to the Council, and on 23 October "The Washington Post" reported that representatives of the Northern Alliance, Zahir Shah, and other anti-Taliban groups would meet in Istanbul to decide who would participate in the Loya Jirga and where and when to hold it. Then, the Turkish government said that it would hold a meeting of Afghan opposition factions linked to Zahir Shah and the Northern Alliance, Reuters reported on 24 October, but a date or location for their meeting has not been set.

The Northern Alliance harbors suspicions about the monarchists' ambitions, although Zahir Shah himself has denied any interest in returning to the throne he lost in 1973. Nor is Tehran enthusiastic about the possibility of a monarch: EU high representative for foreign policy Javier Solana said that "their solution of choice would not be the return of the king," according to "The Wall Street Journal" of 30 October, but a 24 October "Financial Times" report said that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi no longer objected to the monarch's having some sort of role. Meanwhile, Tehran is continuing its support for the Northern Alliance and for President Burhanudin Rabbani, who preceded the Taliban. Tehran also backs the Cyprus Process, which involves Gulbudin Hekmatyar (see above).

Siavash Yaghoubi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry official who handles the Afghan account, says that Tehran wants the Northern Alliance to conquer Kabul, after which it would turn power over to an interim government supervised by the UN, "The Economist" reported on 25 October. The UN's 6+2 group (Afghanistan's immediate neighbors, and Russia and the U.S.) has been working on an Afghan peace process for several years. President Mohammad Khatami acknowledged on 25 October Tehran's willingness to cooperate with this grouping in establishing an Afghan government.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN special envoy to Afghanistan, arrived in Tehran on 3 November. He had just spent several days in Pakistan, and he will go on to New York for a meeting of the 6+2 group. Recent European visitors to Tehran, such as German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero, have pressed for cooperation with Brahimi, "The New York Times" reported on 25 October. The UN plan for Afghanistan, according to a 25 October report in Paris's "Le Figaro," also calls for a Northern Alliance takeover of Kabul, after which President Rabbani would transfer power to a 9-12-member leadership with a rotating presidency. Real power, however, would be wielded by Brahimi in the role of a proconsul. Within a year, there would be a Loya Jirga.

A Western diplomat said in "The Wall Street Journal International Edition" of 30 October that Tehran wants an Afghan government that would be sympathetic to the country's minority Shia population: "They have been very clear and consistent in delivering this message." Most Afghan Shia are ethnic Hazara (who are about 19 percent of the Afghan population), and they suffered greatly at the hands of the Taliban -- some 2,000 Hazara in Mazar-i Sharif were murdered in August 1998, about 300 were killed in January 2001, and there was another massacre in May 2001.

But the Hazara about which Iran supposedly is so concerned also suffered during the presidency of Rabbani, who is an ethnic Tajik. Professor Patricia Gossman of Georgetown University and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies described the situation in an interview with RFE/RL. "[The Hazaras] also fought against some of the other groups who were trying to take Kabul, including Ahmad Shah Massoud and [General Abdul Rashid] Dostum. In fact, some of the worst fighting in Kabul between 1992 and 1995 was in west Kabul, in the Hazara neighborhoods. And in some of the atrocities that took place on both sides -- the groups were responsible for attacks on Pashtun civilians, and Hazaras themselves were the victims of both Massoud's forces and a Pashtun force. Hundreds of Hazaras were massacred." Massoud's forces were mainly ethnic Tajiks, and Dostum's were mainly ethnic Uzbeks.

Shia and Hazara Afghans currently serve with the Northern Alliance, but that body is dominated by Tajiks and Uzbeks. So the Hazara may find themselves without representation in a post-Taliban government.

Iran is not the only outside power with a close interest in the Afghan peace processes and the country's future government. Moscow continues to back Rabbani -- President Vladimir Putin met with Rabbani in Dushanbe on 22 October, and arms supplies to the Northern Alliance have increased. Islamabad, meanwhile, wants an Afghan government in which the Pashtun are represented, and it has called for the inclusion of "moderate Taliban" in the future government, probably as a sop to the militants in Pakistan. The existence of such a thing as a "moderate Taliban" seems very unlikely to Iran, Russia, the Northern Alliance, and others. Foreign Minister Kharrazi, for example, said, "The Taliban's past is black, they tainted themselves, there is no room for them in the coalition government in Afghanistan's future," ITAR-TASS reported on 19 October. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN LOOKS AT A FUTURE IRAQ. There is some speculation that Iraq's current rulers are going to join the Taliban in the dustbin of history, and Arabic news sources are reporting that within this context Tehran's support for the Iraqi opposition has put it in contact with Washington. Regardless of the veracity of such reports, Iran needs very little pushing to act against Iraq.

The Saudi-owned "Al-Hayat" reported on 14 October that Iranian, American, and Turkish intelligence officials met in Ankara to discuss counter-terrorism, according to "informed diplomatic sources." At the same time, according to the Arabic daily, American forces are preparing for an operation in northern Iraq and 2,300 "American peshmerga" (Kurds who worked for the U.S. before 1996) have returned to the Iraq-Turkey border region.

"Al-Watan al-Arabi" reported on 26 October that the Jordanian leadership suspects that Tehran, Ankara, and Washington are up to something involving Iraq and Afghanistan, but that this started well before the current crisis in the region. The daily described a November 2000 meeting in Berlin that was attended by mid-level officials from Washington, Tehran, Islamabad, Ankara, and Moscow. Most of the Iranian participants came from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' intelligence unit.

The Iraqi aspect of these discussions -- as well as separate Iran-U.S. discussions -- focused on the future role of the Tehran-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its chairman, Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim. Tehran called on Washington to cease its support for the Iraqi National Congress under Ahmad Chalabi. Washington supposedly responded to this request positively, and Mohammad Hadi and Ahmad al-Bayyati of the SCIRI have been in close contact with the Americans. "Al-Watan al-Arabi" reported that Washington at the time suggested a 44-year old Shia Kurd named Aras Karim as an opposition leader that all sides might accept.

Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim discussed the possibility of U.S. attacks against Afghanistan in the 8 October issue of "Qods" from Mashhad. He said that the SCIRI would resist any attacks if their aim is to "target the Iraqi nation and meddle in the way its destiny and future is determined." If the aim of the attacks is to target Saddam Hussein and his regime, however, the SCIRI would cooperate with "the international and regional efforts."

Several recent reports from Iran explain the antipathy towards Iraq. Mr. Balai, the Qasr-i Shirin district governor, said that since 27 October Iraqi officials have been blocking Iranian access to Shia pilgrimage sites. This is because it is the Eid-i Shaban (the birthday of the Hidden Imam), Balai added, according to Iranian state radio on 29 October. Iranian pilgrims to Najaf and Karbala often face difficulties imposed by their Iraqi hosts, such as excessive fees for tickets, food, and visas, and they also have to exchange specific amounts of currency (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 May 1999 and 7 August 2000). In this most recent case, pilgrims would be re-routed to another border crossing once visits resumed on 31 October, state radio reported.

Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani cited some other complaints about Iraq that relate to the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. He said that Iraq has not implemented all aspects of the cease-fire (UN Resolution 598), Baghdad ignores the demarcation of borders, and it refuses to acknowledge Iranian rights to the Arvand Rud waterway. Moreover, Baghdad has not accounted for all the Iranian prisoners of war it held, and there still are questions about the alleged mass executions of Iranian prisoners by the Iraqis. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN LIMITS MEDIA ACCESS. "The enemy hatches plots, and the Islamic system foils the plots. They adopt policies for harming the Islamic system, and the Islamic system confronts them with counteroffensive policies," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a 30 October speech.

This may explain why the Iranian government has resumed jamming broadcasts by the Persian Service of RFE/RL. The normal frequencies are, from 0430-0730 UTC (GMT), 15290 khz, 12015 khz, and 9585 khz. The broadcasts from 1400-1700 UTC are on frequencies 9435, 11730, 15195, and 17885. From 2000-2300 UTC, the frequencies are 7280 and 9835. Persian-language broadcasts by the Voice of America are being jammed, too. Tehran is using two high-power bubble jammers and one low-power "whiner" jammer, and it has other types available.

It is possible to jam Persian-language satellite television broadcasts from Los Angeles, too. But Tehran has taken an easier approach and is confiscating Iranians' satellite dishes (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 October 2001).

"The enemy and its domestic agents" are trying make the Iranian people "indifferent to their glorious past and weaken their resistance," Supreme Leader Khamenei warned in a 1 November speech. He went on to say that "arrogant America and other world arrogant powers" will make up for the losses suffered at Iran's hands by imposing a "cultural and propaganda blockade [of Iran] and by belittling the slogans and ideals of the people." Khamenei also warned in his speeches that domestic elements, intentionally and unintentionally, cooperate with the "enemy."

This could explain two recent developments regarding the domestic print media. A court in the northwestern city of Zanjan banned on 30 October the "Omid-i Zanjan" weekly for defaming Iranian officials and the Islamic Republic, and sentenced managing director Jafar Karimi to two years in prison. Because Karimi is a disabled veteran, however, the prison sentence has been suspended. He has 20 days to appeal. "Amin-i Zanjan," which Karimi edited previously, was banned on 25 April 2001 for publishing articles that caused divisiveness and for trying to provoke riots. The trial of Ali Yusef-Pur, managing editor of the conservative daily "Siyasat-i Ruz," began on 29 October. Charges against him are based on complaints from reformist figures of libel and defamation. The hearing was adjourned until 5 November.

Two new dailies may appear soon. "Islahat," with managing editor Najmudin Mohammadi, and "Mardom Salari," with managing editor Mustafa Kavakabian, have received licenses, "Tehran Times" reported on 30 October. (Bill Samii)

JUDICIARY ASSUMES MORE RESPONSIBILITY. The recent conflict between the judicial branch of government on one side and the executive and legislative branches of government on the other side is not likely to disappear. The Iranian Judiciary is trying to take on more of the responsibilities that normally would be handled by the executive branch and the leadership. On 29 October the Judiciary created a committee to oversee the implementation of state policies regarding Afghanistan and the region. Members of this committee would be the head of the state inspectorate (National Control and Inspection Organization), the Tehran Justice Department chief, the deputy Judiciary chief for social affairs, and the attorney general would serve as chairman. Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, meanwhile, said that legal actions would be taken against people who do not act in accordance with the Supreme National Security Council's stance regarding relations with the U.S.

Reformist parliamentarian Ahmad Burqani told an open session of parliament on 30 October that the creation of this committee is illegal and the Judiciary is exceeding its powers, which are defined in Article 156 of the constitution. This article of the constitution defines the Judiciary's duties, and the most relevant one here might be supervision of the proper enforcement of laws. According to Burqani, however, the SNSC does not deal with laws, per se, so it cannot be overseen by the Judiciary. The SNSC oversees the execution of its decisions itself. Burqani warned that the Judiciary's creation of this committee could set a precedent that would endanger other articles of the constitution.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reacted on 30 October to the earlier conflict between the executive and the Judiciary, which was exposed by a public exchange of correspondence between President Mohammad Khatami and Judiciary chief Shahrudi (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 October 2001). Khamenei said that differences of opinion should not be made public, "because it will dishearten the people, make them anxious, and gladden the enemy." Differences of opinion are natural, Khamenei said, but "the Leader can resolve these problems." (Bill Samii)

IRAN BUYS RUSSIAN HELICOPTERS. Russia's "Vedomosti" newspaper reported on 1 November that Tehran has signed a $150 million contract with Rosvoruzhenie for the purchase of up to 30 MI-8 HIP helicopters. The HIP is normally used as a transport helicopter, but it can provide close air support with its rockets and guns. The helicopters will be provided by the Ulan-Ude Aircraft Factory in the republic of Buryat. Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Mehdi Safari has visited the factory, which also produces the SU-29 attack aircraft, at least two times in recent months (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 June 2001 and 27 August 2001). (Bill Samii)

IRAN MAY NOT BUY FOREIGN GRAIN. Tehran has agreed in principal to import 500,000 tons of feed barley, state television reported on 29 October, but imports actually could be less if domestic producers provide more grain than expected. U.S. Wheat Associates estimates that Iran will buy 6-7 million tons of wheat in 2001/2002, but an anonymous official from Iran's Government Trading Corporation told Reuters on 23 October that Iran would buy less than 6 million tons, because the drought in Iran has not affected wheat-producing regions.

Paul Dickerson of U.S. Wheat Associates told Reuters that a delegation of American wheat industry officials had met Iranian millers in Oman, and the Iranians said that they were authorized to buy U.S. wheat if the flour could be exported. The Iranian GTC official told Reuters that private millers are not likely to buy American wheat because of the domestic regulations they face. Under these regulations, a private entity could import up to 500,000 tons of wheat if it could export the same amount of flour. There is no export market for Iranian flour, however, according to the Iranian official. (Bill Samii)

FARMERS NEED HELP. Abolqasem Mokhtari, a parliamentary representative from southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province, told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 29 October that thousands of his constituents sent a 21-meter petition to President Mohammad Khatami in which they called for relief. The current regional drought has been especially tough on the province, which is already at the bottom of Iran's development index. And because about two-thirds of Zabol's population works in the agricultural sector, they are particularly affected by the drying up of Lake Hamun and by the frequent sandstorms. People's farms are being covered up with sand and they are leaving the province.

The government must help the local population, Mokhtari told RFE/RL's Persian Service. When it is time to determine the budget, however, Sistan va Baluchistan is ignored. Mokhtari has no news on the president's reaction to this most recent petition. When provincial representatives asked Khatami for help last year (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 October 2000), he ignored them for one month, and when they met, he told them to rely on local manpower and natural resources. It was only after the 17 October 2000 bombing of a Shia mosque in Zahedan that Khatami sent a delegation to investigate the drought damage.

Currently, there is water rationing in Bushehr, Fars, Isfahan, Kerman, Khorasan, and Tehran. And it is not just in Sistan va Baluchistan that farmers need help. Forty-five percent of the livestock in Khorasan Province has died, IRNA reported on 31 October. In a letter to President Khatami, 190 parliamentarians called for greater attention to the needs of Iran's farmers and gardeners. Their letter stated that in some parts of the country 90 percent of the population works in agriculture, "Tehran Times" reported on 22 October, and about one-third of the country's job opportunities are created in the agricultural sector.

Amir Hussein Mir Karimi Kashani, who serves on the managing board of the sugarcane development industry, described some of the financial difficulties encountered by the agricultural sector which would hinder job creation. Kashani said that only 28 percent of the credit allocated to his industry has been disbursed so far, IRNA reported on 8 October. This delay means that two sugar refining units that were to become operational this year are still inactive. Moreover, a yeast- and alcohol-producing unit at the Daabal Khazai project and the Imam Khomeini semi-compressor board plant have been postponed until 2003.

Some possible solutions to the problems in the agricultural sector appeared in the 4 September "Jomhuri-yi Islami." It said there is a need to reconstruct and restore the traditional qanat irrigation system. The machinery and technology for modern agriculture must be developed, and more people should be encouraged to work in the agriculture sector. (Bill Samii)