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Iran Report: December 3, 2001

3 December 2001, Volume 4, Number 46

NEW GENERATION TO LEAD AFGHANISTAN? In a letter read on 27 November to Afghans meeting in a facility overlooking the Rhine River in Petersburg, Germany, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned, "You must not allow the mistakes of the past to be repeated, particularly those of 1992. To many skeptics, it appears that that is precisely what you are about to do. You must prove them wrong and show that you can choose the path of compromise over conflict." By the end of the week it seemed that some success had been achieved, albeit with difficulty, and most of the post-Taliban leadership positions would go to younger pro-Western members of the Northern Alliance and to an ally of former King Mohammad Zahir Shah.

After some delays, the meeting between delegates from the Northern Alliance (United Front), backers of Zahir Shah (the Rome Process), the Cyprus Process, and the Peshawar Convention began on 27 November. The goal was to decide on an interim administration that would govern Afghanistan for three to six months, as well as an interim council that eventually would form a Loya Jirga (a sort of grand assembly). This Loya Jirga, in turn, would create a two-year transitional government that would decide on Afghanistan's constitution.

On the first day of the conference, UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi acknowledged that achieving these objectives would be difficult. Nevertheless, Fawzi told reporters, "Time is of the essence. Speed is very important in concluding a deal.... [T]he situation on the ground is changing so rapidly.... The land needs to be ruled. It needs an authority. It needs an administration..."

By the second day, the four delegations were debating appointees to the interim council, which may have as many as 200 members, and also discussing a temporary administration. Amin Farhang, an adviser to the Rome group, said that two committees have been set up to discuss the interim council's membership. He said the Rome delegation and the Northern Alliance delegation each would have five members on the committees. The Cyprus and Peshawar delegations would be consulted. Farhang said that the interim council would be called the Supreme Council of National Unity. Other issues -- the composition of the interim government, Zahir Shah's future role, and the possible need for an outside security force -- remained undecided.

By the third day of the talks, it was agreed that the government would call a Loya Jirga in the spring of 2002 to put into place a transitional government for two years, to be followed by free elections. But the factions had agreed on neither how many seats each of the factions would hold in the interim bodies, nor on who should fill them. The Northern Alliance's President Burhanuddin Rabbani, furthermore, rejected the list his faction wants to name to the council and to the administration.

Rabbani demonstrated passive resistance to the talks even before they started. Speaking on 26 November, he said: "This meeting is not a summit council.... There are no leaders of parties from Afghanistan. The main councils and meetings will take place inside Afghanistan, and senior officials must participate to take the main decisions." U.S., German, Iranian, and British diplomats pressured Rabbani directly to cooperate, according to AP. And in what is probably not a coincidence, reports emerged that Rabbani, a theology professor in his sixties, is out of touch and that it is time for a new generation, and his efforts to hang onto power would be unsuccessful.

Rabbani's actions may be based on his relationship with Tehran. Coming around the time of Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi's visit to Islamabad, Rabbani spoke almost eagerly about relations with Pakistan. On 30 November, he said that, "We have a big interest in creating a diplomatic relationship with Pakistan, even before I meet with Pervez Musharraf. It is better if we start now to create a relationship." Kharrazi visited Islamabad soon thereafter, and he reacted positively to this. He also said, "I believe we have to take steps for removing the clots [blocks] which had been created between Pakistani and Afghans, parts of Afghans, and therefore any contacts between Northern Alliance officials and leaders and Pakistani leaders would be welcomed." Kharrazi would later say that Pakistan and Iran had come to terms on the Afghan issue.

Another complication arose when Haji Qadir, a top-ranking Pashtun in the Northern Alliance delegation, left the talks to protest what he termed the inadequate representation of his ethnic group. About 38 percent of the Afghan population is Pashtun. Pashtuns involved in the talks are "mostly united" in their distrust of the Northern Alliance, and they do not believe that this group will negotiate away territory it won militarily, "The Washington Post" reported on 27 November.

On the morning of 2 December, the UN presented a draft plan that represented a mix of ideas by all four sides. Under the draft plan, Zahir Shah would preside over the opening of the Loya Jirga. Members of the monarch's delegation said that Rabbani would have no role, although UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said that, "He will continue to play a role until the interim administration is in place." It is not known who would serve in the interim council -- "As they say, it's not final until it's final. There is an important missing link here: the names. We're still waiting for a list of names," Fawzi said.

Sources in Germany told "RFE/RL Iran Report" that there would be a prime minister and five deputies, including one woman. The Rome group is to name the prime minister, and it has named Sattar Sirat, who has served as an adviser to Zahir Shah. Other names that are heard frequently and which seem to have Western support are those of Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, and Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim. Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun leader who is in Afghanistan now but who contacts Germany on a daily basis via satellite telephone, probably has the backing for a future leadership role in Afghanistan, too.

The draft accord also allowed for a supreme court, and it referred to the deployment of a multi-national force until the Afghans build up their police and army. "The multinational force is going to be deployed when the Afghan administration decides when it has to be deployed," Fawzi explained. Fawzi expressed his hope that the draft would be ready for adoption by 3 December. (Bill Samii)

HUNT FOR BIN LADEN CONTINUES. Fighting in Afghanistan is matched with efforts to find Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born terrorist presumed to be behind the 11 September attacks against the U.S. Rumors are rife about bin Laden's whereabouts.

"European intelligence sources" said that bin Laden refuses to abandon his followers who are fighting in Afghanistan, London's "Al-Arab al-Alamiyah" reported on 23 November. Other Al-Qaeda personnel have headed for Central Asia via Iran, while others have headed for Pakistan. Peshawar's "The Frontier Post" reported on 25 November that bin Laden left Afghanistan well before the fall of Kabul, and Al-Qaeda leaders went to Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. An "expert on guerrilla warfare" told the Pakistani publication that bin Laden would head for Uzbekistan or Chechnya, after hiding out in Iran for a few months. Rawalpindi's "Jang" reported on 29 November that bin Laden was spotted in Talqan Province near Uzbekistan.

Mr. Mahdavi, an expert on regional politics, told Mashhad radio on 20 November that he believes bin Laden is hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. Senior Pakistani intelligence officials, on the other hand, said in the 27 November "The Washington Post" that their operatives are trying to locate bin Laden in Afghanistan. Once he is found the information would be provided to the U.S., which could capture or kill him. Pakistani and Western intelligence sources speculate that bin Laden is hiding near Tora Bora in Nangarhar Province, close to the Pakistani border, and there are reports that bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda leadership is looking for hideouts in Pakistan's Pashtun area. One Pakistani official acknowledged that, "Many Pakistanis are known to have deep ties with Osama, and they would be willing to host Al-Qaeda in Pakistan." (Bill Samii)

AFGHAN WOMEN IN PEACE TALKS. Afghan writer and intellectual Qasim Akhgar was very blunt in the 24 November "Entekhab": "Women make up half the population, and now that the majority of participants in the meeting [in Germany] are rattling about women's rights, we want to know how they are going to prove their sincerity."

So far, the signs do not seem very encouraging, with only four women present in an official capacity at the conference, and with only two working as actual delegates. Indeed, Akhgar said that it should not be difficult to find groups to represent women, because there are a number of Afghan women's organizations that are active in Pakistan, and Afghan women's magazines are published in Iran, Pakistan, and Europe.

On the other hand, Northern Alliance Interior Minister Yunus Qanuni said on the opening day of the conference: "We want national unity and the formation of a system in which all different ethnic groups, including women and men, could participate in the political life of Afghanistan in a just manner."

Moreover, Fatimeh Gailani, an adviser to the Peshawar group who lives in Providence, Rhode Island, dismissed criticism of the lack of women representatives at the conference. Gailani -- whose father, former guerrilla commander Pir Sayed Ahmed Gailani, is the nominal head of the Peshawar group -- told RFE/RL that the talks mark a new beginning for Afghan women in Afghanistan. "I think we [are getting] what we didn't -- I didn't -- dream [of]. I thought we would go through all the process of years and years to get what we had in the time of democracy [under the monarchy of Mohammad Zahir Shah]. But now I can see that maybe, Inshallah, we will get it much sooner than that."

Gailani expressed the hope that the new Afghan leadership would eliminate many of the restrictions on women's educational, professional, political, and social activities that were created by the Mujahedin and then taken to extremes by the Taliban. "You will see. You will see that it was so specifically and clearly spelled [out] by all: That women will have what they had during democracy, which for me is enough. They will be able to have the equal opportunity of education, equal opportunity of work, equal opportunity of political participation to vote and to be nominated as candidates in the parliament. And I hope I will be one."

Pir Sayed Ahmed Gailani said in the 15 November issue of Milan's "Corriere della Sera" that it is time to restore women's rights. First would come education, followed by the right to work. The mandatory wearing of the all-enveloping burqa should be eliminated, too, although hijab "is a different matter altogether." Gailani said that Afghan women should dress in a fashion that corresponds with their style -- "None of us is accustomed to seeing low necklines or other parts of the body exposed or uncovered."

The participation of women in the Bonn conference should not be seen as tokenism. Amin Farhang, a delegate representing Zahir Shah, told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service on 27 November: "The women present here take a very active part [in the discussions]. For instance, Mrs. Wali, who came from the United States, has been assigned to answer questions of the press in English." He expressed his confidence that all the women would participate in a "very useful basis [and would act] in the interest of Afghan women."

Although women will participate in the Afghan peace talks in Bonn, commentator Helena Cobban noted in the 27 November "The Christian Science Monitor," the campaign to empower them "will still be a long one." She also recommended that the future role of Afghan women be neither decorative nor symbolic: "Societies that support women's rights and empower women in leadership roles are more likely to achieve better lives for their people, and more likely to be at peace, than those that oppress women." (Bill Samii)

ACTIVE IRANIAN WOMEN WANT MORE. Iranian women play a greater role in their country's affairs than their Afghan counterparts, with a number of them serving in political office, but there are calls for even more.

So far, there is one female vice president, Masumeh Ebtekar, and President Mohammad Khatami recently appointed Zahra Rahnavard as his senior adviser on cultural affairs (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 October 2001). Women also serve in parliament and in municipal councils. Faezeh Hashemi, furthermore, was re-elected as director of the Islamic Countries Women's Sports Federation (ICWSF) for a third consecutive four-year term, IRNA reported on 29 October. Hashemi founded the ICWSF.

There have been some firsts recently. One of these is the selection of Batul Kih as the first female mayor in Firuzkuh, according to an 11 November IRNA report. She was appointed by Tehran Governor-General Ali-Akbar Rahmani. In another first for women, Zahra Ebrahimi was appointed as head of the Welfare Organization in Qorveh city in Kurdistan Province, IRNA reported on 4 November. Farzin Rezai, the organization's director-general, said at the introduction ceremony that, "The authorities should make use of capable and experienced women in administrative positions to promote greater participation of women and their progress in various social fields." Ashraf Borujerdi was appointed as the Interior Ministry's deputy director for councils and social affairs, according to a 22 October IRNA report.

Another recent development is the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran Women's News Agency (IWNA). IWNA Director Shahla Habibi described the agency's objectives in the 20 September "Resalat." She said that IWNA would "present good news and reports to the people and the relevant authorities about various topics with the focus on 'women.'" Habibi went on to say that most of the news in other countries about Iranian women comes from opposition sources, which means that there are no accurate and factual sources about the situation of Iranian women. She said that IWNA would present its research to the newspapers about once every three months, adding, "Our aim is merely to have officials pay more attention and notice to the issues of women."

Not everybody is happy with the state of women in Iran. Imam Khomeini Relief Committee chief Seyyed Reza Nayeri said on 11 November that his organization supports over 400,000 female breadwinners, according to IRNA. Fariba Abedini, the women's affairs adviser to the Luristan Province governor-general, said on 4 November that only two women in the province hold managerial positions, and the province's females' participation in social affairs fall far below their capabilities, according to IRNA. Abedini blamed "the ancient culture of male domination" as the main reason for this state of affairs. In a pre-agenda speech to the legislature, Tabriz representative Aliasqar Amir Sherdust also criticized the state of women's affairs, the 11 October "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. He said that some Iranians still have traditional views about women: "It seems that they still live in the Qajar era." He added, "[T]he only thing that has been done for women is write down some sentences on paper."

Member of Parliament Jamileh Kadivar is not very happy about the number of women in management positions. In an interview published in the 10 October "Entekhab," Kadivar said that there is an "implicit" agreement between the male members of all political factions, and they do not see women as capable of management and urge them to wait. There also is resistance to the entry of new people. Kadivar said that these problems stem from men's cultural baggage, rather than from any sort of clerical opposition. Kadivar speculated that excluding women from responsible positions would dissuade them from voting in future elections and could reduce their political participation.

Attitudes, as Kadivar suggested, are one the factors hindering an improvement in women's status. Factional politics is a problem, too. This year's budget for women's affairs is 2.5 billion rials (about $312,500 at the open market rate), according to the 25 October "Resalat," which is a 420 percent increase from the previous year. The conservative daily asked which problems were eliminated before that required so much more money now, and what exactly has the Center for Women's Participation Affairs accomplished? "Resalat" suggested that the Center's leadership should try to accomplish something, instead of merely rejoicing about its improved budget as if that was the end goal. (Bill Samii)

CULTURAL CONCERNS DOMINATE BASIJ WEEK. Iran marked Basij Week in late November, and although Basij commander Hejazi said that this year's motto is national security and strength, culture seemed to be the dominant issue. Hejazi described some of the events that would take place in a 25 November interview with state television: there would be several large Koran-reading forums and also large rallies. The purpose of the rallies is to preserve cohesion and boost morale. In this way, Hejazi hopes that the Basij will "oppose the arbitrary action of the global arrogance in Afghanistan" and support the Palestinian people.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei observed a 26 November Basij parade at the cultural and military training center on the outskirts of Isfahan and then said that the Basij should be an example to the world's young people. Khamenei added, "Today, the Iranian nation and government are defending truth and justice and oppose the oppression committed by the U.S. and the other powers, explicitly and without any political considerations," IRNA reported.

Thousands of Basijis attended a 26 November rally at Qom's Hazrat-i Fatimeh Mausoleum. Islamic Revolution Guards Corps chief General Yahya Rahim-Safavi told the crowd that the current objective of the Basij is "development of the Basij culture and thinking to protect the achievements of the Islamic revolution," state radio reported. Every Basiji must be a cultural soldier to counter the cultural threats against the system. Rahim-Safavi added that, "[T]he superpowers, such as America, are attempting to govern the world in different issues through forming a new world order."

Deputy IRGC commander General Hassanzadeh spoke on 26 November to Basijis who had rallied at the Yasuj prayer ground in Boir-Ahmad. He also commented on cultural issues, saying, "[The] Enemy infiltrates from cultural ways and through writing, film, quarterly magazine, plays, festivals, consumption culture, insulting people's sacred values, propaganda and disseminating lies." Hassanzadeh told the Basijis that Western society is Godless. He warned that Western states "try to dominate all countries in a liberal democratic system." An example of this, according to Hassanzadeh, was the post-11 September statement by the U.S. that "the world is either with us or against us and anyone who is against us must be destroyed." According to Hassanzadeh, the "slogans of democracy, people's rule, and human rights" are meant to "destroy all ideologies."

The Basij was discussed during the Friday Prayers sermons of 23 November, the first day of Basij week. In Qom, Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini discussed the role of Basij during the Iran-Iraq War. "Today," Amini said, "they are fighting in the cultural front against the enemy's plots." In Tehran, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani described Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's impression of the Basij. "Once Saddam told our senior officials at an official meeting: We cannot do anything when we are confronted with your children who wear green headbands and who are prepared to go as far as they like."

IRGC chief Rahim-Safavi announced on 23 November that by 21 March 2003, the Basij Resistance Force would have 10 million members. And by 2011, that number would be doubled, according to state radio. (Bill Samii)

GULISTAN GETS NEW REPRESENTATIVES. Voters in Gulistan Province elected seven new parliamentary representatives in 30 November by-elections, but there are questions about the degree of voter participation and about the political affiliation of the winners. On the one hand, state television described the turnout as "good" at 84 percent of last year's parliamentary election turnout. On the other hand, Interior Ministry public relations director Jahanbakhsh Khanjani said, "Public participation was lower than in previous elections according to some reports," the Iran Students News Agency reported. Press reports suggested that voter turnout was low because the conservative Supervisory Boards affiliated with the Guardians Council rejected many potential candidates (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 and 26 November 2001). Regarding the political affiliation of the winners, Solidarity Party leader Mustafa Kavakebian said that four of the winners hold reformist viewpoints, two are independents, and one is conservative. State television did not describe the candidates' affiliations. The Guardians Council allocated seven days for complaints. (Bill Samii)

IRAN RECEIVES MEDIA RECOGNITION. "Iran holds the sad record of being the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East," according to Reporters Without Frontiers, and 17 journalists were in jail as of 28 November 2001. Reza Alijani, editor of the banned monthly "Iran-i Farda," was awarded on 29 November the 10th Reporters Sans Fronti�res-Fondation de France Prize. According to the prize notice, Alijani has been threatened with death several times, and he was arrested in February 2001. He was kept in isolation for 200 days, and even now his access to his lawyer or to his family is limited. This is not his first encounter with the authorities -- he was arrested and tortured in the 1980s for press activities.

Meanwhile, the United Nations General Assembly's Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee voted 71 to 53, with 41 abstentions, in favor of a resolution calling on the government of Iran to abide by its international human rights obligations, and according to a 30 November AP report, approval by the committee means that the resolution is certain to be adopted when it comes up for a vote in the General Assembly in December. The resolution expresses concern about the imprisonment of journalists, among other factors.

Tehran dismissed the UN report, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi saying that the resolution contained "repetitive, baseless, and false allegations against Iran's practice of human rights," IRNA reported. Assefi went on to say the report was based on "unfounded allegations provided by biased sources." In his words: "Certain countries are making every endeavor to impose a single culture hegemony and a biased interpretation of human rights which is unacceptable and contrary to international norms."

Undercutting these denials and accusations of cultural bias was the Judiciary's closure of "Mellat" daily on 29 November. Judge Said Mortazavi said that the daily ignored repeated warnings. "Akhbar" was banned temporarily on 28 November, the first day it was published. The publisher of the daily is/was Ahmad Safai-Far, who also served as the director of the "Akhbar-i Eqtesadi" newspaper, which was banned temporarily on 27 November. The number of press closures since April 2000 is approaching 60. (Bill Samii)

MORE AIRPORTS THAN AIRPLANES. Keramat Rahimi, executive adviser of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, said on 24 November that 17 new airports will be built under the Third Five Year Development Plan (2000-05). Twenty-eight airports have been built in the last decade, and there are 80 active airports in the whole country. The Sina Air Control Center, furthermore, was opened in late October. That project, built by foreign and Iranian experts, consists of a flight control center and 10 radar stations. The 10 radars of the Sina project and the radars at Mehrabad and Shiraz airports will double the capacity of Iranian airspace, according to IRNA, and also will contribute to safety. Sina uses a satellite control and supervision system, and its capabilities bypass international boundaries and cross into other countries' airspace.

But Rahimi said on 25 November that the Iranian air fleet uses only 34 percent of the capacity of the country's airports. He went on to say that the fleet has not grown in proportion to the expanding number of local and international airports built since 1979. The airports could handle 60 million passengers, but they only serve about 20 million right now.

Rahimi went on to say, according to IRNA, that Iranian airlines have 14,000 seats but need another 15,000 to meet market demand. In a related matter, the managing director of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Air Lines (HOMA), Davud Keshavarzian, announced that Iran is negotiating to purchase 12 Airbus aircraft. Deputy Minister of Road and Transportation and Head of the Civil Aviation Organization Behzad Mazaheri, furthermore, said that a number of private airlines would be launched in the near future, IRNA reported on 9 October. (Bill Samii)