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[ afghanistan report ]


RFE/RL Afghanistan Report
A Weekly Review of News and
Analysis of Events and Trends in Afghanistan
7 March 2005, Volume  4, Number  8
By Amin Tarzi

When the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on 21 February released Afghanistan's first-ever national development survey in a report, it was careful to state that while Afghanistan has "made remarkable progress" since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, it warned that the country "could easily tumble back into chaos." Beyond listing and analyzing numbers, the report tackles the core issue of human security.

UNDP's report is titled "Afghanistan National Development Report 2004: Security with a Human Face, Challenges and Responsibilities" (http://www.undp.org.af). The statistical findings of the report, as "grim" as they are, to quote Afghan President Hamid Karzai, tell only part of the story. Providing long-term human security for the Afghan people will prove to be an ongoing challenge.

Afghanistan is virtually at the bottom of all human development indicators used in the report. In gender development, despite the progress since the demise of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan is ranked 175th -- just above Burundi and Mali -- among 177 countries surveyed.

The countries which are statistically clustered around Afghanistan are not its neighbors but states in Africa, making Afghanistan somewhat of an oddity in its own geographical zone. For example, life expectancy for Afghans is 44.5 years at birth, which not only is more than five years lower than the average for Least Developed Countries (LCDs) standing at 50.6 years, but far less than the life expectancy of any of Afghanistan's neighbors, the lowest of which is for Pakistan at 60.8 years. The numbers fare no better for infant mortality. Afghanistan's infant mortality stands at 115 per 1,000 live births as compared to 99 for LCDs. The highest infant-mortality figures among Afghanistan's neighbors is 83, again for Pakistan. The literacy rate among Afghans, according to the UNDP report, is 28.7 percent, while Afghanistan's northern neighbors enjoy much higher rates. Iran and Pakistan stand at 77.1 percent and 41.5 percent, respectively.

These numbers and others, as depressing as they are, are only part of the challenges faced by the Afghan government and its international supporters. These issues are also those which receive the greatest attention. However, what seems to pose the greatest long-term challenge and which has not been addressed fully in discussions or on the ground is the larger issue of human security, without which Afghanistan's glass would remain half empty for the foreseeable future.

As the report points out, human security is "not a mere challenge of 'protection' and 'provision,' but of empowerment and participation. If the Afghan state, as it emerges from the ashes of its past, is to be "entrusted with the responsibility to provide public goods," the Afghan people must be able to engage the state and "hold it accountable."

"Security is not an objective good that can be delivered from the outside, but ultimately a public good and a subjective feeling that requires a conscious willingness to be 'provided' by the state and the capacity to be requested by the people."

Unless Afghans are granted the opportunity and the resources to build the capacity to become citizens of a state, rather than recipients of favors from overlords, government officials, local chiefs, and the like, it would be difficult for them to know their rights. Equally, until Afghans learn the responsibilities of citizenship, such as paying taxes and doing service for public good, it would be awkward to imagine their country as a functioning nation-state.

Thus, challenges and responsibilities are shared by the government of Afghanistan and its people. The UNDP, as an international organization, places more of the burden on the state. In the short term, to heal the wounds of the past quarter century of mayhem, the state, indeed, has the greater burden. It needs to allow Afghans to feel they are a unified, albeit diverse, nation while continuing the job of state building. Nation building cannot wait until the physical and political state is on its feet. They must grow together.

President Karzai, in a statement released on 22 February, said that his "government intends to use" the National Human Development Report "for policy guidance and as a yardstick with which to measure its future achievements." This is an excellent commitment.

If, in the first major challenge facing the country in the next few months -- with parliamentary, provincial, and local elections -- Afghans exercise their rights without intimidation and choose their representatives, their country's achievements could certainly be measured as a glass half full, despite the likely disagreements that will certainly be associated with these elections and among various elected representatives.

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on 1 March appointed controversial commander and head of Junbish-e Melli-yi Islami-ye Afghanistan, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, as chief of staff of the High Command of the Armed Forces.

The appointment comes despite calls by organizations such as Human Rights Watch to marginalize "warlords."

Dostum, one of Afghanistan's most powerful and controversial commanders, is accused of committing human rights abuses during the country's civil war in the 1990s. His forces are also accused of having let hundreds of Taliban fighters suffocate to death in late 2001 after their capture.

He has denied the allegations.

It was not immediately clear why Karzai made the appointment, but some say he may be trying to bolster support ahead of parliamentary elections this year. Dostum remains popular in northern Afghanistan among his fellow ethnic Uzbeks -- although many in the rest of the country say they do not trust him.

Dostum helped the United States oust the Taliban in late 2001 and served as a deputy defense minister in the Afghan interim government. He also ran against Karzai in the presidential vote in October and placed fourth, with some 10 percent of the vote.

Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said that whatever Karzai's reason, the appointment was a step backward.

"General Dostum has a long record of violence," Adams said. "He probably has presided over war crimes in the past, so his appointment is astonishing. Dostum is one of the main warlords in the county. He runs his section of the country with an iron fist, tolerates no opposition and has been involved in illegal activities for many years. So this may be some kind of tactical alliance with Karzai but it's a terrible decision."

Karzai so far has played down concern over Dostum. His spokesman, Jawed Ludin, said yesterday in Kabul: "Let's not talk about [Dostum's rights record] because that's a completely different issue."

Adams said that Dostum's appointment might be a sign that the Karzai government is not really ready to confront warlords.

"I think it tells people that the main human rights abusers of the last couple of decades are not going to be held accountable, but are actually being embraced by what was suppose to be a reforming government," Adams said. "So I think it calls in the question whether this really is a reforming government or whether it's just on the path of more of the same."

A recent survey by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission showed that most Afghans say they have been victims of human rights abuses in the past two decades of war and that most want to see the perpetrators brought to justice.

Karzai has already given another influential warlord, Ismail Khan, the former governor of Herat Province, a post in his cabinet. Reports said Dostum's role will be mostly symbolic (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 22 January 2005).

(Golnaz Esfandiari is an RFE/RL correspondent)

By Amin Tarzi

A statement released on 26 February by the office of the presidential spokesman stated that Afghanistan is "committed to the holding of credible parliamentary elections as soon as possible." According to the statement, the exact date of the elections will be determined by the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), which consists of members of the Independent Election Commission and the United Nations. The Afghan government is committed to providing full support to the JEMB so "that adequate preparations are in place" for the "complex undertaking" of holding the elections.

The Afghan cabinet, the statement said, has decided to refer the issue of constituency boundaries to the Afghan parliament, as there are "a significant number of disputes about the number and boundaries of districts."

President Hamid Karzai met with his cabinet on 28 February to discuss the country's upcoming parliamentary elections and other issues, Afghanistan Television reported. The head of the Independent Election Commission, Besmellah Besmel, also attended the session.

The cabinet reportedly could not agree on a date for the parliamentary elections, according to AFP on 28 February. The main point of contention is the demarcation of districts for local elections that are to be held together with parliamentary and provincial polls. The boundaries of "between 40 and 50 districts are disputed in 22 provinces," Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin explained.

Besmel said in an interview on 28 February that Afghanistan's parliamentary elections have been postponed for a further three months, Tolu television reported.

Besmel dismissed the argument made by some Afghan politicians that the delay is due to political considerations. "We cannot see any political problem, but the time mentioned in the electoral law [for the parliamentary elections] has expired," Besmel contended.

The already delayed polls were due to take place in the month of Saur (20 April-21 May) and the three-month delay would push the election date to the month of Asad (22 July-21 August).

Former Education Minister and presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni said the government should quickly announce the date for holding parliamentary elections, Kabul-based Tolu television reported on 27 February. Former Commerce Minister Sayyed Mostafa Kazemi echoed Qanuni, saying the postponement of the polls was not due to technical reasons rather than political ones.

With the agreement to defer issue of district boundaries to parliament, it means that Afghans would have to go to the polls for members of the parliament before voting for provincial and district-level elections.

By Robert McMahon

The independent agency monitoring the United Nations' drug conventions has raised alarm about the increasingly sophisticated trade of opiates from Afghanistan.

In its latest report, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says there is growing concern over illicit trafficking in Central Asia of acetic anhydride, a chemical used in the manufacture of heroin.

It has determined that drug lords in Afghanistan are importing large amounts of the precursor to produce heroin and morphine. These can be smuggled out of the country in smaller quantities than opium, limiting the risks for traffickers.

The board also urges expanded economic-development programs to divert farmers from producing opium poppies.

But INCB member Melvin Levitsky dismissed the notion that a lack of donor support for alternative-crop programs is contributing to the problem.

Levitsky told a news conference on 1 March that Kabul, with international help, needs to assert authority over drug lords. If that is not done, he warned, alternative livelihood programs will languish in poppy-growing areas.

"If you don't have both law enforcement and control in the area, alternative-development programs are not going to work because the other side will both through force and [pressure] be able to both outgun you and outspend you," Levitsky said. "So that's the problem we're all coping with. It's not really a lack of funds."

The report notes an increase in regional coordination to try to combat the trafficking of precursor chemicals into Afghanistan and of opiates from the country. A four-year-old regional effort known as "Operation Topaz" now ties together law-enforcement authorities from all of Afghanistan's neighbors to try to prevent diversions of acetic anhydride.

But the narcotics board's report expresses concern over what it calls a lack of control for prohibited goods entering Pakistan via the port of Karachi en route to Afghanistan. Large amounts of acetic anhydride are believed to be trafficked in this way.

The only seizure of the precursor chemical in the region last year was a 375-liter shipment in Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai's government recently unveiled a drug-control strategy that calls for eliminating the cultivation, production, and trafficking of narcotic drugs within a 10-year period (for more on the topic see: " see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004 and 31 January, 11 and 25 February 2005).

Levitsky, a former veteran U.S. diplomat, praised the strategy. But he indicated that Afghanistan will need international help in both the security and development dimensions to carry it out.

"We have urged on the board countries to devote much more attention than they have to this problem and to try to help the government of President Karzai and the surrounding governments, who constitute some of the transit routes for this, to get a handle on this problem as part of the general area to stabilize and bring peace to the area," Levitsky said.

The INCB report also said that counternarcotics measures should be brought into the mainstream of overall development assistance.

Mohammad Yunos Bazel, a minister in Afghanistan's UN mission in New York, said this approach, more than expanded security, will have an impact.

"[The] international community, they are helping us how to strengthen the Afghan government, how to fight against the terrorism, Al Qaeda, [and] others," Bazel said. "Without the help of the international community, Afghanistan would not be able to do that. We are thankful [for] that. But at the same time, [we] have to pay more attention to the revitalization and the rehabilitation of the infrastructure of the country and mainly to creating jobs, establishing factories, rebuilding all these roads and revitalizing the commerce, trade, and these things."

Afghanistan's new minister in charge of drug control, Habibullah Qaderi, said earlier this year that his government for the time being will limit its efforts to conducting police crackdowns on smugglers and laboratories producing heroin from opium.

(Robert McMahon is an RFE/RL correspondent)

By Ron Synovitz

U.S. Senator John McCain's (Republican, Arizona) call for permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan came after talks in Kabul on 22 February in which he congratulated Afghan President Hamid Karzai on progress toward democracy.

"We also want to declare our commitment, and that of the [American] people we represent, to the long-term strategic partnership that we believe must endure for many, many years," McCain said. "Not only for the good of the Afghan people but also for the good of the American people, because of the long-term security interests that we have in the region."

McCain, specifically mentioned "permanent bases" after being asked by a reporter to clarify what he meant by a "long-term strategic" partnership: "We mean by that economic assistance, technical assistance, military partnership -- including, and this is a personal view, joint military permanent bases."

Afghan presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin, confirmed on 23 February that both Washington and Kabul are eager for their ties to evolve into a long-term strategic partnership. But Ludin says Karzai can not agree to a permanent U.S. military presence without approval from parliament. And the Afghan parliament will not be created until after elections are held later this year.

The main logistical center for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan is the Bagram Air Field north of Kabul -- known by U.S. military forces as "BAF." Although commonly referred to in media reports as "Bagram Air Base," U.S. military officials say that term is a misnomer because Bagram is not considered a full-fledged "air base."

Indeed, only a small portion of Bagram's vast acreage has been put to use by the U.S.-led coalition. That's because the air field had, for years, been on the front lines between warring factions -- including the Taliban and the former United Front (aka Northern Alliance). That left much of the land within the massive compound littered with mines and other unexploded ordnance.

U.S. military officials have told RFE/RL that work to clear the ordnance from Bagram, which has been underway for more than a year, is aimed at eventually expanding the facility into a full-fledged regional air base.

The clearance operations also come as U.S. and NATO forces decrease their presence at Soviet-era military bases in neighboring Central Asian countries like Manas International Airport in Kyrgyzstan and Qarshi Khanabad in Uzbekistan.

Pentagon officials have describe the U.S. presence in those former Soviet republics as "open-ended." They note that Washington has never asked for permanent basing rights in those countries.

Ian Kemp, an independent defense analyst based in London, says that in addition to Bagram, McCain also is probably referring to smaller logistical centers in Afghanistan that are used by U.S.-led coalition forces. "The American strategic concept has changed significantly in recent years -- moving away from the large bases which characterized the Cold War," Kemp said. "[The Pentagon is] trying to establish a network of smaller bases where the United States has put some infrastructure in place so that these bases can be used to conduct exercises -- particularly joint training with local troops -- and then can be used for the basis of broader deployment should that become necessary. Certainly I think Senator McCain's comments about establishing [permanent] bases in Afghanistan really should be seen in this context."

Other key U.S.-run logistical centers in Afghanistan include Kandahar Air Field, or "KAF," in southern Afghanistan and the Shindand Air Field in the western province of Herat. Shindand is located about 100 kilometers from the border with Iran.

Paul Beaver, an independent defense analyst based in London, says the proximity of Shindand to Iran could give Tehran cause for concern -- particularly considering McCain's remark that permanent U.S. bases should be part of a "regional" security network. "It sits right next to Iran," Beaver said. "You could, if you were the Iranians, make a very strong case to say, 'This is America trying to hedge in Iran. They've got bases in Iraq. They have bases in Afghanistan. They have a relationship with Pakistan. They have ships in the Gulf. They are trying to encircle Iran.' I think America has to be very careful before it does that."

McCain's call for permanent bases also could be seen as a reference to the even smaller facilities for U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in eastern, southern and western Afghanistan.

The PRTs were created with the stated aim of helping Afghans with infrastructure projects such as the construction of roads, bridges, power plants, schools and water wells.

NATO-led PRTs in northern Afghanistan have limited their work strictly to such reconstruction projects.

But in areas where U.S. forces continue to battle the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, some U.S.-led PRTs serve a dual function that also includes what the U.S. military calls a "forward operations base."

That means they are sometimes used to deploy and supply military operations by U.S. Special Forces and specially-trained mountain infantry -- as well as serving as a tactical operations center and communications hub for commanders.

(Ron Synovitz is an RFE/RL correspondent)

A commission set up to investigate complaints lodged by Afghans who made the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj has issued a report that led to the suspension of several officials of the Endowments and Islamic Affairs and Transport ministries, Radio Afghanistan reported on 28 February.

The report concluded that "serious cases of embezzlement and corruption" took place, and that the people involved in the improprieties -- including officials from the two ministries -- acted in "an organized manner." According to a decree by Karzai, the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs has suspended seven officials, including Deputy Minister Ata al-Rahman Salim, and the Transport Ministry has suspended five officials, including Jahed Azimi, the deputy minister in charge of administration. Salim was briefly detained by Kabul police and released on bail because of complaints by pilgrims.

Salim was released from police custody on bail according to a separate Radio Afghanistan report on 28 February. Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said that Salim was arrested at the request and petition of "a large number" of Afghan pilgrims. It is unclear how long he was detained or when he was arrested.

The petitioners claimed that Salim failed to carry out his duties as head of the delegation responsible for providing accommodation and other services to Afghan pilgrims in Saudi Arabia. The pilgrims had reportedly prepaid for these services. Mashal said the investigation into the case will continue.

Salim has denied the charges leveled against him, saying that some of the problems faced by the pilgrims were caused by floods in Saudi Arabia, Tolu television reported on 26 February. Salim also contended that a number of Afghan pilgrims who had traveled from Pakistan insulted Afghan government officials and hoisted the flag of the ousted Taliban regime.

Legal action against government officials is not common in Afghanistan and Salim's case, if followed through, could establish a precedent for people to take legal action as a means of resolving grievances with officials. (Amin Tarzi)

A neo-Taliban spokesman, Luftullah Hakimi, on 22 February denied that the militia is holding talks with the Afghan government, Pajhwak News Agency reported.

His remarks came after the Taliban regime's former unofficial envoy to the United Nations, Abdul Hakim Mujahed, claimed on 20 February that he and three other former members of the ousted regime were holding talk with Kabul. But Hakimi told Pajhwak that anyone talking with the government does not represent the current Taliban -- or the neo-Taliban (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 February 2005).

"Our only way is to wage jihad, not negotiations and this jihad will continue till doomsday," Hakimi added. Hakimi's remarks appear consistent with Mujahed's assertion that he and his team were holding talks with Kabul as members of their political party, the Khaddam al-Furqan (Servants of the Koran). Afghan presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin affirmed on 22 February that the Afghan government was holding talks with Mujahed and his team, the report added. According to Ludin, the former Taliban members who are negotiating with Kabul will in due time speak to the media. But he did not provide a timeframe.

Meanwhile, governors of two southern Afghan provinces are holding talks with members of the neo-Taliban militia inside Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 24 February. Ghazni Governor Hajji Asadullah Khaled, confirming the report, told Pajhwak on 24 February that at this juncture he cannot "reveal the names of the people who are involved in the talks or give any further details." Zabul Governor Khial Mohammad Hosayni has told the news agency that he also has commenced talks with the neo-Taliban in his province.

However, Khaleq Ahmad Khaleq, a spokesman at the presidential press office, said he was unaware of any talks between the neo-Taliban and provincial authorities in Afghanistan.

In a related story, members of the former Taliban regime who have been negotiating with the Afghan government have asked for identity cards, Afghanistan Television reported on 1 March. Ludin said that those members of the former Taliban regime who have accepted the government's offer of reconciliation have asked for "special identity cards" in order to "feel safe." According to Ludin, the government and coalition forces are studying the request.

While some former members of the Taliban regime are accepting the reconciliation offer by Kabul, violence continued as Afghan security forces killed seven neo-Taliban militiamen on 24 February in Khost Province, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Khost security commander Brigadier-General Mohammad Ayyub said that the neo-Taliban had first ambushed Afghan border security forces, wounding three. (Amin Tarzi)

Mawlawi Mohammad Yunos Khales, who heads his own faction of Hizb-e Islami, vowed on 27 February to continue the jihad until Afghanistan "is liberated and the Islamic system is established," Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported, citing a faxed statement. Khales stated that "instead of withdrawing their troops" from Afghanistan, the United States is "speaking of establishing permanent [military] bases." Therefore, "holding talks with aggressive forces and with their puppet government in Kabul means obvious surrender," he argued, adding that "[we] will not remain indifferent to those who want to surrender to the enemy and assist the enemy by negotiating with them on behalf of the Taliban or mujahedin or any other party." Khales issued a similar declaration in 2003 that prompted claims that the elderly cleric had been kidnapped and forced to write the declaration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2003). Since the fall of the communist government in Kabul in 1992, Khales has mostly remained outside of politics and did not actively participate in the civil war. His base of support was the eastern Nangarhar Province. (Amin Tarzi)

In a report published on 23 February, Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) recommends that the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) needs to be revamped in order to give Kabul the ability to extend its authority throughout Afghanistan and establish the rule of law (http://www.crisisgroup.org). The report, titled "Afghanistan: Getting Disarmament Back on Track," says that while the DDR process has managed to decommission or reduce most of the "officially recognized militia units" in the country and has collected the bulk of their heavy weapons, it has failed to "make significant inroads in disarming the powerful Tajik-dominated units in" Kabul and Panjsher provinces. The report also warns that the DDR process has failed to "tackle the threat posed by unofficial militias," which are maintained by most "contending regional and local forces, including registered political parties." ICG estimates that 850 militias with "an excess of 65,000 members" remain outside the scope of the current DDR process. The often-lethargic DDR process has been cited as one reason for not holding Afghanistan's parliamentary elections alongside the presidential poll in October 2004. (Amin Tarzi)

The Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry on 24 February inaugurated the deployment of 15 teams to verify plans led by provincial governors to eradicate opium poppy crops, a ministry statement indicated. The teams are set to visit the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar in the south, Nangarhar in the east and Balkh in the north. "There have been widespread reports of governor-led poppy eradication in the main poppy growing province," Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi said. These teams would provide the ministry with "accurate record and extent of this eradication," Qaderi added. The teams have been trained by specialists from the United Kingdom, the lead country in the counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 February 2005). (Amin Tarzi)

Officials in Nangarhar Province intend to set up autonomous local councils for each district, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 23 February. The councils would work at a community level helping to organize development work in their districts. Once formed, all national and international nongovernmental organizations need to be in contact with these councils prior to carrying out any activity in Nangarhar districts. Nangarhar Governor Hajji Din Mohammad said on 23 February that with the establishment of the local councils, no organization will be allowed to have a monopoly over how to serve the people of his province. The decision to form the local councils came at the end of a three-day conference in Jalalabad, provincial capital of Nangarhar, in which representatives of neighboring Konar and Laghman provinces also participated. It is not clear from the report when the councils will be formed. (Amin Tarzi)

Health Minister Sayyed Mohammad Amin Fatemi, in a news conference in Kabul on 21 February, rejected recent reports according to which 1,000 Afghan children have died from cold weather in the last 45 days, Radio Afghanistan reported. He put the number of deaths at 180. According to the reports, 1,000 children have lost their lives due to freezing temperatures in the west-central Ghor Province, but Fatemi said only 69 children had died. (Amin Tarzi)

According to Pakistani Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions Yar Mohammad Rind, the first census of Afghan refugees began throughout Pakistan on 23 February, the official Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported. Rind said the census is being conducted to determine the exact number of Afghans living in Pakistan and end the confusion over contradictory estimates. According to Rind, available data show that 3.9 million Afghans have taken refuge in Pakistan while 4.2 million Afghans have repatriated. However, Rind estimated that 2.9 million Afghans are still present in Pakistan. When he announced the census in January, Rind had indicated that the process would be finished in 30 days and warned Afghans to participate in the census or they would be considered illegal and treated accordingly based on Pakistani laws (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 22 January 2005). (Amin Tarzi)

25 February 1919 -- Amanullah proclaimed amir Habibullah in Kabul.

24 February 1977 -- President Mohammad Daud promulgates a new constitution.

1 March 2001 -- Taliban government begins destruction of the grand Buddha statues.

Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).

Compiled by Amin Tarzi.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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