- Suicide attack on mosque in Kandahar kills 17 people.
- Kidnapped Italian aid worker released.
- Regional tensions increase.
- Accelerating pressures on Afghan refugees as camps close in Pakistan.
- Government reshuffle significantly alters local power dynamics.
The past month has seen a particular concentration of terrorism-related incidents in the southern provinces of Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul. This may be linked to an increase in the scale of the military operations conducted by the US-led coalition forces. It may also be aimed to undermine the electoral process relating to the parliamentary and provincial elections planned for 18th September. Among the incidents reported are the following:
- At least 17 people were killed and 36 injured on 1st June when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of Kandahar's principal mosque. Mourners had gathered at the mosque to commemorate the life of Mawlavi Abdullah Fayaz, who was assassinated on 29th May following his public call, on 19th May, for the former Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, to be stripped of his claim to religious authority. Among those killed was the Security Chief of Kabul, General Akram Khakrizwal, who was a native of Kandahar. It was unclear what the motive was for the attack or whether General Khakrizwal had been specifically targeted.
- On the same day, two Afghan deminers were killed and five injured when their vehicle was bombed in southern Helmand Province. In response to this and two other attacks, in Farah Province in May, the UN announced that it had suspended mine-clearance operations in southern and western Afghanistan.
- On 2nd June, a truck driver was killed and his vehicle set on fire on the road between Kandahar and Uruzgan Province. The vehicle was transporting fuel to US forces.
- On the same day, a soldier from the Afghan army was taken off a bus in Uruzgan Province, following a search, and killed.
- On 3rd June, a government driver was killed and his assistant badly injured when their vehicle was ambushed in Zabul Province.
- On the same day, a member of the Afghan army was killed, and two of his colleagues were injured, when their vehicle hit a land mine in Shajoi district of Helmand Province.
- On 4th June, an Afghan election worker was shot dead as he was leaving a mosque in Tarin Kot district of Uruzgan Province. He was working on a civic education project.
- On 7th June, two Pakistani truck drivers were killed in Spin Boldak, to the south of Kandahar, after delivering fuel to a US military base. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
- On 13th June, a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a US military vehicle near Kandahar. Four US soldiers were injured, one seriously.
- A candidate for the parliamentary elections was killed on 15th June as he left his home in the Maiwand district of Kandahar. He was said to be a friend of President Karzai. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
- The Taliban announced on 17th June that they had captured a senior police officer, 11 other policeman and a district chief in an attack on a convoy in Mian Nishin district of Kandahar the previous day. On 19th June, they stated that all the police officers had been killed and that they had originally held 31 people. On the following day, they said that all the others, including the district chief, had been released.
- In a separate reported incident, on 17th June, a judge, an intelligence officer and a guard were said to have been killed in the district of Anad-i-Ali, to the west of Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand. Three rockets also hit Kandahar, one of which seriously wounded two children.
- On 20th June, the Governor of Washer district of Helmand Province was killed, along with a police officer.
- An election convoy came under attack on the Kandahar to Helmand highway on 21st June. The husband of a member of staff of the Joint Election Management Body was killed and his driver was injured.
- Another parliamentary candidate was killed, on 24th June, along with two of his bodyguards in an ambush in Chora district of Uruzgan.
- Two police officers were killed and two injured on 28th June when a roadside bomb exploded by their convoy in Naish district of Kandahar Province.
Terrorist attacks elsewhere in Afghanistan included the following:
- A grenade was detonated on 10th June outside the offices of the German Agency for Technical Cooperation in Kunduz Province, in northern Afghanistan. There were no casualties.
- A doctor and six others were killed in an attack on an independent medical clinic in Khost Province on 14th June. The doctor was thought to have received medical supplies from the Provincial Reconstruction Team operated by the US-led coalition forces.
- A girls' school in Logar Province, to the south of Kabul, was attacked by armed men on 23rd June and burnt to the ground.
- On 28th June, three police officers were killed in the Dawlat Shah district of the eastern province of Laghman when gunmen shot at their vehicle. A district police chief and another police officer were injured.
- Four policemen were killed, also on 28th June, by a remote-controlled landmine in the Sirkanay district of Kunar Province. It was not clear whether this was linked to a crash by a US helicopter a few kilometres away on the same day. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the latter attack.
Clementina Cantoni, the kidnapped Italian worker employed by CARE International, was released on 9th June and returned immediately to Italy. She had been abducted in Kabul on 16th May when being driven to her home. The terms of her release remain unclear.
NATO announced on 9th June that the current expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to western Afghanistan will be completed in July. This involves ISAF taking over the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Herat, Badghis, Ghor and Farah. It also stated that ISAF will expand to the south of Afghanistan but gave no details beyond noting that a number of countries have already pledged resources for the expansion. NATO plans to provide over 2,000 additional forces on a temporary basis to strengthen security for the elections to take place in September. These are due to arrive six to eight weeks before the polls.
The Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme, which commenced in November 2003, ended on 28th June. This targeted the militia forces which were officially recognised by the Ministry of Defence and were on their payroll. More than 60,000 people were processed by the programme, which was successful in reducing the quantity of heavy weaponry available for combat use but made much less progress in addressing the availability of small arms. The continuing concern is over the large number of illegal militia which represent an ongoing threat to the security of the ordinary citizen. These will be addressed through a new programme known as Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) which will rely on a combination of persuasion and force. This programme will face even more challenges than the DDR one.
Tensions developed between Pakistan and Afghanistan when three Pakistanis were arrested in Laghman Province on 19th June on suspicion of planning to assassinate the US Ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, who was due to inaugurate a road in the immediate vicinity.
This incident followed statements by the head of the CIA and by Zalmay Khalilzad which implied that Pakistan had not done enough to catch Osama bin Laden and the former Taliban leader, Mullah Omar. On 20th June, Pakistan's Interior Minister rejected this and stated that neither of these two men were in Pakistan.
On 21st June, the Afghan Government issued a statement in which it urged Pakistan to crack down on Taliban fighters sheltering on its soil. Various other representatives of the government made statements in a similar vein, including references to the suicide attack in the mosque in Kandahar at the beginning of the month.
The Pakistani author and expert on Afghanistan, Ahmed Rashid, commented in a recent interview with Reuters that "it's absolutely clear hundreds of Taliban are streaming across the border from Pakistan. The major recruitment areas for the Taliban seem to be in Pakistan rather than in Afghanistan and there's growing evidence they're coming in a very organized fashion, in proper units with proper arms distribution."
This may link with an article in Reuters on 22nd June which refers to a classified report from the CIA. The report is said by Reuters to state that "Iraqi and foreign fighters are developing a broad range of skills, from car bombings and assassinations to coordinated conventional attacks on police and military targets". It is also said to comment that, "once the insurgency ends, Islamic militants are likely to disperse as highly organized battle-hardened combatants.."
The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, added fuel to the fire on June 23rd when he was quoted by Reuters as saying that Afghanistan was still home to terrorist-training camps and that US-led forces there were currently ineffective in combating the insurgency. He added that these camps were operating "with the direct involvement of certain spy services", an apparent reference to Pakistan's intelligence services. The Afghan Government issued a statement denying that there were any terrorism training camps in Afghanistan and that Afghanistan was, in any way, linked to the violence in the Uzbek city of Andijan on 13th May.
AFP had previously reported on June 15th that the US had moved its search-and-rescue planes and heavy cargo flights away from the Karshi-Khanadabad air base in Uzbekistan to Afghanistan and Kyrgyszstan in response to restrictions imposed by the Uzbek President on night-time operations. However, the move may also have been linked to an increase in tension arising from a decision by the US government to express its criticism of the Uzbek Government over the alleged massacre of protesters by Uzbek troops at Andijan. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry and the Uzbek Government Media were reported by Asia Times Online to have hinted that the US might have precipitated the events in Andijan following meetings between US intelligence officials and the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The regional dynamics were thrown further into turmoil following the election, on 25th June, of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President of Iran. It is not yet clear what the implications of his election will be for relations between Afghanistan and Iran although it is likely that the new Iranian Government will view with even greater concern the close ties between the Afghan Government and the US. The indications are that the new President will take a tougher position than his predecessor on negotations with Europe over Iran's nuclear power programme. This may, in turn, further increase tensions between Iran and the US which may have a ripple effect on Afghanistan.
UNHCR was reported, on 15th June, to have stated that 83% of the 38,000 Afghan refugees affected by the planned closure, at the end of June, of the camps in Pakistan's North Waziristan Province had registered to return to Afghanistan. An additional 20,000 refugees living in urban and rural settlements within the province will also have to leave at some point, according to the Pakistan Government, but no date has yet been set.
UNHCR has also announced the closure of two further camps in Pakistan. The Jangal Pir Alizai camp in Pishin district of Baluchistan Province is to be closed by 31st July, affecting 20,000 refugees, while the Girdi Jangal camp in the Dalbandin area of Chagai district, also in Baluchistan, will close by the end of August. The latter camp houses 43,000 refugees. The Pakistan Government has cited security concerns and alleged criminal activity in the camps to justify their closure. It has stated that those who do not wish to return to Afghanistan can be relocated to Mohammed Khail camp near Quetta. The Government has also indicated that it plans to close all the remaining refugee camps in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The population of these camps is currently 80,000. A census carried out earlier this year found that 1.1 million Afghan refugees were living in camps out of a total Afghan population in Pakistan of three million.
More than 122,000 Afghans have returned so far this year from Pakistan, benefiting from a travel grant ranging from $3 to $30, depending on the distance to the destination, and an additional payment of $12 per person. The scale of the return is of concern, given the pressures on both the Afghan economy and on the urban infrastructure.
UNHCR has been involved in various initiatives aimed to inform Afghans in Pakistan and Iran of the conditions that they would face in Afghanistan. However, these have been in a context in which Afghans in both countries have experienced very significant pressures on them from the host governments to return. While UNHCR has sought to mitigate these pressures, there is a risk that its efforts to inform Afghans in both countries of the situation they would face on their return may be seen as encouraging return.
On 28th June, an agreement was signed between Iran, Afghanistan and UNHCR to extend the tripartite agreement for the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Iran until March 2006. Since the agreement was first drawn up in March 2003, 780,000 Afghans have returned with the assistance of UNHCR and 520,000 independently. There are currently 950,000 registered Afghan refugees in Iran. In negotiating this agreement, UNHCR was said to be concerned at the level of duress which Afghan refugees continue to experience in Iran arising from a reduction in the right to access work, education and health care, combined with other pressures. It is not clear how many Afghans are in Iran, in addition to this number, working as illegal migrants.
The Afghan Minister of Health, Amin Fatimi, stated, on 14th June, that his ministry had embarked on a chlorination of wells in Kabul in response to more than 2,000 cases of acute diarrhoea. He refuted reports that these were cholera related, noting that the disease had not yet been identified. He added that samples had been sent overseas for testing.
Flash floods caused by heavy rains were reported, on 17th June, to have destroyed hundreds of homes and killed up to 48 people in the provinces of Badakshan, Takhar, Sar-i-Pul, Faryab, Jozjan and Samangan across northern Afghanistan. The Ministry of Reconstruction and Rural Development stated that it had sent emergency food supplies to affected areas.
On 21st June, the Ministry reported that a further 52 people had died in floods the previous week in Badakshan Province. Flooding was also said to have affected twelve provinces in the central, north eastern and eastern parts of the country. The increased flooding has been generated by accelerated snow melt brought on by high seasonal temperatures.
It was announced on 9th June that President Karzai had authorised the creation of a new Inter-Ministerial Task Force to address the question of violence against women. This initiative is, in part, a response to a workshop led by the Ministry of Womens' Affairs in November 2004.
It was reported on 14th June that President Karzai had replaced the Governor of the north-eastern province of Takhar together with the chiefs of police for around ten provinces. Further reshuffles were announced on 24th June but these were much more significant, involving the transfer of two major power holders, Gul Aga Sherzai and Haji Din Mohammad, away from their power bases in Kandahar and Nangarhar respectively. Thus Gul Aga Sherzai was appointed Governor of the eastern province of Nangarhar and was replaced as Governor of Kandahar by the previous Governor of Ghazni, Haji Asad Ullah Khalid. At the same time, Haji Din Mohammad was transferred from Nangarhar to Kabul. This involved the transfer of Kabul's Governor, Syed Hussain Anwari, to Herat, which was previously the power base of the current Energy Minister, Ismail Khan.
The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) published a preliminary list of candidates, on 5th June, for the parliamentary and provincial elections to be held on 18th September. There are 2,480 candidates for the parliamentary elections of whom 336 are women. Those standing for the provincial councils number 3,590 of whom 246 are women. Among the parliamentary candidates are Younus Qanouni, who stood against Hamid Karzai for the presidency and Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was President during the Mujahidin government of 1992-96. Both of these are from the former Mujahidin party, Jamiat-i-Islami and have their power base in the north-east. Another candidate and a close ally of theirs, Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf, was previously head of the Mujahidin party, Ittihad-i-Islami. A further candidate who is allied to this group is Hazrat Ali, who has been a powerful commander in Laghman Province and was, until recently, Chief of Police in Nangarhar Province. Another prominent candidate is the Hazara leader, Haji Muhammed Muhaqiq, who also stood against Hamid Karzai for the presidency. The former Taliban Foreign Minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, announced his candidacy last month. These individuals alone have the potential to significantly influence the political and moral climate and President Karzai will need to take serious account of their views if his government is not to be paralysed by the powers accorded to the parliament.
The JEMB has also launched a month-long voter registration period to register an estimated two million voters who were not old enough for the presidential elections, have not previously registered, have lost their registration cards or have moved.
Iran's Commercial Attache to Afghanistan recently announced that 50 Iranian trade and service companies are currently active in Afghanistan. These produce potable water, medicine, polyethylene pipe, electrical switches, concrete, computers and liquid gas cylinder filling devices. He added that, out of 35 countries investing in Afghanistan, Iran is the fourth largest.
India announced on 23rd June that it would construct a transmission supply from Pul-i-Khumri to Kabul to help transport electricity from Uzbekistan to Kabul, to be implemented within a period of 42 months. India also undertook to build a power sub-station in the capital.
The Presidents of Afghanistan and Tajikistan laid the foundation stone, on 18th June, for a US-funded bridge to be built this autumn over the Pyandzh river to connect Tajikistan to Kunduz Province. It is planned that the bridge, which will take two years to complete, will carry electricity supplies from Tajikistan to Afghanistan.
The Afghan Finance Minister, Anwar Al-Haq Ahady, attended a meeting of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) in Kuala Lumpur on 24th. In a press interview, he voiced his concern that the IDB, together with the governments of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, had, for the most part, only offered loans in relation to their pledges to assist Afghanistan. He added that Kuwait had yet to provide any assistance, that Saudi Arabia was only willing to provide loans and that less than one per cent of the funds allocated by the IDB was in grant form. He was also critical of the size of the IDB's allocation: $70 million over three years. He noted that the IDB loans were on terms which the Afghan Government would have difficulty meeting and which compared unfavourably with those offered by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The IDB is the financing arm of the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
This report is published by the British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG) Project, based at the Refugee Council, London. The Project is funded from a number of sources, including the UK Government's Department for International Development and individual British NGOs operating in Afghanistan. However, the views expressed are those of the BAAG Project alone and do not represent any official view of its funders. In producing this Review, every effort has been made to achieve accuracy, drawing on the many information sources available.
For more information, please contact: The Secretariat, BAAG at Refugee Council, 240-250 Ferndale Road, London SW9 8BB; Telephone: 00 44 207 346 1152; Fax: 00 44 207 346 1140