Afghanistan

BAAG Afghanistan Monthly Review May 2005

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IN THIS ISSUE:

- US and Afghanistan sign "strategic partnership" agreement

- Demonstrations across Afghanistan in response to Newsweek article

- Three killed in explosion in internet café

- Italian aid worker abducted

- Female TV presenter shot dead

- 11 Afghans killed in connection with alternative livelihoods programme operated by US contractor

- Senior religious leader assassinated in Kandahar

- New York Times publishes extract from leaked investigation into abuses in US detention centres in Afghanistan

- NGO community launches code of conduct

- Political and economic developments

USA and Afghanistan sign "strategic partnership' agreement

A memorandum of understanding was signed between the USA and Afghanistan on May 23rd during a visit by President Karzai to the USA. The primary goal of the strategic partnership is said to be "to strengthen US-Afghan ties to help ensure Afghanistan's long-term security, democracy and prosperity." It adds that the partnership "should contribute to peaceful and productive relations between Afghanistan and its neighbors. It is not directed against any third country". However, it does envisage the "advancement of freedom and democracy in the wider region". The agreement provides that the two parties will "consult with respect to taking appropriate measures in the event that Afghanistan perceives that its territorial integrity, independence or security is threatened or at risk". It further states that "US military forces operating in Afghanistan will continue to have access to Bagram Air Base and its facilities, and facilities at other locations as may be mutually determined and that the U.S. and Coalition forces are to continue to have the freedom of action required to conduct appropriate military operations based on consultations and pre-agreed procedures." The text also notes that "the United States relies on Afghanistan's commitment to create a legal framework and an environment favourable to private sector and domestic and international investment that offers economic opportunities to all Afghan people."

President Karzai sought public sanction for this agreement through a prior gathering of more than 1,000 Afghan tribal leaders, elders and representatives of ethnic groups at the presidential palace on 8th May. The participants were members of the Loya Jirga which endorsed the Afghan constitution at the beginning of 2004. Following this meeting, the President's spokesman stated that there had been majority support for long-term security links with the USA although he did not specifically mention the question of permanent US bases in Afghanistan. He added that the President did not need the approval of parliament to reach an agreement with any other country. The expectation had previously been that any consideration of a long term US military presence in Afghanistan would have to be ratified by the parliament which is to be elected in September. It may be that the evident opposition to permanent US bases from some of those standing for parliament has led to a view that it would be better to consult with the Loya Jirga than await debate on a highly contentious issue in the Afghan parliament. One of the delegates to the Loya Jirga was reported to have been killed in Ghazni on 11th May, in a possible act of reprisal.

President Bush, in a speech given on 27th May at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, stated: "To deal with the emerging threats of the 21st century, we are building a military that can deploy rapidly and deliver more firepower with fewer forward deployed forces". Any permanent US bases which are operated in Afghanistan can therefore be viewed in this context and can also be seen as part of a global network, including others in Central Asia, which would enable the USA to quickly build its military capacity onto small core units in response to any perceived threat to its security.

Security

An estimated 28 people were killed and many injured on 2nd May when a munitions supply exploded in Baghlan Province in northern Afghanistan. The supply was reported to have been held by a former militia commander who had been disarmed under the Disarmament, Demobilitation and Reintegration programme and to have been hidden from those undertaking the programme.

On the same day, two policemen were killed and four injured when a remote-controlled mine was exploded in Kandahar Province.

On 3rd May, a policeman was killed in Kunar Province, in eastern Afghanistan, when a roadside bomb was exploded. He, and another who sustained injuries, were travelling to investigate an earlier explosion in which three counter narcotics officers had been killed.

On 8th May, three people were killed and five injured in what appeared to have been a suicide attack in an internet café in Kabul. One of those killed was a UN engineer from Myanmar.

During the previous week there were two attempted kidnappings of expatriates in Kabul.

On 10th May, over 2,000 students were reported to have demonstrated in Jalalabad over a report in the US magazine, Newsweek, that US interrogators in Guantanamo Bay had flushed a copy of the Quran down the toilet. The demonstrations continued on the following day and turned violent. In response, police opened fire on the crowd and at least four people were killed and more than 60 injured, ten seriously. Buildings belonging to the UN were attacked and two NGO offices were destroyed and several others were attacked. Also targeted were offices of the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. The home of the Pakistan consulate was burned down. The governor's office and the local branch of the Central Statistics Office were also set on fire. Aid workers in the city had to be evacuated when it became clear that the demonstrators were actively searching for foreigners. In Wardak, students blocked the Kabul to Kandahar highway for an hour. There were other demonstrations in Laghman and Khost provinces.

The protests spread to the Khogiani district of Nangarhar and the Chak district of Wardak province on 12th May, resulting in three more deaths. On the same day, demonstrators in Kabul made specific demands: an apology from the USA; a trial by an Islamic court of those responsible for the desecration of the Quran; a promise from the USA that such an act would not be repeated; that the Afghan government deny permanent military bases to the USA and that US-led coalition forces would not enter private homes during search operations.

Three other protestors were killed by Afghan troops when they tried to storm the governor's house in the southern town of Ghazni on 13th May. Three people were also killed in clashes with troops in the north-eastern province of Badakshan. On the same day, one person was killed and three injured when the army opened fire on about 300 protestors in Gardez, in south-east Afghanistan. The offices of aid organisations were attacked in Badakshan and Gardez and some were looted and set on fire.

There were further protests in Baghlan on 14th May which resulted in the Pul-i-Khumri to Mazar highway being blocked for a period. There were also unconfirmed reports of demonstrations in Spin Boldak to the south of Kandahar, in the neighbouring province of Zabul, in Farah Province (in western Afghanistan) and in the north-western province of Badghis.

President Karzai commented that US military actions had helped create a mood of resentment amongst the population which had contributed to the violence. He added that he would call on the US to hand over control of all Afghan prisoners held in US detention facilities to his government. However, he also blamed those who were opposed to his plans for long term security links with the US for fuelling the unrest. This, combined with the fact that the Taliban have denied any involvement and that the demonstrations occurred across the country, would suggest some degree of coordination amongst the more conservative elements, including those in the north.

Newsweek issued a statement on 16th May in which it said that it had erred in reporting that a copy of the Quran had been flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay by US interrogators. It added that a US military investigation had failed to corroborate the story and apologised for carrying the report. Newsweek's editor wrote that its original source, a senior government official, had "clearly recalled reading investigative reports about mishandling the Quran, including a toilet incident" but was not sure whether he saw the assertion in a military report on abuse at Guantanamo Bay or in other investigative documents or drafts. The US military was reported to have stated that there would still be an investigation into the allegations.

Two Afghan soldiers were killed on May 14th when their vehicle hit a mine planted by insurgents near Qalat in the southern province of Zabul.

An Italian aid worker, employed by the NGO CARE, was abducted in Kabul on 16th May as she returned home. Negotiations for her release were still ongoing at the end of May. Clementina Cantoni was working on a programme to provide food and income to war widows.

On 18th May a former female TV presenter was shot dead at her home in Kabul. She had previously worked on a youth music show for Tolo TV, which has drawn significant criticism from conservative elements for broadcasting Indian and western films and for its relatively liberal approach to entertainment. Tolo TV was set up in October 2004, with starter funding from the US Agency for International Development.

On the same day, two Afghans employed by the US contractor, Chemonics, were killed, together with a government engineer, a driver and a security guard, as they drove through Helmand Province, in southern Afghanistan. The five were working on an alternative livelihoods programme targeted at farmers growing opium poppy. A further six Afghans were killed on the following day when transporting to Kabul the body of one of those killed in the attack in Helmand. Two of these where Chemonics personnel. This attack happened on the Kabul to Kandahar highway in Zabul Province. Chemonics has stated that it plans to withdraw its employees from southern Afghanistan.

On 23rd May, five members of the Afghan National Army were killed when their vehicle went over a landmine in the Spin Boldak area, to the south of Kandahar.

The head of Kandahar's Council of Ulema (religious scholars), Maulavi Abdullah Fayaz, was assassinated on 29th May. This followed his public call, on 19th May, for the former Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, to be stripped of his claim to religious authority. This call was made in a ceremony at Kandahar's Blue Mosque, to which 600 Ulema from across Afghanistan were invited. Maulavi Fayaz, in his address, stated that the orders of President Karzai, as the elected President, should be obeyed and that the actions of the Taliban, in "killing people and destabilising the country" was "against Shari'a Law." In the same mosque, in 1996, Mullah Omar was proclaimed Amir Al- Mu'minin (Leader of the Faithful) by the Council of Ulema during a ceremony in which he held up a cloak said to belong to the Prophet, Mohammed, which is kept in a shrine in the mosque.

On 30th May, seven Afghans were injured, some seriously, when a remote-controlled bomb exploded on the outskirts of Kabul as a NATO vehicle passed by. Earlier in the day, a rocket attack slightly damaged a military barracks at the headquarters of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul. There were no casualties. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for both incidents.

It was announced on 31st May that NATO had taken over responsibility from the US-led coalition for the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in north-west Afghanistan. Italy has taken on the PRT in Herat, Spain will operate in Badghis, Lithuania will manage the team in Ghor while the USA will retain control of the PRT in Farah, albeit under ISAF command. The role of PRTs remains highly fluid, ranging from a strong focus on the negotiation of an improved security environment to a classical hearts and minds operation geared to military objectives.

Political developments

The former Taliban Foreign Minister, Mullah Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil, gave a TV interview on May 3rd in which he expressed the view that the problems between the Afghan Government and the Taliban could be "resolved through negotiation". He subsequently registered as a parliamentary candidate. Mullah Mutawakil was released by the US military in October 2003 after 18 months in custody. The Afghan Government has been seeking to encourage former Taliban members who are not committed to the current terrorist campaign to come within its fold. The hope is that this will reduce the risk of the Taliban building a popular support base. However, the Taliban leadership have stated that they will not cooperate with the government and that they will continue in their efforts to secure the withdrawal of US forces through the use of violence.

The US government has announced that Zalmay Khalilzad, the current US Ambassador to Afghanistan, is to be replaced by Ronald Neumann, who presently serves as Counselor for Political and Military Affairs at the US embassy in Baghdad. Mr Khalilzad will take up the post of US Ambassador to Iraq.

Elections

The Joint Electoral Management Body announced on 29th May that 2,915 people have registered to run for the 249 seat Wolesi Jirga or lower house of parliament in the parliamentary elections to be held on 18th September. 347 of these are women. The Afghan constitution provides for at least 64 seats to be earmarked for women in the Wolesi Jirga However, in the southern provinces, the nominations for women are below the required number.

In addition, there have been 3,170 nominations for the provincial councils, of which 279 are for women.

Refugees

The Pakistan Government reported on 2nd May that the census carried out in February and March of this year, with support from UNHCR, had recorded 3.047 million Afghans across the country. This was broken down as follows:1,861,412 in North West Frontier Province; 783,545 in Baluchistan; 207,754 in Punjab; 136,780 in Sindh;. 44,637 in Islamabad; 13,097 in Pakistan-administered Kashmir or the Northern Areas. This is in spite of the return of 2.3 million Afghans since the beginning of 2002 when the Afghan population was estimated to be around the same figure. It suggests that the level of economic migration of Afghans to Pakistan, on a short or long-term basis, remains extremely high. It also indicates that the Afghan economy continues to depend heavily on the ability of its population to search for work outside Afghanistan's borders.

IRNA reported on May 11th that the tripartite commission of Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR would meet in Islamabad on that day. It added that, according to local press reports, the commission would take important decisions regarding the closure of Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and also review the situation in specific urban clusters.

IRNA subsequently reported on May 14th that Pakistan had given notice that it would close Afghan refugee camps in North Waziristan on June 15th. This affects 30,000 refugees. A further 28,000 Afghans living in urban or rural settlements in the province will not be affected.

In June 2004, Pakistan ordered the closure of the camps in South Waziristan, again affecting 30,000 refugees. An additional 190,000 refugees were compelled to return to Afghanistan in 2004, or relocate within Pakistan, when the camps set up along the border in late 2001 for those fleeing the US-led military intervention were closed. 82,000 of these returned to Afghanistan.

The Secretary of the Ministry for States and Frontier Regions, which administers refugee camps in NWFP and Baluchistan, recently expressed his concern over the reduction in the education budget for Afghan refugees in primary education and the lack of funding for middle and secondary education. He requested international support.

Human Rights

The US government announced on 1st May that they had released 85 Afghans from the various detention centres that they operated in Afghanistan. Prior to this release, the US stated, they had been holding about 600 Afghan prisoners.

President Karzai issued a statement on the same day in which he urged Afghan and US-led forces to use "extreme caution" in their counter-insurgency operations after at least three civilians had been killed in an airstrike launched by the US-led coalition forces.

The New York Times of 20th May published a leaked extract of an investigation carried out in 2004 by General Jacobi of the US military on US detention facilities in Afghanistan. This extract, which details the events which led to the deaths of two Afghans at Bagram airbase in December 2002, provoked a strong statement by President Karzai in which he again called for those held in US detention facilities in Afghanistan, along with Afghans held at Guantanamo Bay, to be handed over to Afghan Government control. He also stated that his government would seek greater control of US military operations, including a halt to raids by US troops on Afghan homes without the knowledge of his administration. However, during his visit to Washington, President Karzai was not able to secure more than a commitment by President Bush that the US government would "cooperate and consult on military matters". President Bush also stated that Afghan prisoners under US control in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere would be returned "over time".

Amnesty International has published a new report entitled: "Afghanistan: Women still under attack - a systematic failure to protect". This notes that women continue to live under fear of violence, both from those wielding the gun and within the home, and stresses that the state is not providing the protection that women need in order to enjoy their fundamental rights. It thus comments that "the vast majority of Afghan women continue to shoulder the burden and face the impact of an insecure environment, inadequate institutional protection mechanisms and pressure to conform to strict interpretations of traditional and religious norms".

NGO code of conduct

On 30th May, the NGO Coordinating Body, ACBAR, launched a Code of Conduct for NGOs engaged in Humanitarian Action, Reconstruction and Development in Afghanistan. This Code of Conduct is aimed to define and regulate the activities of NGOs, on the basis that individual agencies will sign up to the code and therefore commit themselves to comply with its provisions. The code has been drawn up in response to the considerable confusion that has existed in recent years between NGOs, defined as not for profit organisations, and private construction companies presenting themselves as NGOs in order to secure donor funding. The code includes a definition that "non-governmental organisations are voluntary, not for profit, non-partisan and independent organisations or associations engaged in serving the public good." It notes that NGOs have a "special focus on the rights of those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable"

Economic developments

Japan reached agreement with the Afghan government on 18th May that it would provide around $28 million in grant aid for the construction of an international terminal at Kabul International Airport. The terminal is scheduled to be completed in 2007.

It was announced on 24th May that the World Bank had approved an allocation of $85 million to Afghanistan. $40 million will be spent on higher education and the balance will be used for economic development, road construction, airport renovation and public services. A further $45 million has been approved for improvement of the Kunduz-Taloqan-Kishm road, which is scheduled for completion by June 2007. This will link with the Kabul to Kunduz road which is nearing completion.

The Afghan Government has announced that income tax will be levied, with effect from 23rd September, on all government employees, those who work for foreign companies and foreigners working in Afghanistan. This will involve a tax of 10% on incomes between 12,500 Afghanis ($250) and 100,000 Afghanis ($2,000) per month and 20% above 100,000 Afghanis.

This report is published by the British 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