FAST Update Afghanistan: Trends in conflict and cooperation Apr - May 2007



The situation in Afghanistan remains unstable and insecure. Following its formation in March, the heterogeneous United National Front (UNF; Jabhe-ye-Motahed-e-Milli) has announced its major demands: a change from the presidential to a parliamentary system, proportional voting in elections, election of provincial governors, coordination of activities of foreign troops and Afghan security forces (thus "legalizing" their presence), recognition of the Durand Line, and talks with armed groups (e.g. moderate Taliban). All these demands would serve to strengthen the power of diverse members of the UNF (leading warlords, communists, the King's grandson) vis-à-vis the Karzai government. Interestingly, the vice president is also a member of the UNF and thus both in government and the opposition. President Karzai accused neighboring countries (e.g. Russia, Central Asian states and Iran) of having a hand in the formation of the UNF. He also rejects the UNF's idea of a parliamentary or federal system, saying this might fuel ethnic and linguistic division. On 28 May, nine people died after Afghan police opened fire on demonstrators in Shiberghan in the Jowzjan province. The demonstrators who are supporters of the Uzbek factional leader and member of the UNF, Gen. Rashid Dostum, were demanding the resignation of the Pasthun governor, accusing him of trafficking and clandestine links with Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami. This incident provides further evidence that some warlords are attempting to (re)gain influence and power.

On 12 May, the Lower House dismissed Foreign Minister Spanta over his inability to persuade Iran to stop repatriating large numbers of Afghan migrants (see below). Hamid Karzai - who sees his regime increasingly being attacked by opposition groups - has referred the case of Spanta's dismissal to the Supreme Court for a final ruling. On 10 May, Afghanistan's Lower House had already dismissed the refugee minister, arguing he was not doing enough to assist the large number of refugees flooding into western Afghanistan. On 8 May, the Upper House, which is dominated by Karzai appointees, passed a bill calling on the government to hold dialog with Afghan Taliban and prohibiting international troops from engaging in fighting unless under attack. The bill is probably part of Karzai's attempt to assuage public opinion over numerous killings of civilians at the hands of international forces (see below) and is based on a realization that the Taliban might not be defeated militarily. It can also be seen as an endeavor to split the Taliban movement. The US is strictly against talks with the Taliban, while the UN and some Western nations have argued in favor of such talks. In the past months, the media has come under increasing pressure from the Taliban and the government.

Upon the order of Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabet, who felt misquoted in a news clip, police raided the office of the private TV station Tolo TV on 17 April, manhandled the staff and arrested three persons. On 23 May, the Lower House also approved the amended draft media law; the major change concerns the appointment of the head and members of the supreme media commission by election. In the past, the media commission was made up of independent journalists etc. rather than government officials, although it was headed by the Information and Culture Minister. The new media law is viewed by some as an attempt by the government to bring the media under tighter control.

On 13 May, the Taliban's top tier military commander, Mullah Dadullah, was killed along with his brother Mullah Shah Mansoor and two other commanders in clashes with international (reportedly British) and Afghan forces in the Helmand province. Although Dadullah's death is unlikely to break the Taliban command structure, it is a moral blow to the movement. Soon after his death, Dadullah was replaced by his younger brother, Mullah Bakht Mohammed alias Dadullah Mansoor. The death of Mullah Dadullah might empower Taliban commanders like Haqqani and Saifullah Mansoor who have their powerbase in southeastern rather than southern Afghanistan.

On 4 May, Karzai announced that about 700 elders, politicians and others from Afghanistan and Pakistan will be meeting on 1 August for a traditional jirga on Taliban insurgency. Apart from this, the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains tense. On 19 April, Afghan and Pakistani security forces clashed along the border of the Paktia province and South Waziristan in Pakistan, where Pakistan has started building a fence to curb crossborder Taliban activity. Even a meeting of the two nations in Turkey on 29 and 30 April - resulting in the adoption of the Ankara Declaration and the establishment of a mechanism to address issues of concern - failed to prevent new border clashes in the Paktia province on 13 and 14 May, which killed at least 12 people. One ISAF/NATO and one Pakistani soldier were killed and several others wounded in these clashes. They were fired at by unknown assailants after they held peace talks near Teri Mangal in Pakistan with ISAF/NATO, Afghan and Pakistani representatives. The exact circumstances of all these clashes and particularly which side initiated the fighting, remain unclear. ISAF/NATO has, however, called on Pakistan to fully investigate the incident of 14 May, which killed one ISAF/NATO soldier, claiming that the shooter was wearing a Pakistan Frontier Corps uniform. On 17 May, Afghan and Pakistani forces exchanged fire again in the border area of Khyber agency, Pakistan, injuring two Afghan soldiers.