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Afghanistan was invaded and occupied by the Soviet Union in 1979, in the attempt to rescue and consolidate the pro-Soviet regime in place. It took 10 years
before the USSR could withdraw its forces, having been delayed by the fierce resistance of anti-communist mujahidin forces, supplied and trained by the US,
Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others. The pro-soviet regime survived for two years and a half, contrary to the expectations of many, and then fell in April
1992, having outlived its own mentor, the USSR. Fighting subsequently continued among the various mujahidin factions, but the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban
movement had been able to seize most of the country. In addition to the continuing civil strife, the country suffers from enormous poverty, a crumbling
infrastructure, and widespread land mines.
Afghan internal politics since the fall of the Taleban regime has been dominated by the forthcoming Loya Jirgah elections, which will be decisive in
establishing the balance of power between the different factions in the future government. Even if these will not be strictly speaking political elections and
despite the assurances by the interim government that the warlords will not be allowed to interfere, the military factions in control of the various areas of
the country are expected to determine the outcome to a fair extent. This has caused tensions on the ground, as the different groups are trying to expand their
influence. In particular, the faction which is at present the strongest within the Karzai government, the Panjsheri wing of Jamiat-i Islami, needs to maximise
its support within the Jirgah, if it wants to maintain its role in the future government. For this reason, it is trying hard to expand its influence both
among Pashtun tribal chiefs and warlords of southern Afghanistan and in Northern Afghanistan, where the majority of the population is Uzbek, but where a large
minority of Tajiks also lives. Even more importantly, the Panjsheris are also establishing a strong hold on the new national army, which is being formed, and
on the state bureaucracy. The return of the old King Zahir Shah has also caused tensions within the interim administration between royalists and anti-royalists.
The international politics of the Afghan crisis is characterised by a row between the US and Iran, which is being accused of meddling with Afghanistan, with
the aim of destabilising the interim administration of Hamid Karzai. Iran fears the establishment of a government dominated by the monarchists in Afghanistan
and sympathises with all the Afghan factions that share the same feeling. Russia is rather indifferent to the internal politics of Afghanistan, but wants to
ensure the presence of a government compatible with its geopolitical aims. Its strongest links are with Jamiat-i Islami, a party mostly composed of Tajiks,
which it supported during the war against the Taliban. The former Soviet republic of Tajikistan is a Russian 'de-facto' protectorate, a fact that also favours
Russia's alignment with Afghanistan's Tajiks. Moreover, some of the top generals in the Jamiat-led new Afghan national army, including defence minister Fahim,
are former generals of the old communist regime, and they still have good contacts in Moscow.
While Pakistan and Uzbekistan continue to keep a low profile, the role of the US in affecting events in Afghanistan is undoubtedly dominant, but continues to
encounter limits to its action. The Bush administration did exercise a considerable pressure on ministers of the Karzai government on several occasions,
especially Defence Minister Fahim, whose conduct increasingly appears biased. Perhaps more importantly, the US have been building their own "party"
among Pashtun warlords in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan, whose help they want to enlist in the hunt for the remnants of Al-Qaida. Not even the US, however,
have been entirely successful in steering Afghanistan in the desired direction. These warlords, for example, are now exploiting their privileged access to
funds and resources to try to establish their own hegemony over entire regions, but are facing a growing local opposition. Moreover, even Karzai himself has
openly refused to endorse American allegations against Iran.
The prospects for a quick recovery of the Afghan economy do not look very good. International donors have pledged US$4.5bn, but only a trickle of that money
has reached Afghanistan so far and the interim government is unable to raise funds on its own, as the provincial governors withhold any income deriving from
taxes and customs. Government revenue from domestic sources is still minimal, covering only 3-4% of the requirements. The international organisations have
decided that the Afghan government will be in charge of the reconstruction process, but now demand a properly scrutinised process of allocation of resources.
The focus of the reconstruction effort is expected to be initially in investment on transport infrastructure. Iran is expected to be at the forefront of those
in 2002, in part also due to the greater economic dynamism shown so far by western Afghanistan, and has already budgeted the necessary resources, especially
for a railroad leading from Iran to the Afghan city of Herat. Longer-term projects are also beginning to be discussed, but the plan of a pipeline crossing
Afghanistan, despite the support of both the Turkmen and the Afghan governments, is certainly going to take a long time to be defined, and even longer to be
Update No: 05 - (25/04/02)
During March and April the evolution of the international situation in Afghanistan showed light and shade. On the one hand, the interim administration
scored two successes when its first budget was positively judged and approved by donors and international organisations and when the new law, regulating the
selection process leading to the June Loya Jirgah was also welcomed by the large majority of observers. The fact that the budget was almost unanimously judged
"serious" and "well done" is hardly a surprise, since the administration can count on the support of some able professionals, trained
before the beginning of the 24-year conflict. Moreover, the Karzai administration is badly in need of persuading the donors that they are not
wasting their money.
To supplement a rosy picture of the relations of the interim administration with its international supporters, in March the Afghan delegation led by Karzai
signed several agreements during its visit to Russia, concerning the delivery of Russian industrial equipment for the rebuilding of factories and
At the same time, however, the security situation has showed few signs of the badly needed improvement. Apart from a few ambushes against American and ISAF
patrols, which attracted much attention in the western media, but should not be overestimated, there has been a multiplication of small clashes across the
country, both due to the attempt to secure sensitive trade routes, as in Nimruz, or to the political infighting between royalists and islamists, as in Wardak.
These clashes too, in any case, do not seem to have the potential to escalate into a major outbreak of violence. Moreover, the elections to the Loya Jirgah
started in mid-April and the warlords are running out of time in their attempts to alter the balance in the countryside. What is worrying is the evidence of
factions within the interim administration supporting different sides in these local struggles. Such worries have been highlighted by two important
developments, such as the wave of arrests in Kabul at the beginning of April and the ongoing rift between rival warlords in Nangrahar province.
The hundreds of arrests carried out in Kabul targeted mostly Pashtun fundamentalists, belonging to two factions allied to former President Rabbani,
leader of the conservative wing of Jamiat-i Islami. This move appears to have been supported by both the main factions within the government, that is the
monarchists and the Panjsheri wing of Jamiat-i Islami, which has a more secular outlook than Rabbani's. However, the struggle over the appointment of the
commander of the 1st Army Corps, based in Jallalabad and in charge of security over the South-east, pitted Panjsheris against royalists. A monarchist, Zaman,
was initially appointed, but was soon replaced by a supporter of the Panjsheri faction of Jamiat, commander Hazrat Ali. The evidence in this case points to the
emergence of the Panjsheri faction as even more powerful than before.
The only positive sign on the security front had initially appeared to be the launch of a poppy eradication campaign in South-west Afghanistan at the
beginning of April, which however faced a strong resistance among the farmers. After some loss of life on both sides, the initiative ended in the suspension of
the campaign, a further demonstration of the weakness of the central government. The UN expects a harvest of 1,900-2,700 tons of opium this year, much short of
the peak of 4,600 tonnes reached in 1999, but still much more than 74 tons of 2001.
Economic crisis looming
The economic situation does not look too positive either. While only US$300 million of the promised reconstruction aid has so far arrived to Afghanistan,
the economy is being affected by an influx of dollars which it had not seen for years, in part also due to the presence of a growing number of foreign nationals
in the country. As a result, the Afghan currency (Afghani) has been strengthening over the last few months and by March its exchange rate to the
dollar was down to 35,000, or half the early September rate. While this in itself might be good news and it hardly affects the mass of farmers, it has
harmed all those civil servants (including teachers), aid workers and most of all informal sector traders, who earn their income in dollars. Civil servants in
Kabul and teachers across the country, who number a total of 110,000, are just beginning to be paid their salaries in these months, after a long suspension, so
they might not want to complain yet. However, traders in the informal sector are one of the pillars of the economy and they are suffering a squeeze on their
On the other hand, the newly found strength of the Afghani might not be long lived, as warlords continue to issue their own Afghanis, despite their promises
of the contrary. The warlords use the currency to buy political influence and pay their armies and are unlikely to give up this tool before the end of the
Loya Jirgah elections at the earliest.
Iran and Afghanistan sign aviation agreement.
Mehdi Aliyari, the deputy managing director for international affairs and development of
Iran's Mahan Airlines, announced that his company will begin direct flights to Kabul on 15th May, IRNA News Agency reported on 13 April.
Originally, the flights were scheduled to begin on 21st April, according to Mashhad radio's Dari service and IRNA on 1st April. Iran and Afghanistan on 1st
April signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding twice-weekly cargo and passenger flights between Tehran and Kabul, and they signed another MOU on
cooperation in technical, training, and commercial matters. Mehdi Aliyari signed on behalf of Mahan Airlines, while Managing Director Jahad Azimi signed the MOU
on behalf of Afghanistan's Ariana Airlines. Aliyari said the agreement had been delayed due to concerns over safe flight routes.
Travellers from Europe can stop over in Tehran on a 72-hour visa and then go on to Kabul after obtaining an entry visa. The fares will be kept low to encourage
Afghans migrants to go home, Aliyari added.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Afghanistan hopes to benefit from UAE experience on infrastructure
The Afghan interim government is hoping to gain from the UAE experience of infrastructure building for the reconstruction of their war-ravaged country. Dr
Abdullah Abdullah, the interim Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, told Gulf News: "I think the UAE can play a pivotal role in the reconstruction of the
country." Dr Abdullah was in the capital for a day-long visit to deliver a letter from interim Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, to President His Highness
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, dealing with bilateral issues.
He also held talks with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and other senior government officials, before leaving for
Luxembourg and London on his way to Rome to join Karzai and accompany him and former king Mohammed Zahir Shah back to Kabul.
He said his visit to the UAE is in the line of strengthening relations and discussing bilateral issues. He said his talks were fruitful. Elaborating on the
UAE partnership in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, Dr Abdullah said: "A vibrant economy, a system which is a success model that has changed the lives of
people and helped promote business throughout the region, could have a positive impact on the situation in Afghanistan and its reconstruction.
"I discussed cooperation in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and expressed our gratitude to the UAE government and leadership for their support. We also
thank the UAE for its pledge of donations for the reconstruction process and humanitarian assistance, at the same time the political support to the interim
government to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan."
Iran, Afghanistan to promote commercial co-operation
Iranian Minister of Economy and Finance Tahmasb Mazaheri and Head of the Chamber of Commerce of Afghanistan Mohammad Avaz Fadaei, discussed ways of boosting
commercial ties during two days of talks held in Kabul, IRNA News agency has reported.
Improving two-way commercial cooperation to keep up with the commercial standards of the market as well as establishing joint trade and construction
companies were among topics discussed.
The two sides also agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish a joint chamber of commerce. Mazaheri, heading a large economic
delegation from among Iranian
traders and private industrialists, left Tehran for Kabul. "The aim of the visit is to follow up the execution of agreements reached between Iran and
Afghanistan during interim Afghan President
Hamid Karzai's trip to Tehran in February," Mazaheri said.
FOREIGN LOANS & AID
U.N. Fund for Afghanistan receives US$26m
With international donors stepping up with more contributions, the U.N. Afghan Interim Authority Fund has received some US$26 million over the past three
months, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), Xinhua News Agency has reported. Some US$26m, or more than half of the US$50m needed, have actually been received
donors over the past three months, according to UNDP, which set up the Fund in cooperation with U.N. Special Representative for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi.
"More than 20 countries have pledged a total of US$37m, underlining the seriousness of the international community in helping the Afghan authorities
build up their government institutions," said UNDP Assistant Administrator Julia Taft.
Since January, the Fund has enabled the Afghan Interim Authority to pay civil service salaries and cover crucial administrative costs, such as repairing
government buildings, purchasing office equipment and automating the payroll system.
World Bank, Afghanistan sign grant agreement
The World Bank and the Afghan interim administration have signed a grant agreement of to facilitate the government's public administration, Xinhua News
Agency has reported. The Emergency Public Administration Project, which was the World Bank's first operation in Afghanistan since 1979, was inked by
Afghanistan's Finance Minister Hedayat Amin-Arsala and World Bank Vice President for South Asia Mieko Nishimizu. Under the agreement, the World Bank would fund
three aspects of the government's public administration: a specialized international procurement agent, support to the Finance Ministry to strengthen
economic management and build sound budgeting processes, and a specialized international audit agent.
The project was designed to help the Afghan interim government in effectively using public resources to rebuild and develop the war-torn country, and to lay
foundations for a transparent and well-functioning public administration, a press release of the World Bank said.
"We hope this can help rebuild the new nation that Afghans yearn for, with a government that shares its vision openly with the people," said Nishimizu.
At the international reconstruction assistance conference in Tokyo in January, World Bank President James Wolfensohn pledged more than US$500 to the Afghan
interim government in the next two and a half years.
Afghans enter the mobile age
There are plans to introduce the internet to Afghanistan. Just four months after the fall of the Taleban, Afghanistan has created its first mobile phone
network, the BBC has reported.
The first user was the interim leader, Hamid Karzai, who called a friend in Germany.
So far, the network covers only the capital, Kabul, but it is hoped that, by the end of the summer, mobile phones will work in every major city in the country.
A bearded mullah chanted a prayer for Afghanistan's new mobile phone network: the most traditional blessing the most modern.
There are few places in the world where half the cabinet turns out for the launch of something as mundane as a phone system, but this is Afghanistan.
And in this war-ravaged country, a state-of-the-art mobile phone network is hardly mundane. This network has been built with amazing speed, up and running
from scratch in only three months.
The government hopes it will give the country a tremendous morale boost.
The cost of calls is being kept deliberately low. A call from Kabul to London, for example, will be little more than 50 US cents a minute. But do not expect to
see thousands of people wandering the streets of Kabul with a mobile phone stuck to their ear any time soon.
With handsets costing US$350 each, most Afghans will have to make do with using public phones to access the new system.
Tajikistan starts flights to Kabul, plans more bridges to Afghanistan
Tajikistan's national airline on March 28th began passenger service to Afghanistan and officials announced plans to build five bridges connecting the
countries. Both moves apparently reflect increased confidence in Afghanistan's stability following the fall of the Taliban and growing recognition of
Tajikistan's importance as a conduit for aid and materiel badly needed by Afghanistan.
The Tajikistan Airlines decision to open service between Dushanbe and Kabul, the Afghan capital, was largely in response to demand by businessmen, airline
officials said. The flights are expected to go once a week.
Most of the 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) Tajikistan-Afghanistan border is defined by the Pyandzh River, which currently is spanned only by two pontoon bridges.
Officials said that an agreement signed Wednesday between Tajikistan, the interim Afghanistan administration and the Aga Khan Foundation foresees the
building of five bridges, which would have a capacity of more than 25 tons.
DHL launches service in Kabul
The roads are full of craters and littered with rubble, the telephones don't work, the capital's only bankers hawk fistfuls of currency from street corners
and electrical service flutters between weak and non-existent, The Mercury News has reported.
Yet in the chaos of a war-weary city still doing without nearly all basic services, residents can count on at least one thing: Their overseas packages
will arrive on time.
Quickly, and rather unexpectedly, the DHL truck has arrived. It's actually an unmarked yellow Toyota Land Cruiser. There are no bold decals, no staff uniforms
and no drop boxes, and often the driver is stopped when trying to leave Kabul's bullet-riddled international airport because the guards don't yet grasp the
concept of duty-free shipping.
Yet the recent launch of DHL Worldwide Express -- at three scheduled flights a week -- is a symbol of hope for a city on the mend. It's is the first foreign
enterprise to make a direct financial commitment in Afghanistan.
"In a way, we're advocates of normalcy," said Carl Widdowson, a 40-veteran of the British military who opened DHL's new offices in a dilapidated
villa not far from the U.S. Embassy. "We take great pride in being the first."
It doesn't matter that DHL's biggest customer is the Pentagon - which ships electronic components from its battle-damaged Blackhawk helicopters to a
Lockheed Martin facility in Florida for repair - or that shipping a parcel costs far more than Afghan residents make in a month.
"The postal system is not functioning well, and when people know that DHL is coming into Kabul, it means things are moving forward. It's a big first
step,'' said Zalmai Rassoul, Afghanistan's minister of civil aviation. The U.S. Embassy, media crews and the local Mercedes mechanic have used the courier so
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