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REVOLVING DOOR FOR AFGHAN GOVERNORS  The government is accused of shifting regional chiefs from job to job because it is too scared to fire important players.  By Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada in Kabul

CLASH OVER FOREIGN AID  New law pits the government against local charities in the fight to claim foreign aid.  By Abdul Baseer Saeed in Kabul

MINES REAP GRIM HARVEST  The rate of casualties from landmines has eased, but shows little sign of falling further, leaving new generations maimed by past wars.  By Abdul Baseer Saeed in Kabul

SWEET ALTERNATIVE TO OPIUM  Farmers in Baghlan province see the revival of an old sugar factory as a way to produce an alternative to lucrative opium production.  By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif

CARPET INDUSTRY STILL FACES CHALLENGES  Hand-woven rugs are an important export for Afghanistan, but neighbouring Pakistan is attempting to make inroads into the industry.  By Abdul Baseer Saeed in Kabul



The government is accused of shifting regional chiefs from job to job because it is too scared to fire important players.

By Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada in Kabul

The latest reshuffle of Afghan provincial governors has left many wondering whether the government of President Hamed Karzai was sincere when it promised to remove officials with questionable records from their posts

Since the same powerful warlords and mujahedin leaders have resurfaced again and again in a variety of national- and provincial-level jobs since the fall of the Taleban in 2001, some are now asking whether the cycle will ever be broken.

In late June, with Karzai's approval, the interior ministry transferred five governors from one province to another.

Among the most controversial moves were the appointment of Gul Agha Sherzai as governor of Nangarhar, who was shifted from his native province of Kandahar. Shirzai is a former mujahedin commander who was in charge of Kandahar until the Taleban forced him out.

In Nangarhar, Sherzai replaced Haji Din Mohammad, formerly a deputy leader in the Hezb-i-Islami mujahedin faction led by Yunus Khalis. He is now governor of Kabul province.

Eyebrows have also been raised at the selection of Haji Shir Alam as governor of Ghazni. Alam is a former militia commander most recently associated with Tanzim-e-Dawat-e-Islami - a political group set up by Abd al-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf on the basis of his Ittehad-e-Islami mujahedin faction. Alam was recently barred from standing in the upcoming parliamentary elections because of he was deemed to have retained ties to armed groups.

"Isn't there anyone else who can be a minister or governor in Afghanistan except for a few warlords?" demanded Hanifullah, a 60-year-old civil servant. Instead of getting rid of them, "the government is just transferring them from one post to another and in doing so it is cheating the people," he said, adding that he now regretted voting for Karzai last year.

The government defended the latest round of appointments.

"These governors have had jihadi backgrounds and their service during the [anti-Soviet] jihad and resistance is admired by the Afghan people - they have really endured a great deal. [and] want to serve their people," said Abdul Malik Seddiqi, a high ranking interior ministry official.

He denied accusations that the government is unable to get rid of governors if it wants to.

Some analysts disagree, and say the government's hands are tied when it comes to making such appointments.

They point to the 2001 Bonn conference that served as the basis for the new government. At that meeting, rival Afghan leaders reached a deal to set aside decades of war and form a post-Taleban coalition leadership, sketching a blueprint for a new democratic Afghanistan.

"The government was effectively formed in Bonn, based on consultations with these people, so they are part of the government and they cannot be left out of it," said Qasim Akhgar, a political analyst.

Many of the warriors and warlords who spent years fighting against Soviet occupation and the Taleban regime now see their positions in government as just reward for their services.

Sherzai, who has also served as minister of rehabilitation and rural development as well as two post-Taleban terms in the top job in Kandahar, defended his latest appointment as governor of Nangarhar.

"To transfer and appoint someone is within the government's authority - these decisions are made for the good of the people. It is not true what people say - that the government cannot fire any governors, because most of the ministers and governors have been fired," he said. 

This view was shared by Din Mohammad, the recently-appointed governor of Kabul province, "I disagree with what people say - that the governors are linked to the government, which cannot get rid of them.

"But I can say that those who've made sacrifices and have a good reputation and respect among the people get high priority when it comes to these appointments."

That sort of answer does not satisfy many people.

Ahmad Shah, 50, a teacher in Kabul, said, "The government is moving these powerful men around. It sometimes appoints warlords to the ministries, sometimes to governors' posts.

"People have come to know these warlords during the past four years. Most of them are uneducated, and some are war criminals and human rights violators, so why can't the government protect the people from them?"

Mohammad Hassan Wolesmal, a political analyst who is chief editor of Afghan Milli Jarida (Afghan National Magazine), agreed.

"When people tire of the governors' incompetence, the government just transfers them from one province to another in order to calm the public," he said.

Shir Alam declined to comment on his recent appointment. A spokesman for his office said, "The interior ministry has ordered that the governors and police chiefs cannot be interviewed."

Ministry press officer Daad Mohammad Rasa acknowledged that the ministry had made such an order, saying, "We did this to avoid different views being expressed by different people - governors and police chiefs."

Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.


New law pits the government against local charities in the fight to claim foreign aid.

By Abdul Baseer Saeed in Kabul

Who should receive and disperse the foreign aid money flowing into
Afghanistan: the government or the legion of domestic and international non-government organisations, NGOs, that have been handling much of the money up to now?

On one side of the debate are the growing number of officials who accuse the NGOs of corruption and inefficiency. On the other are the non-government groups, which contend that the government currently has neither the capacity nor the skills to handle the millions of dollars that are coming in.

A new law, signed by President Hamed Karzai in mid-June but not published until July, seeks to resolve the dispute by establishing stringent controls over which types of organisations can register for NGO status, and regulating the types of projects NGOs can undertake.

At present, there are close to 2,400 NGOs operating in the country, involved in projects ranging from dam construction to media development, like IWPR. Other than the requirement that they file quarterly reports with the economics ministry, the government has until now imposed few restrictions on their operations.

The new law requires all NGOs to reapply for permission to work in the country. Their applications must be approved by an evaluation commission composed of five representatives from various ministries, before the economics ministry can register them.

In addition, the new law bars NGOs from being involved in certain types of projects, such as construction and overtly political activities.

Some NGO directors say they are concerned that the legislation could limit the scope and effectiveness of their activities.

"The law has some shortcomings such as the lack of detail regarding expenditures, and the restrictions on NGO engagement in construction," said Sayed Fazlullah Wahidi, chairman of the Afghan NGOs Coordination Bureau, ANCB, an umbrella organisation. "All of this indicates the imposition of limitations on NGO activities."

The dispute over control of foreign-aid money has been simmering for some time.

Ramazan Bashardost, a former planning minister and long-time critic of how international aid funds are dispensed, has charged that the money has been misused by NGOs, and faulted the international community for not giving the assistance directly to the Afghan government.

Bashardost, who was forced to resign his post earlier this year after he attempted to close up to 80 per cent of registered NGOs, is now demanding the establishment of a commission to investigate cases where aid money has been misused. The commission should conduct its inquiry secretly, he says, and report to the government.

"The money that has been donated has not yet produced any effective work," he argued.

Even Karzai railed against NGOs earlier this year, blaming them for the slow pace of reconstruction in the country.

"The corruption in NGOs has created obstacles in the reconstruction process of Afghanistan, and it is our job and the international organisations' job to use the money in good ways," the president said at an international donors conference in Kabul this spring.

Afghanistan has received large infusions of foreign aid since the American bombing campaign toppled the Taleban regime in late 2001. The country has received over four billion US dollars in assistance over the past three-and-a half- years - the vast majority of it funnelled through NGOs.

Some critics charge that the money has not always been well spent, saying too much has been siphoned off to finance what they see as the lavish lifestyles of overpaid foreign consultants, while some is simply wasted or stolen.

Bashardost has gone so far as to call NGOs "economic criminals", and says, "The real NGOs are those that serve people 24 hours a day, not the ones that rent houses at high prices and waste a lot of money."

But some analysts doubt that the still young government, which has yet to establish a democratically elected parliament, is up to the task of handling such vast amounts of money or undertaking complicated projects.

"NGOs have qualified experts on staff," said Saifuddin Saihoon, a professor at the economics faculty of Kabul University. "Unfortunately, these people do not work in government.

"I don't think donors will want to give aid directly to the Afghan government. I still have doubts as to whether it can implement its own programmes."

Others say that since the government still lacks effective control over some parts of the country, it is unable to effectively operate relief and reconstruction programmes, especially in rural areas.

"The government is still not up to the task of coordinating assistance throughout the country," said Mohammad Hashim Mayar, programme coordinator for the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, ACBAR. "It still cannot help people in remote areas."

According to Paul Barker, head of Care International in Afghanistan, "The Afghan government is too young, it doesn't have much work experience. The banking system is not 100 per cent reliable and therefore the government will not be able to control the money."

Economics Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang insists that the government is fully capable of assuming responsibility for the aid money. The new law, he said, is not intended to penalise NGOs but to make the whole structure more rational.

"We are not against those NGOs which achieve good work, but we are against those that misuse funds," said Farhang.

For now, many NGO leaders are taking a wait-and-see approach.

"I hope that this law will distinguish between the good and bad NGOs," said Barker.

Abdul Baseer Saeed is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabu


The rate of casualties from landmines has eased, but shows little sign of falling further, leaving new generations maimed by past wars.

By Abdul Baseer Saeed in Kabul

Concentration etched on his face, the young boy lurches hesitantly forward. Mohammad Agha, 14, is learning to walk again - an artificial leg replacing one blown off by a landmine not far from Kabul.

He and hundreds of others - boys, girls, men and women - are part of the latest crop of casualties in one of the world's most heavily mined countries.

Up to 10 million anti-personnel and anti-tank mines were planted in shifting battle lines by various forces during more than two decades of wars. Most minefields are unmarked.

"I lost my leg three months ago. While I was grazing my sheep, I heard the strange sound of a mine exploding, but I didn't know what had happened because I lost awareness," Mohammad Agha told an IWPR reporter early one August morning as he tentatively leaned on the prosthetic replacing his right limb.

"When I opened my eyes I was in the emergency hospital and when I wanted to walk, I couldn't. Then I saw I had lost my leg."

There are mines everywhere, from the most desolate mountain areas, where they hindered recovery of bodies from a crashed airliner earlier this year, to war-ruined houses in gentle countryside, and even inside cities.

The mine that took off Mohammad Agha's leg had been planted in Paghman, some 15 kilometres outside of Kabul. The area, with cool streams, trees and grass in the foothills of the Koh-i-Baba mountain range, is a magnet for many of the overcrowded capital's estimated three million people seeking to escape the urban dust, noise and heat.

Mine victims come from all parts of the country to a single-storey, cream-coloured concrete building in Kabul, the main orthopaedic centre of the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC.

In the first six months of this year, the centre admitted 589 new patients. Most were victims of mine explosions, although the project, originally founded to treat war-related wounds, was expanded in 1995 to help anyone who was "motor-disabled" such as with polio or spinal injuries.

"Eighty per cent of the amputees who came in this year up to June had been maimed by mines," said Najmuddin, the official in charge of the Kabul centre.

It's a percentage consistent with that recorded over recent years: mine victims account for nearly 23,000, or 76 per cent, of a total 30,098 amputees registered by the ICRC.

As Mohammad Agha practised walking unaided and without crutches, under a shelter in the centre's grounds, 13-year-old Sayed Noor Hussain watched as he sat in a wheelchair and waited to be fitted with an artificial leg.

Noor Hussain is from Paktia province, south of Kabul, and had come with his father, Noor Mohammad.

The boy told IWPR, "There were a lot of ruined houses in our village. I was playing with my friends in one of them when a mine exploded. I didn't know what happened, but when I opened my eyes, I was in hospital.

"When I see my friends playing with each other, I do wish I could play with them too."

Treatment by the ICRC is free, but transport and medicines are still a burden on families. "I have spent a lot of money on my son," said Noor Mohammad. "It came to 120,000 afghanis, about 2,400 US dollars."

The ICRC orthopaedic project started in 1988 - the year before Soviet troops pulled out after 10 years of occupation. Both the Russians and their mujahedin opponents laid thousands of mines during that period and thousands more were buried in years of civil war and strife that followed.

In 1995, the centre treated 2,698 people who had lost limbs, most of them to exploding mines. The number of patients it treated annually remained fairly constant for the next four years.

Since 2000, the numbers have steadily declined, with the centre caring for just over 1,000 patients in 2004. It looks likely that a similar number of patients will come in this year, meaning that about 20 people continue to be maimed by land mines each week.

There are now six ICRC-sponsored centres providing orthopaedic services in Afghanistan. Overall, they have fitted more than 54,000 artificial limbs and distributed more than 100,000 pairs of crutches since they started.

The true number of those maimed by landmines is difficult to assess.

According to figures provided by the United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan, UNMACA, an average of 80 people a month have been killed or disabled by such devices so far this year, compared with an average of 70 a month for 2004.

Masood Ahmad Hamidzada, speaking for UNMACA, said that between 1996 and 2001, while the Taleban were in power, the average number of casualties from mines was around 120 a month.

All across the capital, there are daily reminders of the lethal nature of mines.

Amid chaotic traffic at crossroads in Kabul, one-legged men balance on crutches to beg from passing motorists. Others who have lost both legs sit perilously in the middle of the road, their stumps exposed as they ask for alms.

The problem is not going to go away, despite the fact that some 8,600 people are working on mine clearance.

Abdul Baseer Saeed is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.


Farmers in Baghlan province see the revival of an old sugar factory as a way to produce an alternative to lucrative opium production.

By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif

The factory is ready, the workers trained, but rest is something of a gamble.

Will the farmers of Baghlan province, northwest of Kabul, plough up their poppies and swap the rich harvest of opium for sugar beet?

Many say that they will, even though poppies have been a reliable source of income over the years of jihad and civil war.

At a recently refurbished factory, the only sugar plant in Afghanistan, manager Abdul Karim Wazeri said he is trying to persuade all the farmers of the northern provinces to plant beet.  If they do, he has pledged to buy their entire crop for the next two or three years.

He told IWPR that nearly 200 workers were already at the factory, being paid a wage of three US dollars a day, and that the plant could process 100,000 tonnes of beet a year from which 15,000 tons of sugar would be produced.

At least one farmer appears ready to make the switch.

"Even though we'll earn less than with poppies, it will be much better because we can cultivate and sell sugar beet freely, without any threats or restrictions," said Taza Mir, a 63-year-old farmer in the province.

Taza Mir is old enough to remember the days when beet was the major crop in Baghlan and the province was noted for its sugar.

"If the factory had not been damaged during the war years and we could still have sold our sugar beet, we would never have planted our lands with poppy," he said.

At present, Afghanistan imports around 400,000 tonnes of sugar annually from neighbouring countries, mainly Russia and Pakistan, said Wazeri.

Getting farmers to switch from growing poppies to other crops has been a long-stated government goal as it attempts to shed its reputation as a narco-state, producing some 80 per cent of the world's opium.

But previous efforts have met with limited success.

Taza Mir said he abandoned a previous effort to grow wheat because it only earned him 50 dollars an acre, a fraction of what he could make growing the raw material for heroin.

"The agriculture ministry is closely cooperating with the sugar beet factory and is doing its utmost to persuade farmers to cultivate their land with sugar beet," Ghulam Mustafa Jawad, deputy agriculture minister, told IWPR,

He said that they will initially help Baghlan farmers and then move to other provinces to try to expand the beet crop, training farmers to get the most out of their land.

Before the wars, the main centres for growing beet were Baghlan, Kundoz and Samangan provinces. All depended on the Baghlan factory to buy their crops.

"One of the main issues is to establish a market for farmers' crops. While the sugar factory was not working, no farmer was ready to use his land for sugar beet," said Jawad.

"We are determined to prevent poppy cultivation completely next year."

On the side of the ministry and sugar factory is the fact that beet is a legal crop. There are none of the problems that swirl around opium production -harassment by warlords, raids by police, the need for bribes to avoid poppy destruction, the chance of arrest.

There is also the fact that growing the poppies and collecting the opium is much more labour intensive than beet.

Farmers have constantly to weed between the poppy plants, while collection of the raw opium requires each poppy head being slit with a razor to allow the sap - a milky substance - to ooze out of the plant. It then has to be left for a day to dry out, ending up as pure black opium.

Workers have only 15 days in which to collect the opium from the time the poppy head matures, with the best time for "milking" the plant being during the heat of the midday sun.

"We have to spend the whole year working the land with poppies because opium needs to be worked on, and at the same time collecting it is also very difficult. To do this, we had to hire people and pay each of them 10 dollars a day," Lal Mohammad, another Baghlan farmer, told IWPR.

"I used to cultivate my lands with sugar beet before the war years and I had good crops from it."

In nearby Balkh province, farmer Noor Mohammad, 55, told IWPR, "If the Baghlan sugar factory contracts with us to buy beets, I will never cultivate my land with opium poppy. I and all the farmers had to plant poppies because we didn't have a good alternative."

Plant manager Wazeri said the factory would pay 1,300 afghanis (about 26
dollars) per ton of beet. A farmer could produce more than 10 tons per acre, meaning they could make some 300 dollars for each acre of their land.

Opium cultivation, depending on the final quality, is known in some areas to bring a gross 1,000 to 3,000 dollars an acre. But that is before expenses and ignoring the risk of poppies being destroyed in a police sweep or the opium being seized as it is being smuggled out of the country.

Two German companies financed the refurbished factory, originally built in the 1940s. Wazeri said the plant had already provided some farmers with the seeds to produce beet and had told them it would contract to buy all their harvest.

And Wazeri is already planning for the future.

"We will set up two [additional] sugar producing machines during the next three years and then we will be able to process more than 500,000 tonnes of beets into 80,000 tonnes of sugar," he said.

"Farmers have already shown their interest in planting sugar beet and at present, dozens of them are coming to us each day and promising us that they will cultivate their lands with beet next year. And with that increase, the output of our factory will also go up."

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif.


Hand-woven rugs are an important export for Afghanistan, but neighbouring Pakistan is attempting to make inroads into the industry.

By Abdul Baseer Saeed in Kabul

Carpet weaving is one of Afghanistan's foremost industries, and the hand-woven treasures constitute one of the best export hopes. But years of civil strife drove many to flee their country for neighbouring Pakistan, where their business continued to flourish.

Now, the government in Kabul would like to see the weavers bring their looms back home. However, continued instability in many areas of the country, coupled with enticements by the Pakistani government, which wants to keep its own rug industry going, are prompting some Afghan carpet-makers to relocate aboard and discouraging others from returning home.

Abdul Shukoor, a resident of Kunduz province, has a carpet-weaving business that keeps seven members of his family employed. In his village, he told IWPR, 50 families engaged in the trade have already gone to Pakistan.

"In Pakistan everything is available, they pave the way for us. If something isn't done for carpet weavers and traders here, they'll all go to Pakistan," he said.

Afghan hand-woven carpets have been famous for centuries, and are one of the most profitable economic activities in the country. In the period preceding Afghanistan's two decades of war, carpets accounted for around ten per cent of exports. The industry still helps lubricate the local economy.

Traditionally, most carpets were woven in northern areas of Afghanistan. But after the communist coup in 1978 and the years of Soviet occupation that followed, millions of refugees including carpet weavers fled the country, the majority to Pakistan.

Afghan government leaders say all that's changed now and they are doing their best not only to support those weavers who stayed in the country but also to encourage others to return.

"Conditions have now improved for Afghan businessmen," said Ghulam Nabi Farahi, the deputy minister of commerce. "We have signed a protocol with Ariana Afghan Airlines to transport carpets made by Afghan weavers to world
markets..   and now we take their rugs to Japan, America, Canada and all
European and Arabic countries tax-free."

Projects are under way to provide land for industrial parks where carpet factories would recruit traditional weavers. And the push is on to attract international investment.

But primitive conditions, the lack of basic necessities such as electricity and water, and the continuing unrest in many parts of the country keep investors at bay.

"Gunmen rule in our area; if went there, they'd not only loot our properties, but our lives would be in danger as well," said Sayed Mohammad, originally from Faryab province. He now runs a carpet shop in Peshawar, Pakistan, and says he has no intention of going back to Afghanistan.

Farahi dismisses claims that security concerns are driving weavers to Pakistan, "The security situation in Afghanistan is better than in most other countries, and the security problems faced by Afghans exist elsewhere in the world too."

Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to welcome the weavers with open arms and is anxious to discourage them from returning to Afghanistan.

According to Hamid Qaderi, president of the Afghan International Chamber of Commerce, the Pakistani government has enticed Afghan weavers to remain by offering them subsidised land, housing, electricity and security.

"This shows astuteness on the part of Pakistani officials," he said.

Still, Afghanistan is anxious to reclaim its prominence on the world carpet market and government officials like Farahi insist that the industry will once again prosper.

"I can tell you with confidence that the carpet weaving businesses which are now in Pakistan will be transferred to Afghanistan within the next five or six months," he said.

Abdul Baseer Saeed is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.

The opinions expressed in IWPR's Afghan Recovery Report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR.


The Institute for War & Peace Reporting is an independent London-based non-profit organisation supporting regional media and democratic change.
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