Information Update : Afghanistan 1-15 September

15 September 2004: Issue: 65

1 – 15 September 2004
ADVICE FOR CIRCULATION: This update is intended for Afghans abroad, as well as those displaced inside their country, to help them make an informed choice about returning to their homes. It is a public document and should be circulated as widely as possible.

Contents of the Current Issue

1. Announcements to Returnees
2. President’s Decree on Disarmament
3. Cultural Centres’ Activities in Afghanistan
4. Security
5. Radio Programmes

Afghans living in Pakistan and Iran can vote for the election of the future president of Afghanistan. To be able to vote, those Afghans who live in Pakistan must register on 1-3 October 2004. Afghan refugees in Iran do not need to register. Those in Iran who have Identification Cards can vote on 9 October 2004. The following is a message by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) which is tasked with organising and implementing the electoral process in both countries:

“Remember! Afghan Presidential election will take place on 9 October 2004. Vote for the future of your country, your vote is your choice.”

Note for Students and Teachers: All refugee students who want to be admitted to schools must have their school certificates stamped by Afghan embassies or consulates before returning to Afghanistan. According to a directive issued by the Afghan Foreign Ministry, Afghan diplomatic missions in the region should NOT charge fees for validation and stamping of academic certificates of returning Afghan students. Those teachers or graduates who want to work as teachers in Afghanistan should also have their documents stamped by the Afghan embassies or consulates.

Note on Religion: In response to queries received from prospective returnees, UNHCR reminds that Afghanistan is a Muslim State and the Constitution states that “The religion of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam” and “In Afghanistan; no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam and the values of this constitution.” The constitution also adds that “followers of other religions are free to perform their religious ceremonies within the limits of the provisions of law”.

* Returnees are advised to ensure that their VRFs are correctly filled out in the country of asylum, as VRFs are not issued or changed in Afghanistan.

* The returnees' personal belongings are exempt from all customs duties. But please note that returnees can take neither commercial amounts of any item nor can they export government-proscribed items. Returnees should also advise their truck drivers not to carry business goods on returnee trucks in order to avoid delay at the border and undesired consequences at the customs. Returnees are advised to ensure the truck is empty when they begin loading their belongings.

Note: All returnees are advised NOT to travel during the night hours, and should seek shelter in a major settlement. Several robberies of returnees have recently been reported on the road between Herat and Kandahar.

Note on Land: UNHCR has learned about the existence of fraudulent schemes which extract money from refugees in return for a promise to get them government land for housing. As far as UNHCR is aware there is at present no legitimate government programme to distribute land. The general freeze on land distribution ordered by the President’s decree is still enforced. UNHCR would like to advise refugees not to pay any money for fraudulent land schemes and to check the authenticity of any land scheme with the representatives of the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation in Pakistan and Iran or with UNHCR offices. UNHCR will therefore not be able to provide shelter assistance to refugees who acquire land under such schemes.

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President Karzai has issued a decree on disarmament to meet the objectives set in the Berlin Declaration. The decree states that all stages of weapons collection should be fully completed by June 2005. At least 27,000 more military personnel should go through disarmament process by 8 October 2004 and their military units dissolved.

In accordance with the decree, Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) are finishing the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) plan prior to the presidential election. The plan sets specific dates for military units across Afghanistan to meet the requirements of verification, disarmament and demobilisation.

In accordance with the presidential decree, the MOD will automatically decommission those military units that fail to meet the dates or fail to account for the number of soldiers required under the plan. These decommissioned units will be removed from the MOD payroll.

So far, 14,665 officers and soldiers have been disarmed (12,720 are about to begin their reintegration activities) and 11,370 weapons have been collected. Eighty percent of the former soldiers, who have gone through DDR, cannot read or write. ANBP is helping their transition into civilian life by complementing their job training with classes that introduce the Dari or Pashto alphabet and develop reading comprehension skills. The courses last between six months to one year. More than 3,000 former soldiers are supposed to be involved in ANBP’s literacy programmes in the month of September 2004, and ANBP is working to expand the programme to reach every former soldier who needs it in the country.

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Central Region:
a) Governmental Arts and Cultural Institutions

Ministry of Information and Culture (MIC): After the establishment of the Afghan Interim Administration, the MIC held its first seminar on “Maintaining and Rehabilitation of the Monuments” in May 2001. About 100 foreign experts and UNESCO officials participated in the seminar. Work plans for maintaining and rehabilitating the monuments and cultural heritages were made and some of the participants, including UNESCO, promised to provide assistance for the rehabilitation. Some of the activities in this regard are listed below:

* As a result of the efforts made by MIC and some aid agencies, National Archive, Music School, Department of Afghan Theatre, Public Library, Afghan Film, Maimanagi Gallery, National Gallery and Afghanistan National Museum have been rehabilitated and reactivated during the past two years.

* MIC and Kabul Municipality with the financial support of UNESCO and UNDP have started rehabilitation of Babar Garden in Kabul. The rehabilitation of the Babar statues, the Marble Mosque, restaurant, Queen’s Palace and Babar`s shrine started in 2001 and will be completed by the end of 2006. Agha Khan Cultural Centre is working on growing saplings in and around the Babar Garden.

* According to the Deputy Minister of the MIC, the Jam Minaret in Chegcheran and the Buddha site in Bamyan have been included in the list of international heritages. The work on maintaining the Buddha remnants and the miniatures of the caves around Buddha in Bamyan is ongoing by the MIC, UNESCO and International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). The exact cost of the telephone calls is not known yet but according to the Ministry of Telecommunication, it is going to be lower than the present satellite phones.

* A training centre for maintaining Afghanistan’s cultural heritages is being built in Bamyan with the financial support of the Japanese government.

* Rehabilitation of Taq-i-Zafar in Paghman district of Kabul province to be supported by the USA will start once the fund is received.

* Rehabilitation of Timor Shah’s shrine located in the heart of Kabul City is in its final stage and will become completed by the end of September 2004.

* The Ministry of Interior has deployed a security force comprised of 500 soldiers in Kabul and Logar to protect the monuments and to prevent the illegal excavations and smuggling of historical works.

Afghan Film: The Afghan Film was functioning well until 1998. It was stopped for a period of seven years due to a ban imposed by the Taliban on film production. The department resumed its film production activities in 2001 and has so far produced some documentary films, short films on election, vaccination campaigns, rehabilitation, education etc. Cinema halls like other cultural centres were shut down for seven to eight years and restarted functioning in 2001. There are now more than 10 cinemas functioning in Kabul.

Afghan Theatre: The Afghan Theatre, which was also closed for the past seven years, was reopened in 2001. Since than the theatre has produced some dramas, and it is planning to provide training to newcomers and recruit new staff.

b) Non-Governmental Arts and Cultural Institutions

UNESCO: According to UNESCO officials, this agency has carried out the following cultural and media activities during the past two years:

* In early 2003, UNESCO signed an agreement with the MIC to provide training to the staff of Afghanistan Radio and TV and technical equipment with a total cost of $1.5 million, which was provided by the Italian government.

* UNESCO provided the Kabul Public Library with the necessary equipment such as computers, chairs, desks, carpets and Internet connection. Internet connection is available to the library users.

* The Kabul University library was also equipped with computers, chairs, desks, carpets and Internet connection. In addition to the Internet facilities, computer training opportunities are also available at the library for the students.

Aina: Aina began to work in Kabul in December 2001 with the aim to support freedom of expression, reinforce national unity and rebuild civil society. The main donor providing financial assistance to Aina is Finland and others are, US, French and Italian embassies in Kabul. As of May 2003, Aina has its offices open in Afghanistan’s seven major urban centres , promoting and developing media and cultural activities across the country. Currently, Aina supports eight of the 12 leading independent publications in Kabul: Kabul Weekly, Malalai, Seerat, Zanbel-i-Gham, Les Nouvelles de Kabul, Aina News Clipping, Sabawoon and Parwaz magazine for kids.

* Aina Photo Department creates images of different situations for the above mentioned eight publications and also sells them to other publications in and outside Afghanistan.

* Aina Video Department makes documentaries on election, mines risks, women and their cultural activities, looting of cultural heritages etc. The centre annually produces five films which are shown in its Kabul and provincial centres. Aina main office in Kabul has established a video hall where English, French, American and other Western movies are shown. Anyone holding an ID card can enjoy watching these movies at 8:00 pm on Thursdays.

* Aina’s Regional Network organises gatherings of poets and writers as well as video exhibitions and other cultural events in its main office in Kabul and branches in the provinces.

* Aina Radio Department airs speeches of the President, ministers and other high ranking government officials about Afghanistan’s reconstruction, information on elections etc. The department provides cassettes to 29 provincial radio stations for broadcasting.

Source of information: Ministry of Information and Culture, Afghan Film, Afghan Theatre, UNESCO and Aina.

Northern Region:

There are several cultural centres in Balkh province mostly in Mazar-i-Sharif City. These centres work under the Department of Information and Culture.

a) Governmental Arts and Cultural Institutions

Bidar Newspaper’s Office: It is the oldest cultural centre in the province. Apart from publishing Bidar newspaper, it organises cultural gatherings in the centre.

Balkh Museum: This museum used to be the second biggest museum in the country with more than 4,000 antiques which have been looted during the civil war.

b) Non-Governmental Arts and Cultural Institutions

The Balkh Free Authors Association: More than 35 artistic and literary works have been published by this centre in addition to a monthly cultural bulletin by the name of “Rah”. This centre also organises art and literature gatherings on a weekly basis. Poets and researchers constitute membership of this centre.

Balkh Media Centre: It is a cultural centre where training on music, theatre and journalism is conducted with the financial support of the German government.

The Balkh Free Cinema and Theatre Association: It is a centre for actors, actresses and directors to centralise their activities. This centre provides training and produces films and dramas. This centre has also taken part in producing a movie by the name of “The Clouds”. This film was directed by an Afghan director and completed by 16 April 2004 in the Northern provinces of Jawzjan, Sar-i-Pul and Samangan of Afghanistan, and in some parts of Uzbekistan. This film depicts the situation of women and children during the Taliban regime.

Mawlana Khasta Library: This library has been established with the financial support of PRT in Mazar-i-Sharif City, where more than 5,000 volumes of books are available for study. Membership of this library is free of charge.

Faryab Province: Department of Information and Culture has a union of local artists and it periodically organises social activities in Faryab. Faryab Press forms one of the elements of this department, and is active in weekly dissemination of information on health, education, arts and literature.

Baghlan Province: Government cultural centers in this province are Baghlan Radio and Television and Public Libraries (located in Dushi, Baghlan and Pul-i-Khumri) and Ettehad and Bakhtar News agencies. Private cultural centres in Baghlan are Provincial Cultural Association, Saam and Aftab-i-Durrukhshan Cinematic and Theater Associations, Pul-i-Khumri Cinema and Civil Society Cultural Association.

Sources of Information: Department of Culture and Information, Balkh Free Authors Association, Balkh Free Cinema and Theater Association, Balkh Mediotic, Bidar newsletter office, Local Art Galleries.

Southern Region:

a) Governmental Arts and Cultural Institutions

Kandahar Department of Information and Culture (KDIC) has recently established a public library with 4,000 volumes of books and magazines on different subjects. The library is open to the public from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm. Moreover, on the first day of each month, the KDIC holds a meeting in which scholars, writers and poets from Kandahar City and the surrounding districts participate. Kandahar cinema was destroyed during the war and needs rehabilitation. There are no theatres in the southern region but there are drama classes available in some high schools.

b) Non-Governmental Arts and Cultural Institutions

Aina: This office was established in Kandahar in 2003 with the aim of training and assisting journalists and promoting media education. Some of Aina’s activities during the past year have been training journalists, distributing Malalai Magazine, and printing and distributing their monthly magazine named “Parvaz” for children. Aina distributes “Parvaz” mainly in schools as well as in Zhari Dasht IDP camp. It also has regular workshop on basic internet use. Aina has a library with books in Pashtu, Dari and English languages on variety of subjects and a media room where the public can watch the news and other educational programmes on cable.

Other Literary and Cultural Associations: Benawa and Ahmad Shah Baba are two literary and cultural associations active in Kandahar.

Sources of Information: Kandahar Department of Information and Culture and AINA.

South eastern Region:

Paktika Province: The Paktika Department of Information and Culture works to promote arts and culture and organise drama shows as well as maintain historical monuments. There are no radio, cinema and theatre in Paktika province.

Paktia Province: The Provincial Department of Radio and TV has the responsibility to encourage and support development of arts and culture as well as to organise stage shows, train cinema and theatre actors and actresses. In 2004, more than 52 actors were trained who performed as actors in a TV film produced by the Paktia TV Department. Paktia Private Film Production Company, which was established recently has produced a film called Pekha (Event). The story of the film focuses on children’s friendship.

Khost Province: Presently there is no production of TV programmes in Khost. However, Khost Radio and TV Department officials said that the station would start its TV programmes in near future. The department works to inform people about the provincial government departments’ activities and disseminate information on the government policy, supervise the “Khost” newspaper, run a public library, which has about 6,000 volumes of books and newly established Baihaqi library, maintain historical monuments and produce daily radio programmes. There is an old cinema which needs rehabilitation and there is no theatre in Khost province.

Sources of Information: Paktia and Khost Departments of Radio and TV and DoRR in Paktika.

Eastern Region:

a) Governmental Arts and Cultural Institutions

The Departments of Information and Culture are active in all eastern provincial capitals. The Nangarhar Department of Information and Culture is planning to extend cultural activities to all other districts by establishing cultural associations there. Up to now, associations of this nature have been established in 13 districts of the province. Before 1992, there were two cinemas in Jalalabad City, but none of them is functioning now. There are no theatre and private cultural centres in the eastern provinces.

b) Non-Governmental Arts and Cultural Institutions

Nangarhar Media Centre: This centre trains young journalists free of charge (with priority given to those currently working in the related field), assists cultural associations and publishes a magazine called “Spugmay”.

Aina: Aina is organises photography exhibitions and manages poetical contests.

Sources of information: Nangarha Provincial Department of Information and Culture, Nangarhar Media Centre and Jalalabad Office of Aina Press and Cultural Centre.

Western Region:

a) Government Arts and Cultural Institutions

Department of Information and Culture (DIC): The DIC is active and administers almost all cultural and art institutes in Herat such as the National Museum, TV and Radio Station, Herat Literature Association, Public Library, Local Press, Theatre, and the Department of International Project for Preservation of Historical Monuments (DIPPHM). In addition, the DIC has established few arts, literature and education associations in Herat.

The Department of International Project for Preservation of Historical Monuments (DIPPHM): It was established in 1975, with the aim to contribute to the maintenance of historical places and to provide information on historical venues. The DIPPHM implements tile project, which is aimed to train tillers and produces tiles for the maintenance of the historical heritages. The project was funded by UNESCO at the beginning. At present, DIPPHM funds the project from the revenues of the tourism and partially from financial support of the local government.

Herat Literature Association (HLA): It was established in 1939. It used to be an independent foundation. However, it receives support from the local government and the community. HLA produces two publications called “Awrang-i-Hashtom and Kodak”, and also has youth sub-association that works for Awrang-i-Hashtom publication. HLA fosters literature related activities and brings together writers, poets and other people who work in the field of arts and culture.

Faculty of Fine Arts (FFA): The FFA at Herat University is open for admission. It has departments of Painting, Calligraphy and Drawing, and organises painting exhibitions.

b) Non-Governmental Arts and Cultural Institutions:

The establishment of Herat Professional Council (HPC), Radio Sahar, Radio Jawan, and Aina institution in Herat took place after the fall of Taliban regime. HPC was founded in 2001 and its membership is comprised of professional associations of doctors, journalists, lawyers, engineers, teachers, agriculturalists, animal husbandry experts, athletes, Islamic Scholars, Painters and Calligraphers. Each of these associations has its own cultural and art activities. The Journalists Association publishes a daily news paper and circulates it to the government and UN agencies.

Sources of Information: Sahar Radio Station, Youth Radio Station, Department of Information & Culture, Herat Literature Association, AINA, Herat Professional Council, and Faculty of Art

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Central Region:

Kabul: On 9 September 2004, at least three rockets were fired at Kabul City. All rockets landed within District No 10 in Sherpur residential area. As a result a girl and a woman slightly injured.

On 8 September 2004, some ammunition was discovered in the outskirts of Kabul, which included 10 rockets and some mortar shells.

On 29 August 2004, District Security Forces discovered eight pistols, detonators and 17 kg of heroin in a taxi in District No. 1 of Kabul City. Two suspects were arrested.

On 29 August 2004, about 10 people, including, two Americans were killed when a powerful bomb exploded outside the compound of an American contractor in Kabul, who was helping to train the Afghan police. A second bomb was found next to the explosion site and defused by French explosives experts.

Northern Region:

Mazar-i- Sharif: On 31 August 2004, fighting erupted over land dispute between Wahdat and Jamiat supporters in southwest of Mazar-i-Sharif City. No casualties were reported. On 2 September 2004, tension in the southwest of Mazar-i-Sharif City was defused by intervention of the Governor and Wahdat representatives.

Hairatan: On 31 August 2004, two people were wounded in a clash between two local Junbish commanders in Hairatan City. The tension was defused by a delegation which was sent by General Dostum.

Southern Region:

Kandahar Province: On 3 September 2004, an explosion in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar wounded at least five people. It was believed that the blast was caused by a bomb planted in a vehicle. On the same day a jeep packed with explosives exploded at a roadside in Kandahar City, killing one person and seriously injuring two others.

Eastern Region:

Laghman Province: On 31 August 2004, an unidentified person threw a hand grenade at a PRT convoy on the main Jalalabad-Mehterlam Road. Two soldiers and one Afghan national were injured and the vehicle was damaged.

Western Region:

Herat province: On 12 September 2004, a demonstration occurred outside the UNAMA and UNHCR Offices’ compound in Herat City. This demonstration turned to violence and as a result the UNAMA Office was set on fire UNHCR office and subsequently other UN offices were looted. At least 60 people, including 15 US troops, were reportedly wounded and supporters of Ismail Khan, the former governor of Herat, rioted after President Hamid Karzai announced Khan’s replacement.

On 10 September 2004, an explosion occurred in Herat City. According to reports, a man believed to have been carrying the device was wounded and lost a leg.

Road Security: On 7 September 2004, five cars were robbed on Herat-Kandahar highway near Zerkoh area of Shindand District. The unidentified men robbed the cars, took the money and belongings and beat up some of the passengers. This is the second case of this kind on Herat- Kandahar highway during the last week of August and first week of September 2004.

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5. Radio Programmes

UNHCR/BBC Radio Programme:

There is a joint BBC/UNHCR radio programme specifically aimed at Afghan refugees, IDPs and returnees. The programme focuses on the situation in Afghanistan, including security, development activities of the Afghan government, United Nations and other aid agencies, and the challenges that the Afghans, especially returnees, are facing.

The BBC radio programme is part of UNHCR’s efforts to provide an accurate account of the situation in Afghanistan to those wishing to return home, and to offer a forum for a wider debate on all aspects of repatriation and reintegration. The programme is broadcast from Saturday to Thursday (6 days a week) on short wave frequencies of 13,605 kHz, and 9,795 kHz and on FM frequency of 89 MHz in Kabul.

It has a section for listeners’ letters. If you have any comments or questions please write to the following addresses. The BBC will include them in the programme as time permits.

Afghanistan: BBC, Post Box No. 1, Central Post Office, Kabul, Afghanistan.

Pakistan: BBC, Post Box 255, University Town, Peshawar, Pakistan.

Iran: UNHCR (BBC) – P.O.Box No. 91775 – 1876, Mashad, Iran.

UNHCR/ERTV Radio Programme:
UNHCR also runs a joint radio programme with Afghanistan Radio and TV called “Coming Home” as part of its efforts to provide information to refugees. The programme is broadcast on Sundays and Fridays (two days a week) at 2100 hrs for 30 minutes in Dari and Pashto languages.

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Contact Information

Sima Alinejad on (0093) 70 279 230, E-mail: [email protected]
Or Abdul Qayeum Karim on (0093) 70 280 565, E-mail: [email protected]