Cablegate: Prt/Kunduz: Semi-Annual Report On the Northeast

DE RUEHBUL #0940/01 0810902
P 220902Z MAR 07





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) The situation on the ground in the Northeast region
of Afghanistan has not changed appreciably in the
past six months. The security situation remains relatively
calm, with only occasional criminal or terrorist attacks
against local officials and ISAF. The primary threat and
cause of instability come from lack of government control.
Control rests with former jihadi commanders, many of whom are
heavily involved in illegal activities, including drug
production and trafficking, smuggling of fuel, weapons, and
other high-value commodities, and extortion. The Northeast
had high expectations of the Karzai government, but pervasive
corruption and failure to control illegal activities, both in
the region and in Kabul, have led to an almost total loss of
faith in government authorities and programs.

2. (SBU) Economic growth has slowed over the past year.
Large investors particularly are reluctant to commit their
resources due to lack of effective government
regulation and security concerns in general. Most of the
population continues to rely on agriculture for survival,
but drought remains a serious concern. The overall economy
is doing fairly well, with construction a particularly
strong sector, but the lack of adequate power,
unconstrained corruption and illicit activity, and the lack
of employment for young men hamper economic growth and
development. Despite perceptions that development aid has
been wasted and little accomplished, some projects --
especially roads between and within the provincial capitals
-- have made an important impact. There is a view that
some development aid ends up in someone's pocket, but
enough filters into the economy to improve the lives of
most people, including many women. Education is highly
valued -- including for girls -- and school construction
cannot keep up with the demand. The success of democracy
and progress in the region depend on a successful and
visible reduction of corruption and criminality, which
would signal a clear gain of control by the government over
the current criminal elements who largely run things. END

Security Situation: Relative Calm Prevails
3. (SBU) The security situation in the Northeast of
Afghanistan -- which includes the provinces of Badakhshan,
Takhar, Kunduz, and Baghlan -- remains relatively calm, but
not entirely stable. Restrictions on travel or movement of
people and goods in the Northeast primarily have to do with
poor (or in Badakhshan, total lack of) roads rather than
security threats. With the exception of a few problem
districts in Baghlan and Badakhshan, and occasional
short-term threat alerts, both Afghan and foreign civilians
from government organizations or NGOs travel freely around
the area with only basic safety guidelines (i.e., armored
vehicles or two-vehicle convoys).

4. (SBU) Military vehicles from the International Security
Assistance Force (ISAF) also travel widely and freely,
though they have been subject to occasional attacks. These
include several attacks on German convoys with small arms
and Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) launchers on the main
roads going east and south from Kunduz City, and several
Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and small arms attacks on
Dutch, Hungarian, and German convoys in Baghlan on the main
road north of the capital of Pul-e Khumri. No injuries and
little damage to ISAF vehicles have resulted from these
attacks, though an Afghan Police vehicle was destroyed and
one Afghan National Police (ANP) soldier were injured in
one incident. All armed attacks in Kunduz have occurred at
night, and all incidents have targeted ISAF or Afghan
National Security Forces (ANSF) vehicles. Some of these

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assaults have been carried out by terrorists and the
attackers appear to come from outside the region. While
they do have some local supporters who assist or enable
their operations, the attackers have gained little traction
with most locals. PRT Feyzabad (Badakhshan Province)
military convoys have also been attacked several times, and
the PRTs in Pul-e Khumri and Feyzabad have taken occasional
incoming rockets. A series of small IED explosions (no
injuries and only minor damage) and IED finds in early 2007
in Taloqan, where such incidents have been almost unknown
for many months, seem to be the work of disgruntled local

5. (SBU) No NGOs have been attacked in the region since
the May 2006 IED that destroyed a vehicle belonging to
USAID Alternative Livelihoods Program contractor PADCO in
Darayeen District of Badakhshan. That assault killed two
Afghans and slightly wounded two Americans, and is believed
to have resulted from perceived interference in the drug
business of the district rather than from any political or
terrorist objective. In addition, two German reporters
camped on the roadside in the far southwest of Baghlan
(Tala Wa Barfek district), were shot and killed in October
2006. Although not a robbery (valuable items were left
behind), this attack remains a mystery and may have been
carried out by locals who felt either threatened or
insulted by the pair. Other violent incidents in the
region have been attributed to personal feuds, land
disputes, or grudges against particular officials or other
individuals, and have not involved foreigners.

6. (SBU) Terrorist activities, although supported by a
small portion of the population, receive little encouragement
from officials, many of whom actively seek to
interfere with Taliban or HIG) activities and arrest
perpetrators, or at least drive them out of the region. This
is in part because terrorism is considered bad for
Afghanistan (and the Northeast), but also because it is
considered bad for (illegal) business. A large percentage of
officials in both the provincial capitals and districts --
including police and other security authorities, as well as
governors, district managers, and others -- are closely
linked with criminal activities, including drug production
and trafficking, smuggling of weapons, fuel, and other
high-value commodities, and extortion. In many cases,
particularly in the remote areas of all four provinces, these
officials not only permit but also control and direct illegal
activities. In fact, police and other official vehicles are
the preferred means to transport drugs, weapons, and other
contraband. People are reluctant to stop for uniformed
police, particularly in remote areas, since some of those
"uniformed police" are in fact highway robbers.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
Political Situation: Criminality Hampers Good Governance
--------------------------------------------- -----------
7. (SBU) Virtually every official in the region claims to
support the Government of Afghanistan, and most have good
relations with the international community (including the
PRTs). Although willing to act against terrorist threats
and individuals, few are prepared to give up their own
(illicit) pursuits or actively involve themselves in
measures against local power brokers that may either upset
the power balance or hinder the illegal activities from
which they gain most of their income and prestige.
Officials often respond to and implement central government
programs and requirements, but not if it threatens their
own positions or the stability of the region. In general,
senior officials seek to keep security conditions under
control by balancing the interests of competing parties,
including drug lords, former commanders, powerful religious
leaders, and other local power brokers. The national
interest definitely comes second (or much farther down) on
their lists of priorities.

8. (SBU) Locals' total lack of faith in the national,

KABUL 00000940 003 OF 008

provincial, or local governments is largely due to the lack
of government control and the widely-known involvement of
officials in illegal activities. Bribes are considered
normal; those who refuse to pay them do not get the service
or commodity they seek and sometimes end up in trouble with
the formal or informal authorities. This negative
perception applies to the Afghan National Police (ANP) and
Border Police at all levels. Many people have a more
positive view of the Afghan National Army (ANA), but with
virtually no ANA presence anywhere but Kunduz, this is
neither surprising nor helpful.

9. (SBU) The distrust of government extends to Kabul.
Northeasterners had high expectations of the Karzai
government; the majority in this overwhelmingly non-Pashtun
area voted for him. Many people now believe the core of the
region's problems lies in the pervasive corruption in Kabul
and, in particular, the continuation in office or in
positions of influence of known drug dealers and former
commanders who protect local officials and prevent
authorities from removing bad actors. Arresting local power
brokers is considered impossible -- not even something a
governor or chief of police could do -- because of the
perception that their sponsors in Kabul will have them
released in short order, and retribution on those who carried
out or supported the arrest will be swift and fierce.

10. (SBU) Another problem is the regions' perceived
"Pashtunization." Although Pashtuns are in the minority in
the north, many people believe that Pashtuns receive
advantageous treatment in everything from government
positions to land allocation. The treatment of
non-Pashtuns in Kabul is a particularly sore point; the
Kunduz Provincial Council claimed that they waited 23 days
for an appointment with President Karzai, whereas a Pashtun
elder from the Northeast went to Kabul and saw Karzai
within 24 hours. Many also have a negative view of
Pakistan, but the woes of Afghanistan are attributed more
to corrupt and inept Afghans than to interference from
outside the country.

11. (SBU) Provincial Council (PC) members,
Parliamentarians, and other powerful people are sought out
as intermediaries with government officials because any
petition or request delivered without the assistance of
such an intermediary is unlikely to receive any attention
whatsoever, much less a favorable response. Many of these
powerful people, including MPs, are themselves former
commanders, and continue to operate at the center of
narcotics trafficking or other criminal activities.

12. (SBU) While the Provincial Councils of the four
provinces are active as representatives of and
intermediaries for the people, all continue to have
problems with funding, and they face uncertainty about
their role. USAID and other PC training projects appear
not to have had substantial impact, but continued capacity
building programs, along with more substantive guidance and
support from the central government (such as a new
Provincial Council Law), may improve these elected
representatives' ability to fulfill their functions more
effectively. Interestingly, although many PC members were
elected on the basis of traditional leadership roles (e.g.,
many mullahs sit on the councils), the individuals with the
most local influence -- who also control the largest and
most pervasive drug and other criminal organizations --
were mostly elected to Parliament rather than Provincial
Councils, leaving the latter body with less capable but
also less corrupt membership.

Economic Situation: Relatively Positive
13. (SBU) The economic situation in the Northeast is
relatively positive, particularly in the larger cities and
towns, where commercial activities abound and the streets

KABUL 00000940 004 OF 008

are bustling with people, vehicles, and animal-drawn carts
and carriages. Gas stations are readily available and new
ones are going up all the time, though lacking reliable (or
in some cases any) electricity, pumps are still run by
small generators that the attendant starts up when a car
comes in to buy diesel, the usual fuel of choice.

Energy Supply Is Vital
14. (SBU) Energy availability is a critical issue in the
Northeast. The close proximity to Tajikistan and electric
transmission lines has made Kunduz one of the few Afghan
cities with relatively dependable electricity that does not
rely on diesel generators. Baghlan provincial capital
Pul-e Khumri has an inadequate hydroelectric plant (built
in the early 1960s to supply the cement factory and
currently running at about one-third capacity), while
Taloqan and Feyzabad provinces have no large power
generation capability. Although small hydro and other
generators provide some power to many areas, the failure
thus far to expand the power grid in the region is one of
the major complaints of the local population -- and one of
the serious constraints on economic development. The route
from Kunduz to Taloqan is lined with hundreds of large
concrete power poles lying on the side of the road,
awaiting the transmission lines that were expected several
years ago. Many of the poles are no longer usable. The
Kunduz Provincial Power Director outlined a plan he claimed
was funded by the Asian Development Bank (this project is
also being funded by USAID, World Bank, Germany, and India)
that will transmit power from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and
Turkmenistan and bring the whole region (except Badakhshan)
into the new 220V power grid. Donors have paid little
attention to renewable energy projects, despite excellent
solar and wind power prospects, though fairly small
hydroelectric schemes in conjunction with canal upgrades
may also contribute to the local power supply in the near
future. While it seems likely that the grid will reach
large portions of Baghlan, Kunduz, and Takhar within the
next few years, the prospects for mountainous Badakhshan
remain far less hopeful.

Agriculture Remains Key
15. (SBU) Agriculture is a mainstay of the Northeast, and
farming activities are visible throughout the year in the
extensive irrigated fields bordering the rivers of the
region. The EU is working on the irrigation canal system
in the Kunduz River Basin (Takhar and Kunduz Provinces),
and has recently announced a follow-on project to complete
an upgrade in the Khanabad area (Kunduz) that was started
in the 1970s. Irrigated areas are usually double cropped,
with wheat as the primary first crop, while rice, cotton,
vegetables, and other crops share the second planting and a
later harvest. If farmers believe there will not be
adequate water for rice, they will often switch to another
crop that requires less water.

16. (SBU) Many large areas that cannot be irrigated,
including fairly steep slopes, are planted with wheat in
the often forlorn hope that precipitation will be sufficient
for a successful crop. Many such areas, particularly in
Badakhshan, are also planted with poppy. In 2006, Badakhshan
was second only to Helmand province in poppy cultivation.
During the fall of 2006, however, Governor Majid demonstrated
greater engagement with counter-narcotics activities and
launched a widespread campaign against planting poppy. He
followed this with approximately 500 hectares of early
eradication in November and December 2006. UNODC's Rapid
Assessment Survey predicts that Badakhshan will see a sharp
decline in poppy cultivation. Previously, the high degree of
control by local commanders (often involved in the narcotics
trade), lack of GOA penetration, the inaccessibility of many
areas, and the lack of serious alternatives for the local

KABUL 00000940 005 OF 008

population made this one of the most difficult areas to
eradicate or otherwise eliminate poppy production. More
recently, the governors in the Northeast have responded to
increasing pressure from the GOA to eliminate poppy, and they
have taken advantage of the region's comparatively
benign security environment to extend legitimate government
influence throughout the region. Corruption remains a
problem, and local offices often attempt to derail poppy
elimination efforts. The Interior Minister dismissed the
Daraim District's Governor and Chief of Police in the fall
due to their interference with the provincial governor's
eradication plans.

17. (SBU) Like all of Afghanistan, most agriculture in the
Northeast depends on winter snows and rains for the runoff
that fills the streams and rivers for irrigation and to
nourish rain-fed wheat. Years of drought (and given the
meager rain and snowfall so far, it looks like 2007 may be
yet another drought year) have left water levels low and
have severely limited the crop from rain-fed agriculture
throughout the region. Only Kunduz, which normally has a
surplus and depends far less on rain-fed crops, had no food
shortage in 2007, but even Kunduz may have difficulties in

--------------------------------------------- ----
Development Projects Abound, But Much Still to Do
--------------------------------------------- ----
18. (SBU) Many reconstruction (or construction) and
development projects have been carried out in the five
years since the fall of the Taliban. Despite this effort,
a tremendous amount remains to be done. Many Afghans in
the Northeast bemoan the lack of visible development
despite the billions of dollars invested by the
international community. In some cases, the projects have
been poorly designed or poorly executed, and there is no
doubt that millions of dollars have been spent with little
or nothing to show for it. Results of capacity-building
projects are less visible, though no less important, but
also appear to have had only partial success. One issue
that has received little focus is the need for and capacity
to do maintenance on buildings, roads, or other
infrastructure, or to follow basic sanitation procedures.
Facilities that have only recently been completed often
look very old, with apparently no effort made to replace
broken windows, fix leaking roofs or plumbing, or repair
other damage, or even to clean toilets or washing
facilities. Sometimes the main problem is poor
construction, but often it is simply a lack of basic
maintenance and hygiene.

19. (SBU) Many projects, however, have made a huge
difference. Paving the road from Kabul through the Baghlan
capital of Pul-e Khumri up to Mazar e-Sharif, Kunduz City,
and the Tajik border at Sher Khan Bandar, and from Kunduz
City over to the Takhar capital of Taloqan, has made these
stretches of road effectively superhighways of transport
for goods and people. The drive from Kunduz, where many
regional organizations and companies are located, to Pul-e
Khumri or Taloqan has been reduced from well over half a
day to only about an hour and a half, and the drive time
between Kunduz and Kabul has been cut in half to about six
or seven hours. A project to reconstruct and pave the road
from Taloqan to the Badakhshan capital of Feyzabad, which
is being funded by USAID and the World Bank, will extend
that commercial connection to the fourth capital of the
region and, it is hoped, bring it more contact with the
region. The increased ability to transport grain and other
food is particularly important, and the increased ability
for police and other security patrols is also vital. In
Kunduz and Taloqan between 45 and 50 km of city streets
have been paved, cutting down considerably on what
previously was one large dust cloud over these cities and
removing a major source of pollution and respiratory
illness. Agriculture near the cities has received a boost,
as the removal of a persistent coating of dust on the

KABUL 00000940 006 OF 008

plants has increased yields.

20. (SBU) While there are still few good roads linking the
capitals to the districts, this need is recognized and is
slowly being addressed, with some district roads already
graveled and others planned in the near future. For
example, USAID is building a road from the paved highway
near Sher Khan Bandar to the fairly large population center
of Imam Sahib, in the far north of Kunduz. This will link
Imam Sahib to the border crossing into Tajikistan, where a
new three-lane U.S.-funded bridge will finally provide a
road connection between Kunduz and Tajikistan, previously
linked only by small ferries. The facilities will include
U.S.-funded border crossing stations on both sides, and a
large customs facility on the Afghan side funded by the
EU. This complex is expected to lead to a quantum jump in
cross-border trade, giving an economic boost to the region
and a revenue boost to the GOA.

--------------------------------------------- ----
Small Investors Build, But Larger Investors Worry
--------------------------------------------- ----
21. (SBU) Investment continues, primarily in the
construction of homes and commercial establishments, but it
is less than it was a year ago, with some estimating a
decrease of approximately 40 percent. Constraints on
small investors include lack of city planning that may lead
to forced removal in the future and the lack of employment
that limits available funds. Larger investors are more
concerned about the bigger picture in Afghanistan: lack of
security in the south, lack of GOA capacity or control, and
Taliban or other insurgent activities. Although these
risks (except lack of GOA control) are minimal in the
north, investors -- particularly foreigners -- fear their
negative effect on the future of the nation as a whole. A
joint venture between a French company and the GOA to
revive the cotton processing industry that led the economy
of the region until the 1970s is still struggling after two
years (COMMENT: Given the anti-competitive behavior of the
French company, this may not be a bad thing. See reftel.
END COMMENT.). A group of Afghan and other investors is
planning substantial investment ($140 million) in the
cement production and coal mining facilities in Baghlan
Province. If successful, this venture should improve
employment and economic growth in the region, particularly
in Baghlan, which thus far has received relatively little
attention from the international community.

22. (SBU) Markets and business are still good in the
region, but they are not growing as much as they were a
year ago. Then, people were importing everything they
possibly could, new items were appearing constantly in the
markets, and people were bidding up the cost of land and
houses. Now, those costs have gone back down (though not
quite to what they were before the price hikes), while
imports of durable goods (cars, furniture, appliances) have
slacked off and most imports are softer goods like food and
textiles. Although traffic congestion is growing, perhaps
only half the number of large Russian trucks is visible
transporting goods from Tajikistan or Pakistan into the

23. (SBU) Despite the apparent prosperity of the cities and
towns, however, many young men, mostly from rural areas,
leave the region to seek employment in Iran or Pakistan.
Regional immigration officials estimated that between five
and 15 percent of young men in Kunduz, Takhar, and
Baghlan have left, and in Badakhshan, the figure is 35 to
45 percent. A few women and families go along, but some 90
percent of emigrant laborers have been young men. Most
Pashtuns go to Pakistan (a few for religious education, but
mostly for employment), most Tajiks (the majority of whom
are from Badakhshan) and Hazaras go to Iran, and Uzbeks go
to both places. Most travel in groups for security and
mutual support. Meanwhile, as many as 40,000 former
refugees, primarily Pashtuns, have returned to the

KABUL 00000940 007 OF 008

Northeast, and authorities have provided land and shelter
for many of these across the region. In spite of this GOA
effort, however, many returnees, including widows, the
elderly, and disabled persons, continue to live in returnee
camps without decent shelter, employment, or basic

Cultural/Social Situation
24. (SBU) Although virtually all adult women in the
Northeast continue to wear a burqa in public, there seems
to be a bit of loosening of the social pressure to wear
one, as well as a general sense that society is more lively
and less constrained. Underneath the burqa, the women
clearly are well-dressed, well-coiffed, and well made up,
with nice jewelry and henna and other decoration. Perhaps
more importantly, many women can be seen on the streets,
shopping together or with children. Women are generally
more visible in public, even if behind the veil. Women are
also playing an increasingly important role in the
community of the Northeast. Many work for the government,
and their numbers are increasing, particularly in health
and education. Nevertheless, women continue to be viewed
widely as property belonging to men; many endure verbal and
physical abuse, and the sale or exchange of women to settle
debts remains a widespread and accepted practice.

Media Active but Struggling
25. (SBU) The Northeast also has a lively media presence,
with nine radio stations covering all four provinces and
three TV stations. BBC can also be heard on FM due to an
antenna in each province. Two radio stations have been
opened in the past year, and none have been shut down;
there is no formal restriction on what is broadcast.
Kunduz TV is very active; its cameramen are a fixture at
important events, and PRT members appear regularly on the
evening news. The stations all face financial problems,
but so far they have found sponsors to help them keep
going, including USAID, which funds a station in Baghlan,
and the Kunduz PRT, which pays one of the radio stations in
Kunduz a fixed fee in return for broadcast time. The PRT
also supports Radio Zohra, a women's radio station and
sponsors a cultural center called Mediothek, where young
people and others can gather for community theater,
internet use, and other media-related activities.

Life is Better, but Serious Concerns Remain
26. (SBU) Basic education and health services are available
in most areas, thanks in part to the assistance of the many
international organizations that build and furnish
facilities, though many schools still rely on tents for all
or some of their classrooms. Furniture, blackboards,
books, medicines, medical equipment, trained teachers and
medical personnel are in short supply. Security incidents,
however, occur only sporadically and local authorities are
generally are able to manage them. Even in remote places,
parents want to send their children, including girls, to
school. Although many schools have been built, and many
school tents and other equipment have been provided,
facilities cannot keep up with the demand. Many schools
run morning and afternoon shifts, with boys in one shift
and girls in the other. This strong interest in education
and other improvements is partly due to the influence of
returnees who experienced a much more modern lifestyle in
Iran or Pakistan, and who often convince their neighbors of
the value of education and clean water, even if that may
mean paying for it. Several town water systems are under
construction, with one in Aliabad (Kunduz) already
functioning. At least three others, including one in
Kunduz City, should be completed over the next year. Water
meters will allow the towns to collect fees for the

KABUL 00000940 008 OF 008

maintenance of the systems.

27. (SBU) Although police and legal services are available
to some extent in most areas, the numbers are too few, the
individuals lack adequate training, and corruption is
pervasive. Land disputes are particularly persistent, with
both formal and informal adjudicators often collecting
bribes from both sides, keeping the disputes going for
years so they can continue to collect the payments.
Traffic police also notoriously collect bribes from anyone
involved in an accident, whether guilty or not. In
general, most people would prefer to resolve disputes
through informal systems -- elders, local shuras, or other
community leaders -- because they believe that going
through the formal system may exacerbate, rather than
solve, the problem due to the ineptness and corruption
endemic in the formal system. Nevertheless, major disputes
usually go through the formal system, and most people
almost certainly would prefer to go to the government if
they felt the officials would treat their cases fairly.
Sharia law is used very little in the Northeast, even in
remote areas, although local religious leaders often are
also community leaders and involved in informal dispute

28. (SBU) Although things are going relatively well in the
Northeast of Afghanistan, the failure of the GOA and
international community thus far to successfully and
visibly reduce the level of corruption and criminality
undermines continued progress in the region, including
economic growth, social advances, political stabilization
and legitimate stability. If Northeasterners do not see a
real change in circumstances on the ground, building
democracy and lasting stability will be an even more
daunting challenge. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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