- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

KABUL, Afghanistan — Angry student protests after a killing at Kabul University have brought home to newly elected President Hamid Karzai the imperative need to disarm thousands of Afghans.

The killing was not connected to drugs or militia rivalries. It was simply triggered by the refusal of a student to give in to the demand by an armed gang that he cut his long hair.

But the mindlessness of the killing, combined with the reported patronage of the gang by university authorities, has stirred public fury and kept agitated students on the streets for the past three days.

Emotions also are running high over the kidnapping of three foreigners working for the U.N.-sponsored election commission.

A council of Islamic leaders has strongly condemned the taking of the three hostages — a Filipino and two women from Northern Ireland and Kosovo — by a splinter group of the ousted Taliban.

The kidnappers yesterday said the Afghan government has agreed to free some of their jailed comrades to prevent the killing of the foreign captives.

Afghan state television reported that Mr. Karzai had decreed the release of prisoners for Eid, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month, expected on Sunday. But there was no indication that the release would include any of the inmates identified by the hostage-takers.

The kidnappers, who are said to include a former Taliban sports minister, held their first meeting with government negotiators at an undisclosed location on Sunday and asked for the release of 26 Afghan prisoners — some of whom are thought to be at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — in exchange for the three hostages.

Mr. Karzai is well-aware of the popular mood against what is commonly referred to here as “gun rule.”

“The Afghan people have voted for a government based on laws and institutions,” he said at his first press conference after officially being declared the winner last week in a landmark presidential election.

“There will be no private militias in Afghanistan, and we’re going to be strongly dedicated to combating drugs. We will work toward strengthening the Afghan national army, the police, the judiciary and other institutions of the state.”

A new U.N. survey to be released this week is expected to reveal a phenomenal increase this year in the area being used for poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. The survey was to have been unveiled last Thursday, but reportedly was held back to avoid embarrassing Mr. Karzai at the moment of his historic election victory.

The drug business constitutes about half of the country’s gross domestic product and threatens to turn Afghanistan into a narco-state.

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