March issue 2002
War Without End
Reconstruction of war-shattered Afghanistan and restoration of peace is a dream that is still to be realised, as the Hamid Karzai-led interim government, backed by the international community, struggles to earn acceptability from its powerful allies and extend its writ to the whole of the country where warlords and local tribal elders have ganged up to run the administration after the defeat of the Taliban regime.
The removal of the Taliban from power and the takeover of Kabul by Northern Alliance forces, under the umbrella of US bombing, has plunged Afghanistan into chaos once again. The country lacks the much-needed central authority, which had been established by the reclusive students’ militia after two decades of foreign occupation and factional fighting after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1988. The enthusiasm shown by states interested in reconstruction, those who have a stake in the development of Afghanistan in order to ward off extremists offering sanctuary to Muslim hardliners, is slowly changing into concern and it seems as if things are fast slipping out of their hands. The beleaguered Hamid Karzai is crying out for the enlargement of the International Security Assistance Force, but the request is yet to attract a suitable international response or the green signal from Karzai’s main backer, the United States.
Security concerns in Afghanistan took on new proportions after the brutal murder of the interim minister for aviation and tourism, Dr. Abdul Rahman at Kabul Airport, allegedly at the hands of intending pilgrims, in mysterious circumstances. Japan has postponed the scheduled visit by its experts to prepare a feasibility report on the reconstruction process in Afghanistan, due to security reasons. The US government is shy of stationing its forces in the country for too long at a stage when sporadic attacks are being made by pro-Taliban or scattered Al Qaeda members on the foreign security personnel in Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad. Security arrangements in the whole of Afghanistan are not satisfactory and reports of killings, looting and kidnapping for ransom are the order of the day. The trend is mainly attributed to the lack of trust among different factions making up the interim coalition. Allegations are being levelled that some of the factions allied with the government are not treated as equals. Despite the presence of a 4500-men strong ISAF force in Kabul, the general impression among common Afghans is that it is only the powerful Shoora-i-Nazaar which dictates Hamid Karzai’s interim set-up. Close associates of the slain minister from Nooristan blame the Afghan defence minister, General Muhammad Qasim Faheem, and the interior minister, Younis Qanooni for the assassination of Dr. Abdul Rahman.
The murder of the minister has also brought to light the existing differences between the US-backed royalists led by Hamid Karzai and the Russian-backed Shoora-i-Nazaar faction of the coalition. Hamid Karzai charged security personnel for the assassination of Dr. Abdul Rahman while the Shoora-e-Nazaar leader and foreign minister in the Afghan interim government, Dr. Abdullah painted the incident as a reaction of angered pilgrims waiting at the airport for 48 hours to get planes to proceed for Haj. His detractors argue that intending pilgrims would not have become violent to the extent that they murdered the minister before heading for Muslim holy places of worship. The pilgrims should have shown the same anger when the defence minister, General Faheem, returned from his trip to Moscow the same evening and met with the pilgrims to see them off. Notables from Nooristan and relatives of the late Maoist, Dr. Abdul Rahman, whose actual name was Fazal Ahmad Fana, termed the murder part of the conspiracy hatched by General Faheem and his supporters to eliminate the formerly close confidant of Ahmad Shah Massoud. Abdul Rahman had deserted Massoud in 1996, ahead of the Taliban taking control of Kabul and joined hands with ex-king Zahir Shah.
“Dr. Abdul Rahman was opening up and was revealing details of Massoud’s past contacts with the KGB, India and others. He is a victim of conscience. He did not support Massoud in his bid to fight the Taliban and was against the pro-Russia policy of Shoora-i-Nazaar,” said Abdul Hai Warshan, a close friend of the slain minister. Warshan and other notables from Nooristan, Dr. Rahman’s native province, believe that the assassination of the minister could cause armed clashes between the Panjsheris and Nooristanis, as the latter blame the former for eliminating the only minister from this backward part of Afghanistan. The three most powerful portfolios of foreign affairs, interior ministry and defence in the Hamid Karzai- led government have been occupied by Dr. Abdullah, Younis Qanooni and General Mohammad Qasim Faheem, all from Panjsher. Relatives of the assassinated minister have accused Younis Qanooni and General Faheem for the murder while Hamid Karzai has held the security personnel responsible for the gory act. Dr. Abdullah has put the responsibility of the incident on the pilgrims.
Threats to the fragile security arrangements in Afghanistan are on the rise and not just the killing of the minister but ISAF personnel coming under armed assaults from hitherto unidentified elements have added to the existing uncertainty. The attacks are blamed on the remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters, but the allegations so far have neither been proved nor have the authorities made any arrests. Eyewitnesses maintain that ISAF personnel patrol the streets in convoys in Kabul during the day while the so-called police force, consisting mainly of Shoora-e-Nazaar fighters, takes care of security at nights. The situation is so unpredictable and tense for the ISAF that British forces opened fire on civilians in Kabul during curfew hours in the night, killing one, and injuring five others of the same family who were taking a pregnant woman to the city hospital. An inquiry has been ordered against the British forces and two of them have reportedly been shifted to Britain for investigation.
The major threat to security in the country, Afghans believe, was not from the Taliban or the Al Qaeda, but from the Afghan factions and groups making up part of the interim set-up. Powerful groups within the coalition are pushing their own agendas and the fact is that General Faheem has recommended 38 Afghans to be elevated to the rank of general in the proposed national army of Afghanistan, including 37 Tajiks and just one Uzbek. The road from Kabul to Jalalabad is not safe. Four journalists were gunned down here in cold blood soon after the defeat of Taliban. Even government functionaries avoid travelling on the road after sunset.
In the northern parts of the country, the situation has become more alarming due to factional fighting and the unlimited powers assumed by warlords and their loyalists. Poverty and unemployment are the main factors posing a threat to security. Furthermore, monthly salaries of government employees have not been paid for the last eight months. The real test of the Hamid Karzai government and the support it gets from the international community will start once the move to raise the national army, convene the traditional loya jirga and define the role of the incumbent warlords in a future set-up is initiated.
Afghanistan needs to get rid of the heavily armed factions, establish the rule of law and free the government from the influence of one faction or group to give a sense of security to the people of this war-shattered country. The high hopes, which the people of Afghanistan attached to the success of the anti-Taliban drive, are slowly fading away due to growing concerns that the same old faces, known for their cruelties and disrespect for human rights, are back on the stage. General Rashid Dostum assumed charge of the deputy defence minister, while Faheem appointed his strong military commander, Ustad Atta Muhammad as the Corps Commander of Mazar-e-Sharif to serve as a check on the Uzbek warlord. Ismail Khan, whose past rule was not very much to the liking of the Pashtuns, is back in Herat with the help of his Iranian backers. The return of millions of Afghan refugees from Pakistan, Iran and the rest of the world will depend on the security measures being taken by a government, which is fully represented by all the ethnic groups in accordance with their strength and population.