Saturday, January 26, 2013

Afghan warlords fear for their future

President Hamid Karzai and Ismail Khan

Guest contributor, Ahmadullah Archiwal, is a doctoral          candidate in the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

 While the government of Afghanistan and its international  backers engage in reconciliation talks with the Taliban and the establishment of a Taliban office in Qatar, former warlords increasingly fear being sidelined in any future bargaining.

Some warlords have expressed their categorical opposition to any sort of deal with the Taliban, while others tie reconciliation with the Taliban to certain political conditions. The latter say that, only when the Taliban accept the constitution and other laws of Afghanistan, should there be negotiations be conducted with them.

One of the most powerful Afghan warlord, Ismail Khan, the current Minister of Power and Water, has criticized the Western powers for disarming the Mujahideen and deploying western soldiers instead to bring security and stability to Afghanistan.  At a gathering of thousands of his supporters, Khan criticized the Afghan government and its international allies for their failure in bringing peace to the war-torn country. 

Speaking in a large gathering of turbaned white-bearded supporters in the south western city of Herat this past September 7th, Khan said, “They have brought girls to protect us and have trashed the Mujahideens’ weapons and this is the reason that they are unable to succeed.” At this meeting, Khan announced the creation of a Mujahideen Council - Jihadi Shura – comprised of former Mujahideen, which will safeguard their interests.

Ismail Khan was one of the powerful Mujahideen commanders in Afghanistan’s south western region where he controlled four provinces, including Herat, during the Mujahideen government from 1992 to 1996, but was forced to leave when the Taliban seized the city. Khan loved to be called Amir, the leader or prince, instead the governor, when he was ruling Herat and its neighboring provinces. Indeed, Khan considered the provinces he ruled to be his own small emirate.

Khan fought the Taliban in his area of control and was once arrested by them.  Why he was freed is ]still a puzzle to this day since no one knows why the Taliban let such a powerful fish get away. Khan insists that he escaped the Taliban jail.  Following the Taliban regime’s collapse, he once again took over as Herat’s governor. 

However, Khan began to create problems with the central government in Kabul, including opposition to any presence of the Afghan army and national police in Herat.  Unfortunately for Khan, a factional dispute in Herat paved way for the central government to forcefully remove him from the governorship in 2004 and install him instead as the Minister of Water and Power.

Some analysts view Khan’s recent activities from a different angle. They believe that president Hamid Karzai is behind Ismail Khan’s recent move. This is part of the president’s maneuvers to remain in power for another term and pressure the international community to bow to his wishes. 

Although, constitutionally, President Karzai cannot remain in office for another term, a Loya Jirga (tribal council), or the declaration of emergency, could prolong Karzai’s hold on the presidency for another term or at least some additional time. Karzai has rejected the allegation that he seeks to stay in power for another term on numerous occasions.  However, other political parties and influential leaders are unsure of the situation and have begun making alliances to nominate someone else as candidate for the presidential elections scheduled for 2014. 

Meanwhile, the Karzai government’s mixed signals have prompted other warlords to speak out.  Afghan.First Vice-President Muhammad Qasim Fahim indicate on September 9, 2012, in another large gathering of  former Mujahideen, who were celebrating the 11th anniversary of the death of Ahmad Shah Massoud, that the security situation is deteriorated and it might not be appropriate to hold elections. Though Fahim’s comments were rejected by Ahmad Wali Masooud, another Mujahideen leader and brother of late Ahmad Shah Masoud, many Afghan observers deemed Fahim’s remarks as a signal of the government’s willingness to extend its stay in power beyond its tenure.

Although Ismail Khan pronounced at his own meeting that those attending represented all the Mujahideen based in the south western provinces, other powerful commanders said that Khan by no means represent all the Mujahideen in this region. Even though Khan has said that his views coincide with those of all Mujahideen, others warlords are opposed to his recent moves which they consider a threat to the country’s security. 

The Upper House of the Afghan parliament, Mashrano Jirga, which is dominated by the former Mujahideen, also termed Ismail Khan’s recent moves a threat for the security of the country. On the other hand, a spokesperson for the Herat Governor blamed Khan for distributing arms and ammunition in the province. There is also news that the price of an AK 47 has gone up to $1000 after the rumors of arms distribution spread in the city. 

Ismail Khan’s bold moves and his announcement that he has participated in the creation of the Mujahideen Shura with President Karzai is indicative of the fact that Karzai is hatching another plan for keeping his hold on power and signaling to the international community that he also has a B plan in his pocket.

Since Ismail Khan was one of the key players in Afghanistan’s civil war and has become a controversial figure given his recent moves, he has caused concerns among political circles both inside and outside the government. Being a government minister, creating the Mujahideen shura and distributing arms and ammunition to his followers, Khan has raised the question of whether he is preparing for another civil war in post- 2014 Afghanistan.

Ismail’s current actions will force his rivals and other former commanders to find ways to secure their own future political roles. Afghan political institutions, which are already very weak, could be undermined still further and replaced once again by private warlord run fiefdoms.

Karzai and the central government’s silence in the face of recent developments in Herat raises a big question for Afghans.  It seems that Hamid Karzai’s real motivation in supporting the current efforts of Ismail Khan is to prolong his tenure as president and to divert attention of the international community away from that goal.  At the same time, Khan’s actions represent a show of power by a Mujahideen commander who seeks to gain more leverage in future peace dealings.  As the exit of the NATO and ISAF soldiers in 2014 nears, this year and 2014 are critical years for Afghanistan’s future.

Ordinary Afghans fear for the return of their country to the conditions of 1992, when Kabul was divided among various armed groups which subsequently led the capital to be reduced to rubble, leading to complete anarchy throughout the country. Unfortunately, the current Afghan government does not seem to be interested in giving assurances to ordinary Afghan citizens who have been and continue to be the main victims of a long 40 year conflict.


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