The Dancing Dinosaurs of the Civil War in Afghanistan

"I will fight against all the warlords who have won and I hope all the good people in (the) parliament will join to fight the warlords." This is what Malali Shinwari, a young woman and a former BBC reporter, told journalists in Kabul after winning a top seat in the Wolasi Jirga or the lower house land Mark Election of Afghanistan.

This is the second women coming out to talk frankly against the powerful warlords in a male dominated and conservative society of Afghanistan. The first women Malali Joya, made her name just by a two minute speech against the warlords in the constitutional Loya Jirga or Grand Assembly of Afghanistan in December 2004.

Many people in Afghanistan, who have witnessed the atrocities committed by some warlords, will support Malalai in her "fight" against warlords. But will Malalai and her other sympathizers succeed in fighting these powerful warlords?

With many hoping that Afghanistan’s new political institutions will somehow be able to break the country’s cycle of violence, a struggle in the parliament between the liberal, educated and progressive members of parliament with the hardliner, fundamentalist and warlord parliamentarians will wipe out these hopes.

Despite the high risks of a Taliban attempt to disrupt the polling, the militants who have significantly increased their attacks this year, didn’t succeed to disorder the process or intimidate people. Thanks to the earnest efforts of the Afghan and international security agencies especially the Ministry of Interior for adopting a coherent and effectual security plan that foiled almost all terrorist plots before and during the election and provided a safe and secure environment for voters, national and international observers and election workers. Although the turnout was slightly lower than of the presidential election, but many analysts believe it was mostly due to the malfunction of the Public outreach programs of the Joint Electoral Management Body JEMB’s media campaign. In some parts of the country even people did not know whether this election is for electing a president again or what? A resident of Paktia province told this reporter on September 16, just two days before the election, that he has already voted for Karzai and will not vote again for any body else. Nevertheless many of Afghanistan’s estimated 12 million registered voters enthusiastically seized their opportunity to cast ballots.

Landmark elections in Afghanistan have expectedly thrown up a Parliament that can be appropriately called a mixed bag – having members of all descriptions. A fleeting look at the list of elected people brings into the limelight the continued sway of warlords, jihadi commanders, and conservative clerics, rivals of the incumbent president and a welcome foray of educated women into politics.

The most compelling challenges facing Afghanistan today are: expanding the influence of central government to provinces and managing centre-periphery relations, especially in dealing with warlords; providing credible security and rule of law extending beyond Kabul; economic reconstruction and winning the minds and hearts of those who have been influenced by the Taliban and still have sympathy for them and those blameless civilian victims of the war on terror in the southern provinces, who have innocently suffered a lot of miseries during the war on terror.

The best way to deal with the warlords, whether to combat them or try to co-opt them is still unknown, now that many warlords enjoy public support and proved to win public census, it makes it more difficult to combat them. Combating them now means combating all the voters that have voted the warlords. There is an opinion among some Afghan experts, that the warlords should not be dislodged unless there was something to replace them with. The only means that can replace these powerful warlords is to accelerate the slow pace of building the security institutions – the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

So far these institutions have had some progress, especially the Afghan National police; the Afghan Ministry of Interior with the help of US government and Germany was able to establish seven police training centres, one in the capital and six in the regional headquarters, which trained around 50,000 Afghan national police and gendarmerie during the last three years. This proved to be a great security asset during the presidential and the recent parliamentary election.

The Then Minister of Interior, Ali Ahmad Jalali, a reputed military strategist and a top security planner, was the main apparatus behind all these achievements. He not only managed to reform and restructure the Ministry of Interior and the loose network of police forces of Afghanistan, which had turned into a militia encampment, but he also helped president Karzai to a great extent, to diminish the power of powerful regional warlords and remove them from their permanent strongholds. Now that Jalali has resigned and has gone back to his favoured "academia" life in the US, Afghans hope that confidently President Karzai will appoint somebody who does not have links with warlords and tend to be a bigwig who could effectively implement the much-needed Reform and Restructuring project at the Ministry of Interior that Jalali had initiated.

President Hamid Karzai, a respected leader at home and a reputed diplomat abroad himself seems to be of two minds on the best approach for dealing with the warlords "combat or co-opt" partly because the government is divided on this issue, and partly because there are limits on what he can do to combat them. During the constitutional Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) President Karzai welcomed the warlords into the political process hoping that including them would change their behaviour. (A few warlords have changed their behaviour but most of them are still the ones, they were three years ago) Coming from an international relations academic background, president Karzai looks like he has been greatly influenced by the well known American realist theorist of International Relations, Hans Margenthau, who had opined in his famous book Politics Among Nations that "World problems result from forces inherent in human nature, to improve world (we) must work with such forces rather than against them". It seems like "it is good to have your enemies inside the tent pissing out or outside the tent pissing in" as an ex. US president had once said.

Now that a big number of warlords made their way to the parliament, president karzai would respect the voters’ choice. He recently told reporter in a press conference when he was asked about dealing with the warlords. "It does not matter. Whoever the Afghan nation has voted for should be respected. We want to have a Parliament representing all of Afghanistan."

The warlords persist because the conditions that allow them to remain have not fundamentally changed. Besides, they have a strong incentive to retain power as long as possible. Warlords have a big share of the lucrative narcotics business in Afghanistan, which has damaged the legal economy of the state and is said to be funding terrorists and regional irresponsible militias. It is no accident that the major customs posts of Herat, Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Balkh (near Mazar-i-Sharif), which produce considerable revenue, fell under their control. Thanks to the efforts of the then Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who partially succeeded to bring the major custom posts under central government control.

Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest countries (fifth in the world), ravaged by more than two decades of war and strife, So far, international assistance has tended to be long on promises, short on delivery. This undercuts president Karzai’s will to uproot warlordism and expand central authority to the rural areas.

While we are sure that president Karzai is trying his best to bring about a process that will connect human rights and accountability issues with institution building and the future of Afghanistan, we hope that parliamentarians-elect will work hard enough to deliver on the promises they made during their election campaigns, and if so, we could hope that the painful legacy of the past three decades of murder, turmoil and mayhem would be eventually forgotten.