Afghanistan: cost of misrule
THE runaway American army truck on a busy Kabul thoroughfare may have done little damage and caused few casualties but the riots it sparked have brought to the surface the feelings of the Afghan people and what they think has gone wrong inside their country since the overthrow of the Taliban.
Reports say that for eight hours after the incident had triggered full blown rioting, senior police officers left their telephones off the hook. Equally important, President Karzai was not heard from. The incident revealed both the inadequacy of the police force and the pent-up resentment against the presence of foreign forces in a country where, at least initially, the occupation forces had been looked upon as liberators by a substantial minority.
Governance was and remains a problem. The Americans can say that of the 62,000-member police force envisaged by the Bonn Agreement, some 57,000 have been trained and the rest will graduate in September. The training programme, five weeks for those who can read and write and nine weeks for illiterate members, represents a dramatic departure from the past. But the fact is that most of the recruits are former Mujahideen who owe their recruitment to their allegiance to various warlords and who bring to their new profession the same mindset that dominated in the anti-Soviet conflict, and later, the internecine war that wracked Afghanistan for 20 years.
International observers have noted that most of the police chiefs are warlords. Currently, four candidates for the office of police chiefs are those who were rejected by the election commission because of their dubious backgrounds. Yet, given Karzai’s need for political allegiance, they will probably be appointed.
Corruption is rife, almost inevitable given the fact that salaries for policemen range between $50 and $70 a month. The president’s own chief of staff acknowledged that in the rioting the police shed their uniforms and joined the rioters. According to him, what the government learnt from the riots was the need to “strengthen our police”.
There are reports that because of the riots and also as part of long-planned reforms by the interior ministry, the president had announced major changes involving the dismissal of 34 police chiefs and the reassignment of nearly 50 others. This is impressive. The question is: can President Karzai, in the face of the pressure he will face from his political supporters and opponents, be able to make these changes stick, and will these changes genuinely aim at removing all those known to be corrupt or to have warlord connections? One can only wish him luck while remaining sceptical.
The problem is not only with the police. Governors, too, have been appointed even when it is known that they have patronised the narco-trade. In Helmand province, for instance, the governor was transferred because the coalition forces, aware of his trafficking links, had insisted on his removal. But his brother was retained as deputy governor. Elsewhere, too, drug barons and warlords have been occupying positions of power.
Parliament has apparently put its foot down on the reappointment of Chief Justice Shinwari, voting 117-77 to reject him on the grounds that he was not sufficiently educated and that his judgments have reflected a narrow-minded interpretation of Islamic injunctions. The fact, however, that Karzai nominated him lends credence to the allegation that the president is still looking for political support from the conservatives who think of themselves as the real Mujahideen. It is unfortunately among their ranks that one finds most of the warlords and drug barons.
In parliament itself, apart from the warlords who sought elections on the basis of their Mujahideen credentials, at least 17 of the 249 members are known drug smugglers.
President Karzai, when he visited his home province of Kandahar to condole with the civilian victims in a US attack on a suspected Taliban hideout, apparently got an earful from the assembled tribal leaders on the damage that was being done to the government’s standing because of corrupt officials and the maladministration to which the country was being subjected.
He was told that corrupt people in government positions were causing the ordinary population to distance themselves from the central government. Local analysts said that the government was losing popular support because of several factors, including poverty, absence of reconstruction efforts and the weakness of security forces, but that there was little doubt that corruption was mainly responsible for the current situation.
As an extenuating factor it should, perhaps, also be mentioned that Afghanistan’s government is generating very little revenue. At present, taxes in Afghanistan amount to only five per cent of the GDP and it is estimated that even if the government were required to do no more than pay the salaries of its employees and depend on foreign assistance for all developmental expenditure it would need to raise its share of GDP to 10 per cent. There is also the fact that so far little, if any, of the development funding made available by foreign donors is disbursed through the Afghan government, with most foreign donors insisting that all development work be undertaken by foreign NGOs and their local Afghan employees.
The riot following the accident achieved the dimensions it did because the government’s opponents organised it. Numerous witnesses said that some rioters were older men who gave orders, carried AK-47 assault rifles and were attired as former anti-Soviet militia fighters whose political leaders oppose Karzai. The opponents had good material to work with. They could capitalise not only on the resentment against the government and its corrupt officials but, more importantly, on the resentment against the foreign contingents’ way of life in Afghanistan and the minimal assistance they have provided to improve the lot of the people.
Even the poorest and most ignorant Afghan is aware that the international community has poured billions of dollars into Afghanistan’s reconstruction. But, the plight of the people has not changed, while an extravagant lifestyle is enjoyed by UN and NGO officials and their Afghan employees.
To add insult to injury, this extravagant lifestyle includes the public or at least semi-public consumption of alcohol and barely concealed prostitution dens both anathema to conservative and moderate Afghans alike. For Afghans, struggling with price increases that have taken rents in Kabul from the equivalent of $15 to that of $2,500 per month, and the high cost of necessities such as flour and cooking oil, foreign NGOs and luxury hotels were legitimate targets during the riots. NGO offices and numerous restaurants are known to serve liquor.
The most seriously damaged building was the headquarters of CARE International, which rioters doused with petrol and then burned down. Half a dozen other foreign aid agencies were also attacked and looted. CARE is an organisation that was apparently better regarded than most by the Afghans because of the good work its workers had done. CARE’s country director, Paul Barker, expressed the view that the riots reflected the frustration and anger some Afghans feel and they were looking for symbols of foreign presence. According to him, “the tolerance for US military mistakes has become strained to the breaking point in a lot of people.”
Other NGOs, too, have aroused resentment. A day or two after the riot, a gunman shot dead three Afghan employees of a South African charity, Action Aid, as they drove on a road in Jowzjan province in northern Afghanistan. This part of the country is said to be largely free of Taliban influence that can be held responsible for attacks on NGOs in the south and southeast.
It is also no coincidence that all these factors are seen by Afghan analysts as contributing to the upsurge in support for the Taliban and as evidence that much of the Taliban activity is generated internally and guided by leaders with hideouts in Afghanistan itself. But there is no doubt that for most Afghans a substantial part of their country’s present difficulties is a result of the support the Taliban are getting from Pakistan. The latter’s repeated denials and requests for actionable intelligence from the International Security Assistance Force or Afghan sources can perhaps negate allegations by Afghan officials or by President Karzai. Earlier press reports can, perhaps, also be dismissed as “motivated”.
However, more recent Pakistani denials sound hollow when ISAF spokesmen talk of Quetta being the city from where Taliban operations are being directed and when there are reports in the foreign media of “the dusty border town of Chaman” being the main centre of Taliban activities. The Guardian correspondent travelling through Balochistan wrote a story “Balochistan feeds Taliban’s growing power” in which he described a funeral in a Baloch village, Bagarzai Saidan, some 30 miles from the Pakistan-Afghan border, of Azizullah, the son of a Pakistani farmer who had died fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The account of the funeral included the following: “A Taliban flag with black lettering fluttered at one end of his grave while the striped, black-and-white banner of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, an extremist Pakistani religious party that helps rule Balochistan, protruded from the other. Hushed men from the area streamed to the site. At one point, Maulana Abdul Bari, Balochistan’s minister for public health, addressed worshippers at the village mosque.”
The correspondent opined that the “funeral offered evidence that the insurgency is being bolstered from within Pakistan, the US’s ostensible ally in the war on terror.”
It seems difficult to argue, in the light of these reports, that the Taliban are not active in Pakistan. We can say that in the war against Al Qaeda in the tribal areas Pakistan has probably suffered higher casualties than the Afghan and ISAF forces have in Afghanistan and that this is creating political difficulties for the present government. We cannot say that the same sort of effort is being mounted against the Taliban. And yet it should be clear that the Taliban represent as much of a danger to Pakistan as they do to Afghanistan. Put bluntly, a Taliban victory or even a continuation of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan will mean that Pakistan is losing the battle against internal extremism. Is this what the Pakistan people deserve? Is this a risk worth taking for some illusionary benefit?
It should also be clear that, at least for the next decade, the issue of terrorism will continue to determine western policy in our part of the world. This means that the American and ISAF forces will not depart from Afghanistan in a hurry. The recent vote in the Canadian parliament to approve extended Canadian troop deployment in Afghanistan was meant to signal just this. It also means that if ISAF spokesmen continue to make justified allegations about the misuse of Pakistani territory then Pakistan may find itself as isolated internationally as it was in 2001. Is this what we want?
The writer is a former foreign secretary.
Ex-general’s piece of advice
AN EX-ARMY colleague has some advice for Pervez Musharraf. General (retired) Jehangir Karamat, who is returning home from Washington after completing his two year term as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, does not appear to be one of those men in khaki who love dabbling in politics while in office.
It was another matter that he did not mind adopting publicly a critical stance as the army chief of staff in 1998 against the government. But rather than behave peevishly as our uniformed men are wont to, General Karamat chose to bow out with dignity when Mr Nawaz Sharif expressed his displeasure. Since then, he has taken up assignments with American thinktanks and for the Pakistan government.
There are four significant issues General Karamat has raised in his wide ranging interview that he gave this paper before his departure from Washington. They are
— Don’t involve the army in Balochistan and Waziristan for ‘too long’ as it will be counter-productive.
— Strengthen the Karzai government in Kabul as it is in our interest to do so.
— Institutionalise our relationship with the United States.
— Treat the 2007 elections as an opportunity to establish democracy in the country and allow Ms Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and Mr Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N to participate in the polls.
These recommendations are important because they come from a person who has a military background, and has been dealing with the Americans on the official as well as the unofficial level. Coming from someone who has been representing the Musharraf government in Washington and would be privy to the American thinking on the critical issues facing Pakistan today, this advice should be taken seriously.
Taking up the last two first, one is intrigued by the suggestion that Islamabad should institutionalise its relationship with the United States. Since General Karamat has not elaborated the nature of the institutionalisation that he (and presumably the Americans) have in mind, it is difficult to comment on it.
The suggestion of holding fair elections has been repeated ad nauseam by so many people — friends and well-wishers and neutral observers of the political scene — that it does not bear the need for further reiteration. The advantages of returning the country to an unalloyed democratic set-up are obvious. No one has disputed them — not even the ruling general — though his actions do not really speak of the evenhanded stance that one expects of a champion of democracy. Can one deduce from General Karamat’s interview that it is believed in Washington that Pakistan should be acting differently in several key areas of foreign policy and domestic politics?
The issues of Balochistan and Waziristan are on the top of the agenda because Pakistan is doing precisely what the former ambassador is counselling it not to do. Why else should the government be advised not to involve the army for too long in these troubled regions? The obvious reason is that the government is allowing itself to be sucked deeper and deeper into the quagmire of Waziristan and Balochistan and is not trying hard enough to work out a political settlement.
Moreover, this approach is linked directly to the adversarial relationship Islamabad is perceived to have with Kabul. General Karamat is certainly correct in asking for an end to the army action in these areas and suggesting a dialogue to facilitate the process of pacification.
Though the Balochistan and Waziristan problems have different roots they have now been linked together and pose a common challenge to Pakistan’s integrity and security. Balochistan’s problem began initially as a political confrontation between the federal government and the Baloch nationalist leaders. This was not the first time this had happened, for periodically the troubled province has had such clashes with Islamabad — the main contention of the Baloch being the familiar one of having been denied a share in power and their economic resources being exploited by outsiders for a pittance. Had this issue been handled at the political level and with a degree of integrity and good faith, it would not have blown out of proportion as it has in the last two years.
Initially, the government in Islamabad understood the danger lurking round the corner and set up a parliamentary committee to sort out the differences. The committee produced a long report with a comprehensive set of recommendations. But these were never taken seriously and the Baloch leaders who had met the committee members and could have been persuaded to cooperate felt betrayed. Ever since, an escalating conflict has destroyed peace in the province as Baloch nationalists termed “miscreants” and “subversive elements” have resorted to sabotage and violence since that is the only weapon they have to fight the army.
Meanwhile the issue in Waziristan begun to hot up once the Taliban had regrouped in the aftermath of 9/11 and the American attack on their country in 2001. It was inevitable that the front in this war eventually extended from the Fata region to the borders of Balochistan. Not surprisingly, Colonel Chris Vernon, a British officer in Afghanistan, has described Quetta as the headquarters of the Taliban.
The tribal areas of Pakistan, which provided sanctuary to the Afghan refugees, ultimately became a training ground for the anti-Russian mujahideen. The Taliban were born in 1994 in the area around Kandahar after the Mujahideen had devastated the country with a deadly civil war. The Pakistan army’s intelligence wing, the ISI, which continued to meddle in Afghanistan even after the Soviet withdrawal, found the Taliban a convenient tool to promote its strategy.
It was the isolation and the Pakhtoon origin of the Taliban which suited the ISI since it drove this fundamentalist group into Pakistan’s arms. Kathy Gannon, a journalist who has reported from Afghanistan for 18 years, gives a lucid account of this phenomenon in her book I is for Infidel. They were also appreciated for their role in imposing with a heavy hand a peace that the war weary Afghans were yearning for.
Pakistan’s policy vis-a-vis the Taliban is an ambiguous one. Publicly, it is fighting with the Americans a war against terror. But from what observers who have been to the war zone have to say it is plain that the battle lines are not so clearly drawn. Kathy Gannon describes events that point to the collusion of some sections of the armed forces with the Taliban. Many of them as well as members of Al Qaeda — especially the foreigners — have been given protection in Pakistan by Islamist parties that enjoy the government’s blessings.
This would explain why the war on terror has become an unwinnable conflict. For the Pakistan military, the strategic concept of territorial depth remains as valid today as it was in 1947 when the country was born. This calls for a government in Kabul that is subservient to Islamabad and can be depended upon to provide the extra territorial space the army thinks it needs in times of war.
Although the modern methods of warfare and new weapon technologies have transformed many strategic concepts, not much has changed in our army’s strategic thinking. A regime in Kabul that is friendly with India and is not preponderantly Pakhtoon does not conventionally find favour with the rulers in Islamabad. That would explain why the Karzai government is not so close to Islamabad.
Link all the various elements — Balochistan, Waziristan and Kabul — and one would understand why the situation is so volatile in the region and why General Karamat’s words acquire a new meaning. The missing piece in the puzzle is the ‘institutionalisation’ of Pakistan’s relations with Washington. If this has the ominous implication for Islamabad of its establishing a permanent structure for an alliance with the US — Cento comes to mind immediately — Pakistan must say “No thanks”.
But this rejection is possible only if we revamp our policy in Waziristan and Balochistan. A military approach will not take us far. It will only drive us further into the American embrace. But a dialogue with the Baloch and tribal leaders of Waziristan offers the only way out of the crisis. Not only must the parliamentary committee on Balochistan be revived. The subcommittee entrusted with the job of drawing up a constitutional package for provincial autonomy should also be asked to resume its work.
Jihad of several kinds
IF I had the authority I would ban the use of the word “jihad” except for jihad proper. Which means that a committee of the most reputed Islamic scholars would decide whether the campaign or movement for which the word was intended to be employed warranted the use of the word. Since I can never hope to be such an authority, I hope the MMA, the party of clerics, will do this for me.
It is not only the public which misuses this sacred expression, every ruling regime is constantly announcing the launching of jihad to weed out corruption, lawlessness and violence from society, or some other social ill. A cynic, and a wag to boot, once asked me, “Does this mean the government is going to wage jihad against itself?”
Since we, the Muslims of Pakistan, are apparently incapable of living up to the ideals of Islam — jihad included — we try to pull the ideals down to our prosaic and material level. Islam is not too demanding a faith, but it does ask for morality of a high order and a sense of sacrifice based on love for mankind and unselfishness of a rather sincere sort.
Being disinclined to rising to the occasion we make the occasion climb down to our limited capacity for doing good. In this process we trot out our individual versions of Islam. But I am not here to write about the treatment that we and our political and religious leaders have meted out to our faith. That is too vast a subject for the likes of me. Let me confine myself to jihad as a plaything in the hands of tub-thumping orators and cheap slogan-mongers.
In the history of Pakistan we have had three full-scale wars with India. All three were referred to as jihad. I am not a scholar of Islam but I would like to know from those who are whether a war that ends in a ceasefire, sought by the Muslim contestants themselves, can be called a jihad. I remember Maulana Maudoodi, founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, arousing the anger of Pakistani Muslims when he refused to regard the Kashmir war as jihad. I don’t know what his views were about the other two wars.
The fourth jihad that we have seen from close quarters was in Afghanistan in which we Pakistanis enjoyed free participation. By free I mean without actually joining the struggle (except for private volunteers). It was a kind of vicarious participation, and was almost like saying, “We shall not rest till the last drop of Afghan blood has been shed.”
And what about the pseudo-jihads that we have conducted? There have been many over the last half a century. We have fought a jihad against illiteracy, and lost it. Then we’ve had one twice a year for tree plantation. There was a jihad against irrreligious socialism, and since it was aimed at the poor man’s welfare it succeeded. There have been jihads in support of charities, to promote vaccination and national savings, against wasting water and electricity, and even one to eliminate mosquitoes, and others too numerous to mention.
The common factor in all these jihads was that, by and large, they were dismal failures. Not one of them succeeded completely despite the fact that in our misconceived zeal we tried to make them worthy of the noble sentiment associated with this noble word. The only jihad in which we have come out with flying colours is lip service to Islam.
A senior police officer of Punjab told the press some time ago that a jihad had been launched to fight crime. Well, the past experience of the public shows that apparently this is not the job of the police, but it was good of the officer to say so. He did not take the press into confidence as to what the police had been doing so far. But it was most comforting to know that from now on the police would tackle crime too. I only hope the men hadn’t been put on this new duty without some kind of training, because, from what we read about other countries, dealing with crime and criminals can be pretty dangerous.
Some ten years ago the Lahore police conducted an operation (most improperly given the name of jihad) in Hira Mandi, the city’s red light district. The newspapers were not able to tell us what the policemen did there, but it was given out that the officers were satisfied with the results. What were these results too was not disclosed. However I remember an Urdu daily writing in its light column that the men wanted to go there again the next evening, but a strong protest from police wives put an end to the bizarre operation.
Today the certain religious parties are united politically and call themselves MMA. Good luck to them for putting their ideological differences aside. But long before this unity came about there was an association of theirs called the Milli Yakjehti Council. One day it decided that a jihad should be launched against obscenity, vulgarity and shamelessness, but it wanted the government to conduct it. Apparently the government was unable to espy any obscenity, vulgarity and shamelessness anywhere, so the whole thing fizzled out. But I notice that the MMA too talks about it “if we come into power.”
The field for our type of jihad is so vast that you can have a hew jihad every day and remain busy with it all the year round. If some government would only appoint me its adviser on the subject (preferably in Grade 22). I promise to suggest ever new jihads which can be undertaken at a moment’s notice.
It is said that a jihad against an interfering and nosy press was on the anvil many times during the military regime, but somehow the regime could never bring itself about to begin it. Then, according to the government’s advisers from the World Bank there is need to launch a jihad against the low rates of petrol, gas, transport, etc. The only way to discourage the use of these luxuries is to bring out a sudden and substantial rise in their rates and solve the problem once and for all.
The ministry of education is quietly but persistently engaged in its old jihad against literacy. Its day and night efforts have managed to contain the national percentage of literacy at 20. Some unthinking critics of the government believe that the ministry can’t tell the difference between literacy and illiteracy, but that may be an exaggeration. Meantime the jihad against the teaching of un-Islamic subjects like science is proceeding apace.
Of course the final and biggest jihad — the mother of all jihads — is against that chronic cancer, democracy. The very mention of the word gives sleepless nights to some important sections of the population. It began soon after Pakistan came into being on the strength of democracy itself, and has been going on unabated ever since. From what the people have seen during the last 59 years, there seems to be a fair chance of its success.