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Welcome to Kabul:Reconstructions. You can follow the information below, which has been gathered from a
number of sources by a number of participants (click on the names at left for bios), to reconstruct your
own picture of events in Kabul since this site was launched on March 8th, 2003 and, in a sense, since the
reconstruction of Afghanistan began somewhere in the winter of 2001-02.
Some of this information has been provided in response to specific questions submitted by visitors like you. Please note that this section of the project is now maintained as an archive and has not been updated since 2005. Click here to ASK A QUESTION.
Arian Mouj Sharifi
Where Does Afghanistan Stand? By: Arian Sharifi
Introduction During the dark years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, most Afghans were pushing their lives on a day-to-day basis, inspiring themselves with the expression that “every dark night will end in a bright day” and hoping that one day the barbaric domination of fundamentalism would come to an end and the country would be librated. Having in mind the history of the Afghan nation as powerbrokers and the way the Taliban were operating in their domestic and international policies, almost every Afghan believed that the oppressive regime would not last very long. Apart from the fact that the Taliban regime and their extreme and radical Islamic ideologies were not acceptable to the Afghan people, the Taliban’s structure of government, their alignment with global terrorists, their position in the first rank of international drug producers and exporters, and their disapproval and disobedience of international rules and norms were not compatible with the will of the 21st century international community. Hence it left no question that sooner or later the world family would have to do something against them and take Afghanistan out of the claws of global terrorists. Thus, looking for such a day, all Afghans had laid their hopes on the international community, and more specifically on the United States as it plays the role of the only superpower in the contemporary situation. In their calculations, Afghans thought that by the removal of the Taliban from the Afghan political scene, and with the help of the world, Afghanistan would step into a phase of peace, prosperity, unity, and liberty. Things would develop very fast, a democratic centralized government would be established, a national army would be recreated, job opportunities would be provided, the education system would develop, the war-torn country would be reconstructed, and more broadly, people’s lives would change and improve. However, now nearly two and a half years after the collapse of the Taliban regime in November 2001, the people of Afghanistan are getting disappointed realizing that they had hoped in vain. None of the things people were expecting has been borne out. In fact, Afghanistan is witnessing total political chaos. The country is ruled dividedly by regional warlords. War is devastating the country, there is no actual central government, there is no national army, human rights are violated all across the country, no major goal has been achieved in the reconstruction projects, there are not enough job opportunities, and no major development has been achieved toward democratization of the political system. In fact, for many Afghans life has changed, but not in a positive and productive way. Through the rest of this essay, I will discuss some of the major aspects in which the international community has failed to perform positively, and I will conclude by evaluating the impact these failures will have on the future of Afghanistan and therefore on global security and stability.
The Removal of Warlordism To better understand the present political turmoil and national disunity in Afghanistan we had better roll the tape back a little bit and have a look at the historical background and origins of the ethnic division in the country. I must mention that despite Afghanistan’s present day national fragmentation, the ethnicity problem is more linked to institutional partitioning and political disagreements.
Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic country consisting of such ethnic groups as Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmans, Hazarahs, Pashaees, and Nooristanis. Each of these different groups has its own language, culture, costumes, and values, and all of them have contributed their part in the five-thousand year history of Afghanistan. Pashtuns and Tajiks are the two major groups accounting for more or less 80% of the overall population of the country; hence their languages, Dari and Pashto, are the two formal/official languages of Afghanistan. I would be incorrect if I were to claim that throughout history there have not been any concerns regarding ethnicity among Afghans, or that they never fought each other. Still, every Afghan has identified himself or herself first as an Afghan and then has considered his or her kinship ties to his or her ethnic group. In cases of foreign invasions or wars, Afghans have always forgotten their ethnic or family problems and have fought as one front against the alien enemy. Yet, there have often been domestic battles and wars among Afghans. Since most of the times Pashtuns have dominated the political power in the country, there have been battles among different Pashtun tribes, or even among different sons of a king to seize the throne after the death of their father. As mentioned above, there have often been confrontations among different ethnic groups or different tribes within a group, but there has never been a complete division among these different groups, that is to say a war between two purely ethnic groups for the purpose of ethnic discrimination. So the matter of ethnicity and language differentiation has not been a big concern for Afghans as it is in some other countries. The present para-ethnic and para-political fragmentation does not have a root deeper than 25 years.
In the early 1970s, at the beginning of the first republican government established by Mohammad Daowd, who overthrew the kingdom of his cousin Mohammad Zahir Shah in a bloodless coup and ended the monarchical system of governance in Afghanistan, some radical Muslims fled to neighboring Pakistan and founded an Islamic movement called Hizbe-Islami. The most important figure in this movement was Gulbudin Hekmatyar who took the position of leader of Hizbe-Islami. Later, in mid-1978, after the communist revolution and the seizure of power by Afghanistan’s communist party (PDPA), which was followed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979, different members of Hizbe-Islami returned secretly to Afghanistan, and each formed his own anti-communist movement in his province. However, the communist government arrested most of the leaders, but soon they were released back. Here is when the roots of ethnic division were formed. Each of these radical Muslim leaders belonged to one of the ethnic groups and hence started his movement in his own ethnic area to get better support. About nine different groups were formed. The whole capitalist block, headed by the U.S., began supporting these radical anti-Soviet movements, and soon the wave of U.S. dollars flooded into Pakistan, where the headquarters of these rebels were created. Many people believe that the United States had even previously been attempting to get the Red Army into Afghanistan and then take the revenge for the blood of the American soldiers in Vietnam on the Russian army in Afghanistan. And now here came their chance. So with financial support from the West, in coordination with the help of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, the nine warlords started fighting the Soviets, and afterwards continued against the communist government of Afghanistan until its collapse in 1992.
After the fall of the communist government, the nine different groups, along with another companion, Junbishe-Mili headed by the Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostom, an ex-communist who turned against his own party in the last year of its existence, entered the capital of the country and all other cities. First they formed a provisional two- month government headed by Sebghatullah Mujadedi, one of these warlords. Two months later Burhanudin Rabani, leader of Jamiate Islami toke power. His period was supposed to be four months, and that was to be followed by a Grand Council to elect the future president, but Rabani refused to step back, and extended his power by a self orchestrated council. Thus other warlords, especially Hekmatyar, started fighting against Rabani. A bloody civil war brook out among the ten factions, and since these factions were previously formed on the basis of ethnicity, an ethnic war thus began. They looted the whole national wealth, destroyed most of the cities, particularly Kabul, and killed thousands of innocent civilians. Kabul city was divided among these groups, and civilians belonging to one ethnic group could not travel to the part controlled by another warlord. Each side committed barbaric and cruel crimes such as hammering steel nails into the heads of living people, cutting off women’s breasts, setting fire to living human beings, peeling human skins off, and many other things that I as an Afghan am too ashamed to mention here, against the opposite side’s ethnic civilians. Every single power- hungry warlord fought the others, and in the flames of these power confrontations innocent civilians, along with the entire national wealth, were burned as fuel. These wars were not even political because the confronting sides did not have any particular political ideology, but each had a personal drive for power. Also, every one of these bloodthirsty warlords had links to foreign countries such as Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, to mention a few, and hence had to carry out the orders of their masters. However, the master of their masters, the United States, had lost its interests in the region and backed Afghanistan, for its goal had been achieved; the Soviet Empire had collapsed.
In 1996, after four years of bloody civil war, the new face of fundamentalism, the Taliban, created by the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI, entered Afghanistan and mysteriously removed almost all of the warlords. The Taliban soon managed to take control of 95 percent of the territory. Since the Taliban movement was a majority Pashtun group, some Pashtun warlords aligned with them and the remaining ones associated with the Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Masood, in the Pahjsher valley in northern Afghanistan. They formed the Northern Alliance to resist the Taliban. With the help of the U.S. anti-terror campaign after the 9/11 attack in 2001, the Taliban regime was defeated and the warlords took the political and military power in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance broke apart, and once again the country was divided into different personal kingdoms of the warlords.
As President Bush said in his 2002 State of the Union Address, the U.S. forces were to accomplish two missions in Afghanistan: to hunt down the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and to help Afghans reconstruct their country, including rebuilding both political and physical infrastructures. A provisional government headed by Hamid Karzai was established and it was to pave the way for the occurrence of broad democratic elections by July 2004. At the same time Mr. Karzai’s administration, with the help of the international peacekeeping forces and the U.S. troops, was committed to restructuring a national army and disarming the regional warlords. However, while Afghanistan is a few months away from the planned elections, it is highly doubtful that the elections will happen. Due to insecurity in different parts of the country, the UN’s regional mission representatives have not been able to register more than 9 percent of Afghanistan’s 10.5 million eligible voters. On the one hand there is the extreme political disorder, as each region is ruled by a different warlord, and on the other, the remnants of the Taliban fighters have threatened the citizens, telling them not to register for the elections. Through night letters and leaflets in the villages, the Taliban have warned that they will kill anybody who assists the U.N. mission members and they will burn down any place where the registration takes place.
The Taliban have regrouped in a different way. They maneuver in satellite teams of 15 to 20 men who are directly supported by Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. These small moving groups usually cross the border overnight and enter Afghanistan from the Pakistani side. They raid villages, plant bombs, set ambushes for international or U.S. troops, burn schools, even ambush and kill civilian aid workers. The number of these incidents has been increasing surprisingly. Even now they control certain areas in Uruzgan, Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand and some spots along the Pakistani border in Paktia and Paktika provinces that are mostly Pashtun-majority. The Taliban fugitives are warmly welcomed and assisted in the tribal area of Pakistan, which is a severe mountain range across the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and inhabited by small tribes. These tribal people are mostly illiterate and have extremely religious and anti-American ideas. Officially they are under the Pakistani government, but the Pakistani government does not have real control over them. All the tribes are armed. They do all kinds of drug and weapons smuggling even right under the eyes of the Pakistani police. However in the case of assisting the Taliban, the Pakistani government is allied with the tribesmen and encourages their actions. Most experts believe that the leadership of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are hiding in this area, getting the support of these tribal people. Even if U.S. intelligence has spotted Bin Laden in the tribal area, it would cost them very dearly to conduct a raid.
The lack of a coherent and centralized government in Afghanistan makes it impossible to have a united front against the Taliban rebels. As I mentioned above, the country is divided among different regional warlords. All of them have their own small armies and are fully armed. Each personally rules his region, makes laws, dispenses justice, and pays his soldiers. While most of the warlords are still getting financial support from the U.S. military, they are fully involved in opium cultivation and drug trafficking. Afghanistan is still in the first rank of world drug producers. According to U.N. estimates, this year’s crop will yield 3,600 tons of opium, about 75% of the world’s heroin. The revenue from this, probably billions of US dollars, goes into the pockets of the warlords enabling them to continue as regional rulers. While Karzai’s administration banned the cultivation and trafficking of opium, the number of provinces in which the poppy is cultivated is on the rise and the Kabul government cannot do anything to stop it. It would not be correct to call Karzai’s administration even the Kabul government, as Kabul is mostly influenced by Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a warlord who also has the position of defense minister. Mr. Karzai himself, tightly surrounded and secured by American bodyguards does not have real influence outside of the presidential palace compound.
Rebuilding of a National Army Power is the core element of influence and a national army, perhaps, could be the only tool for Afghanistan’s central government to disarm regional warlords and expand its sphere of influence and control to all parts of the country. The U.S. military took responsibility for training a western style professional national army of 70,000 men for Afghanistan. I must mention that Afghanistan previously had a national army with Soviet-trained personnel. This army fell apart with the collapse of the communist regime in 1992. Most of the high tech weapons were sold to Pakistan and the majority of the professional personnel were put out of job for having served the communists. Now new personnel must be trained and a new army must be built. American military officers teach courses on different aspects of military tactics, and train both officers and soldiers. The recruits are admitted from different provinces and regions of Afghanistan with different ethnic backgrounds to give the new army a complex and diverse ethnic nature. But the main problem is that this process is too slow. Since they started the training about two years ago, they have had 5,200 graduates. These graduates are sent to different parts of the country in squads and platoons, to disarm or to fight the Taliban fugitives. However, for because their numbers are very small in comparisons with the regional warlord armies, they have no effect. And hence they cannot disarm a single warlord.
However, in the present situation tens of thousands of Afghanistan’s previous national army officers are jobless or working in very low-ranking social jobs to provide a daily living for their families. Thousands of professional Afghan military officers live in neighboring countries and are looking for an opportunity to return to their previous posts. They can be recruited very fast and could be structured according the new order. They are already trained and could adjust to the new system very fast, and they are the guys who know how to fight warlords, as they did it for 14 years. But presumably in the new western-style government these officers are not trusted, for they served under the communist regime.
Reconstruction of the Cities During the last two years no major reconstruction project, except the rebuilding of the highway between Kabul and Kandahar, has been successfully completed. There are some sporadic small projects being rebuilt in different parts of the country, but the primary need of Afghanistan is innovation on key national interest projects such as roads and highways, power stations, hospitals, etc.
A large amount of the donated money goes through international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to be spent on different aspects of rehabilitation. While these NGOs do work on some projects, a major part of the budget is spent on administrative tasks. The foreign staff of these organizations require western standard salaries that are, too high by Afghan accounts, while there are thousands of unemployed Afghans looking for job opportunities and ready to work for very low wages. In fact, with the monthly wage of a foreign employee, tens of Afghans could probably be employed. On the other hand most of the international NGOs are using extremely expensive top model vehicles and renting houses that cost thousands of dollars in monthly rents. And every dollar they spend comes out of the budget that had been donated to rebuild poor Afghanistan.
On the other hand, the money that goes through the Afghan government gets lost in the process of an extremely corrupt bureaucratic system. Since the administration is not well organized to control corruption, individual advantage-takers in the government offices are on the ball. There are all kinds of personal linkages and protocols among bureaucrats. Private contractors must keep their pockets open, bribing office to office in order to get a contract, and by the end of the day they are left with almost half of the funds; thus they must bring down the quality of their work in order to be able to complete their projects. Warlords also use the disorder as an excuse and take advantage of the situation. In most cases when a private reconstruction organization gets a project through international NGOs or through U.S. or peacekeepers’ civil task force, they secretly have to pay a part of it to the regional warlord to be able to work on the project. Overall, different problems compound one another, making the task of rehabilitation a hard or even an impossible mission to accomplish.
The Daily Life of the Civilians Life certainly has changed after the fall of the Taliban; for instance there is a different administration, there are new faces on the state television, there are new types of problems, and there is a new stage of war and conflict. In some parts of the country the actual warfare is still debilitating the daily lives of Afghan civilians. The crime rate has even increased in the new administration. Despite the presence of nearly 20,000 U.S. and international troops in the country, people do not feel safe. Robbery and looting are even clearly seen inside Kabul city. The countryside and the highways are even worse. There are irresponsible gunmen everywhere. Nobody knows who they are, but they sporadically run into people, rob them and in some cases even kill them. Most of these gunmen belong to the local warlords and hence they are both the security keepers and the security breakers.
Unemployment is another problem that Afghans struggle with. Thousands of government employees have been dismissed from their positions. The lack of stability prevents national or foreign investors from starting businesses and providing job opportunities for the people. A lot of citizens who had somehow managed to arrange small businesses through witch they could feed their families have now faced bankruptcy with the new political developments in the country. At the same time, the prices for almost everything have gone more than twice as high as they were under the Taliban government. For most Afghans, providing their daily food is a big challenge.
Conclusion Despite its relatively small size, Afghanistan has a geographically strategic position and historically influential prestige in world political calculations. Throughout history the Afghan nation has always resisted any alien invader and has successfully defeated every occupier. In fact, to save this honor Afghans have usually endangered their material values and accepted great human and economic losses to keep their independence. Thus, the words freedom and independence always demand close attention in the Afghans’ encyclopedia. Not going too far back, Afghan soil has touched the feet of three big superpowers during the past hundred years. The Empire of the Great Britain, in which the sun never set, was defeated three times in Afghanistan and finally left the country with bent heads, suffering tens of thousands of casualties in 1919. The Red Army of the Soviet Union, which was believed to have no match in the world in a ground war, faced overwhelming resistance in Afghanistan and finally was defeated and left the country having suffered great human and economic losses. In the present situation there are soldiers from over 20 countries in Afghanistan. However, the goal and aim of the contemporary invasion is different from those of the past. In fact, Afghanistan needs this invasion even more, and the Afghan nation fully understands it. In the present situation the only way to rescue Afghanistan from reoccupation by international terrorists is to increase the number and lengthen the presence of the international force in the country.
Inevitably the U.S. war in Iraq has negatively affected the situation in Afghanistan. A huge part of the attention of the international community and more specifically of the United States has been focused on the problems in Iraq. While the present situation and the problems in Iraq are critically important and worth the U.S. and world’s attention, Afghanistan must not be forgotten. Surely the world and the U.S. do not want to repeat their mistake of backing Afghanistan in 1992. Incidents such as the September 11 attack on the United States are the result of the world’s decreased attention to Afghanistan. In fact, the current fire in Afghanistan was ignited by the East-West confrontation during the Cold War. This is what Afghanistan has inherited for becoming the battlefield between the former Soviet Union and its western counterparts. This is the problem that was created by foreigners and now must be solved by them. The Afghan nation, after 23 years of war, does not have the capability to overcome its problems. This poor nation is too exhausted to prevent terrorists from occupying and using its soil and resources for their shameful aims. Thus, Afghans must rely fully on foreign aid and assistance until the time when they are back on their own feet.
Having in mind the problems mentioned above, just as examples, Afghans are getting disappointed with the current situation. There is no longer the excitement and hopeful attitude they had in the early days after the fall of the Taliban. For most Afghans, democracy is beginning to mean more poverty, more crime, more corruption, and more chaos. The general motivation toward democratization is declining, hence enlarging the gap between Afghans and Americans. And this is what the terrorists and Al-Qaeda favor. They take huge advantage of the current situation and if things do not change, soon Al-Qaeda will become powerful in the region and use the area for plotting terrorist attacks against the West. And this time it would be much harder to remove them. It becomes like germs in the body who resist a certain kind of antibiotic and the second time the patient must double, even triple the dose of the medicine. Thus, the international community must not let Afghanistan fall again into the hands of the terrorists. They must understand that forgetting Afghanistan would mean threatening world’s peace and security.
Kabul: Partial Reconstructions is an installation
and public dialogue project that explores the multiple meanings and resonances of
the idea of reconstruction -- as both process and metaphor -- in the context of present-day Kabul.
www.kabul-reconstructions.net is an online discussion forum, information resource, and medium for the communication of questions and answers about the reconstruction between people inside and outside the city of Kabul itself.