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SLUG: 1-01146 OTL Afghanistan After the Loya Jirga 06-27-02









Host: Afghanistan after the Loya Jirga, Next, On the Line.

Host: The Loya Jirga, Afghanistan's national council, recently concluded nine days of meetings. Representatives from all parts of Afghanistan met to debate the future of their country. The assembly elected Hamid Karzai to lead Afghanistan for the next eighteen months. Since January, Mr. Karzai has served as chairman of Afghanistan's interim government. In naming his cabinet, Mr. Karzai tried to give a role to members from every major ethnic group in Afghanistan. Joining me to talk about the Loya Jirga and what it means for Afghanistan's future are Charles Fairbanks, director of the Central Asia Institute at the School of Advanced International Studies; Elie Krakowski, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council; and policy analyst David Isby. Welcome and thanks for joining us today.

Host: Elie Krakowski, now that the Loya Jirga is done, what is the next step under the Bonn agreement that sort of laid out what was to happen in Afghanistan over the next couple of years?

Krakowski: The next step is in essence to go forward to reconstructing the country, to develop a constitution, prepare for general elections -- two years down, eighteen months down the line. So, those are, I would say, the main tasks and they are enormous enough.

Host: Charles Fairbanks, how will those tasks be tackled? Who's going to be in charge of writing a new constitution, preparing for elections?

Fairbanks: Well, this government is supposed to superintend those functions. The problem is that it's completely divided between factions, which are jealous and antagonistic toward each other. So my answer would have been what's going to happen right now would be more sort of jockeying and pressure to try to influence the composition of the government, the particular powers of ministers who are already appointed. It's a problem.

Host: David Isby, is that going to stand in the way of trying to form a constitution for Afghanistan?

Isby: Probably not. In Afghanistan it is an advance that there is now, for the first time since 1978, minimal armed opposition. The opposition were able to fire two rockets at the Loya Jirga. And yes, politics is alive and well in Afghanistan and that's very glad in a country where so often power is decided by force of arms. And as Elie pointed out, yes, there is the constitution and how that is to be delegated was set up in the Bonn process and we have subsequent another Loya Jirga in eighteen months. So this gives time for the different groups to work with each other, to gain confidence, which is important in a country where there has been a great deal of ethno-linguistic polarization. So they get confidence in each other and also some of what appears today to be strong power blocs may break apart. So, that's one reason they pushed a lot of the hard decisions to the right, as they say in Washington.

Host: Charles Fairbanks, how do you distinguish between this notion of, you know, what is factionalism and what is healthy beginnings of democracy?

Fairbanks: I guess I would make the distinction between where everybody knows that they have to share the political space. And they can jockey for more power [and] policies they want, but always within limits. And [this is] a situation where people think that they have to, or they have the right, to dominate with nominal representation by other groups. And my complaint would be that the Tajiks from the Panjshir Valley thought that they could dominate the government. Except for Hamid Karzai, they essentially dominated the first government. This new one has one important change, but there is still a somewhat zero-sum mentality among some of the players.

Host: Elie Krakowski.

Krakowski: I think that, you know, when we look at the situation, there's no doubt that what Charles has said is an important element. At the same time I think we need to balance the picture in the direction of say one: it is the first time that a Loya Jirga traditional assembly has occurred in quite awhile -- more than twenty years. And the fact that it occurred, as David mentioned, with very minimal active opposition is itself another plus.

Host: By opposition you mean armed violence, not disagreement?

Krakowski: By armed violence, by the al-Qaida, Taleban. Yes, by the former Taleban and so forth. That I think all of those things are fairly major elements. That there was intimidation there's no doubt. But at the same time a large number of delegates gathered and were able to have discussions. Certain results came; I think the results are flawed. But the fact they came and the fact that Karzai has been trying to pull together. You know some people talk about warlords and the fact that warlords shouldn't be there. Well, that may be true, but it's also very easy to do from an armchair and to wish people away that have been part of the landscape. I think if you want to move constructively towards peace, you have to gradually take these issues one by one.

Host: David Isby.

Isby: This is really, it is about peace more than power. And yes, playing the numbers games on ethno-linguistic barriers or gender barriers, both of which are going to remain, is perhaps something that the exiles are doing, Americans are doing. But that's not the whole issue. The Afghans are concerned with peace and who can be effective and rebuild possibly to a greater extent than their ethno-linguistic identification or their gender identification.

Krakowski: At the same time, if I may, at the same time I think that what Charles said is important in the sense that the Tajiks and the people from the Panjshir were holding the key positions in the previous transitional government. They are now as well. That is not necessarily a good thing in terms of the Pashtuns.

Host: Let's talk about the one example that Charles brought up of a key Tajik leader who is now no longer in the key position he was in. One leader from the Northern Alliance, Yunus Qanooni, and he had been the minister of the interior during the interim government. Charles, what happened during the Loya Jirga regarding Yunus Qanooni?

Fairbanks: Well, he resigned rather early in the Loya Jirga, which was a sign that some kind of deal had been worked out. And then he was given a relatively unimportant ministry, which he chose.

Host: .the ministry of education and previously the ministry of the interior. What did he have control of? The ministry of the interior, is that the police force?

Fairbanks: It's the police, but in a place like Afghanistan that's been at war for over twenty years, the police are really a kind of military force. So the two ministers who held effective power, Mohammed Fahim and Qanooni, both traced their origins to the same village in the Panjshir Valley.

Host: But this was then an example, when Hamid Karzai appointed not Qanooni to that interior position but rather a Pashtun, of trying to make that balance in some way.

Fairbanks: Right. And the deeper problem, if you trace it back in history, is that the kingdom of Afghanistan was founded by Pashtuns -- in the mid-eighteenth century. And it was essentially ruled until the war started and government broke down completely -- at the very top were Pashtuns beginning with the king. It's very hard to subordinate a group, however sort of unequal, or however much other groups objected to their subordinate status that had that kind of ruling role for two-hundred years.

Isby: After the divisions in Afghanistan then, ethno-linguistic was only one of them. There were certainly the modernizers versus the non-modernizers, the religious versus the more secular authority, and this cut across ethno-linguistic lines. We have seen a war in which all sides have appealed, especially the Taleban. The Taleban presented themselves as the avengers of Pashtun rights, and helped create ethno-linguistic polarization. The Soviets when they invaded Afghanistan wanted to have good, old, imperial style divide and rule -- break people up into composite groups.

Host: Well, David Isby, is it possible to eliminate in Afghanistan those kinds of divisions.

Isby: Never eliminate but appeal across them. If there is to be a revival of Afghan nationalism it could bring over some Pashtuns and many of the Panjshiris. The Panjshiris now, are proving -- with Qanooni and [the late Ahmad Shah] Massoud's brother and Fahim now each having their own parties, the Panjshiris are not proving to be a unified bloc either.

Host: Elie Krakowski, let me ask you, Yunus Qanooni at first said he was not going to take the education position. Instead was going to start up his own opposition party and perhaps cause some kind of trouble, and yet at the end of the day he took the ministry of education position and is part of the government. Is what happened there, does that show that Karzai is somehow getting his sea legs in running the show?

Krakowski: No, I think that what happened in the end, I think you have to mention aside from the ministry of education the fact that Qanooni was appointed senior advisor to the president, to Karzai, on internal security matters. Which translated, means that he is going to continue to deal with issues of internal security -- with the police and so forth. And therefore, that the person who was appointed to be minister of the interior, who is a Pashtun, may have more limited authority. Now this gentleman has said that if in seven months he has not been able to develop, he will leave. I think what you are seeing is a jockeying for giving a semblance of yielding some of the Tajik controls, without actually doing so. And I think that is not necessarily healthy if he continues on the long term. For right now, I think you have a difficult position, and I think that we would be remiss if we did not mention the external players. In other words, that the Tajiks who in fact were the sole opposition -- that also needs to be said -- the sole organized opposition to the Taleban. The Pashtuns were not doing that well in the earlier period. So the fact that the Tajiks ended up controlling the initial government is not entirely an accident. But they are backed by outside powers -- Iran a major one -- Uzbekistan, Russia and I think we rely greatly on that. I think if you are to look at a peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan, people have talked a great deal and almost exclusively about the internal situation. Unless we address the external situation, it's going to be very difficult.

Host: David Isby.

Isby: That's a key point. The people right now inAfghan politics are bald men fighting over a comb, because central power does not mean a great deal. It means the promise of dividing up aid money. In fact, as we know, the central economy does not function if what we are talking in terms of ethno-linguistic function isn't going to matter? If the aid doesn't flow, if there is not security for the aid to develop and that is one of the key problems. The money that's promised isn't getting there so that Karzai can give it out. If the center can allocate resources then there is a way, not only for the Panjshiris, but for the other people who are called warlords here in the West, people like Ismael Khan, Haji Qadir to give just two examples. If they don't have a strong center that can give out resources, they have no incentive to play along.

Host: Let me ask you a question about the warlords. A Washington Post article in the last week wrote: "Mr. Karzai delivered major posts to several regional warlords, in hopes of buying their allegiance. Some foreign observers found it more worrisome that the two most powerful warlords refused the posts they were offered." Charles Fairbanks, which of those two is more worrisome? That the warlords are being brought in as vice-presidents or that these regional powers, that there are a couple of them that refused the vice-presidential posts because they wanted to retain their regional authority uncontested?

Fairbanks: I think it's essential to include the warlords because eventually you want to move to a unified government and a unified army. But after twenty years of internecine warfare, it's very difficult. And the warlords have the real power. One has to deal with them and gradually turn them in a more constructive direction to achieve anything. And even those people who prefer to maintain themselves outside of Kabul, like [Rashid] Dostum, the Uzbek in the north, and Ismael Khan, the different kind of Tajik in the west supported by Iran. They got something. Ismael Khan's son has a ministry in the government. And the fact that he was willing to accept that formula and seems to be drawing somewhat apart from the Northern Alliance that he is nominally a part of is an achievement, I think.

Isby: It was never integral. In fact, there is certainly the Northern Alliance is hardly an integral force. And the tensions between him and the Panjshiris go back years. The important thing, though, is we've got to deal with people. Even though we have to build central power, we've got cut in both these regional leaders -- who people who don't like them call warlords -- and also local leaders because much of their leadership inside Afghanistan has been fragmented. So rather than just having a strong bureaucratized center and trickle down, we've got to engage all levels, and that's something that isn't taking place yet.

Host: Elie Krakowski, many people say that for there to be a central government that has viability there needs to be a national army and the U-S is trying to help train an Afghan national army. How is that going, and what are the prospects for success there?

Krakowski: Well again, I think that the process is going. It has started. It is interesting to note that in terms of how this thing came about, it wasn't any desire on the part of any of the agencies of the United States government, but through a direct decision of the President, of President Bush. Karzai approached him and I don't think anybody in the U-S government was particularly enthusiastic about getting involved in that, but the President basically on his own said, "Yes, we'll do it" And that is how it happened. I'm saying this simply because I think the United States has remained reluctant to being involved in directly building it initially. But now that he has undertaken it, I think it [the U-S] is doing it. It will take a little while, and I think in the meantime of course there are immediate issues. Part of how effective it will be, of course, will depend on how effectively people can integrate in the different ethnic groupings and the like into a core and it also depends on the kind of power -- what David was talking about earlier -- the kind of power that the central government will actually have. Because you can train soldiers, but if the central government does not have the wherewithal in terms of funding and so forth to distribute, then that training is not going to go anywhere.

Host: David Isby, other institutions in Afghanistan -- the notion that there would be some sort of parliament that would come out or other legislative bodies that would come out of the Loya Jirga hasn't happened yet. What's in the future?

Isby: No, they didn't set up. Certainly there is a vast need here, not just in the military but also in public administration. Because of the brain drain of the war and then the decade under the Taleban, there are so few people who know how to do public administration, in and outside uniform, to build things, to set up competitive bidding without corruption, that even if the money arrives it's going to be very hard to do it. [For the] parliament, there are a lot of expectations. There was a hope that part of the Loya Jirga would be made more or less permanent for the rest of the eighteen-month process. Now that was not done, and that's something else that will have to be done before the two years from the Bonn process expire.

Host: Charles Fairbanks, let me ask you, a lot of people have had great hopes for the future of women in Afghanistan after their terrible oppression under the Taleban, and yet there was some controversy over the naming of a women's minister. What happened with Sima Simar, who had been the women's minister in the interim government? Was she forced out, or did she choose not to be the women's minister in the ongoing government?

Fairbanks: I think she was forced out, but she was replaced by another woman of less vocal but also of a strong orientation toward women's rights.

Host: What did Sima Simar do to get some people angry with her?

Fairbanks: Well, she made a lot of public statements about the need for women to enter public life, to work, to be educated. And the problem is that the Westernized women that existed in Kabul largely were killed or fled the country. And we're dealing with a country where the first public unveiling on the part of ministers' wives took place in 1959.

Host: Now there were women involved in the Loya Jirga though, were there not?

Fairbanks: Right, yes. And so it's important to include them but not to have too high hopes for the early period, I think.

Host: I wish we could keep talking about that. There is so much more to get to, but I'm afraid we're out of time. I'd like to thank my guests. Charles Fairbanks of the School of Advanced International Studies; Elie Krakowski of the American Foreign Policy Council; and policy analyst David Isby. For On the Line, I'm Eric Felten.

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