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Afghanistan - Politics Post-Taliban


Hamid Karzai

Herat:Ismail Khan and Amanullah Khan
Helmand:Sher Mohammed Akhundzada
Mazar-i-Sharif:Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ustad Atta Mohammed
Kandahar:Gul Agha Sherzai
Paktia, Khost and Paghman:Ustad Abdul Rasul Sayyaf
Paktika:Pacha Khan Zadran
Bamiyan and Parts of Kabul:Karim Khalili
Northeast Afghanistan and Kabul : Burhanuddin Rabbani
Nuristan and Jalalabad: Hazrat Ali
Kabul and Pansher Valley: Mohammed Qasim Fahim

By early 2003 Afghanistan's northern parts were engulfed in the same factional rivalries that plagued the area in the 1990s. General Abdul Rashid Dostum's Junbish-e Melli-ye Islami party (National Islamic Movement) was battling former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani's Jami'at-e Islami party (Society of Islam) in several northern provinces. A splinter group within Hizb-e Wahdat and loyal to Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq was also battling Jami'at loyalists in Balkh Province. And the self-proclaimed "amir" of western Afghanistan, Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, was battling Pashtuns in his own province and in neighboring Badghis Province. Moreover, the Islmai'li Shi'ites had begun quarreling in Baghlan Province.

The Emergency Loya Jirga was held from 11-19 June 2002. The Loya Jirga, Afghanistan's "grand assembly," concluded nine days of meetings in June 2002, electing Hamid Karzai as President. The delegates - including over 220 women - elected by secret ballot the Head of the Transitional Administration, and confirmed ministers and other key figures. After decades of war, this marked the nation's first tentative steps towards a system where political decisions are made by a representative assembly of the people of Afghanistan at large and not based on military force. The process for the selection of delegates involved mass popular participation in a political exercise unrivalled in Afghanistan's history.

Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun selected as the interim head of the country at the Bonn Conference of November 2001, 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. The warlords were brought in as vice-presidents, but a couple of them refused the vice-presidential posts because they wanted to retain their regional authority uncontested.

Whereas individuals such as Ismail Khan in the past had been essentially positive forces, two leaders seen as posing serious dangers to the authority and effectiveness of the Karzai government were Dostum, the ethnic Uzbek commander in the north, and ethnic Tajik Atta Mohammad of Jamiat-e Islami.

Dostum, considered Afghanistan's top ethnic Uzbek commander, previously sided with the Soviet Union during their occupation of the country in the 1980s. More recently he was one of several military leaders in the opposition Northern Alliance, also known as The United Front, attempting to regain territory lost to the Taliban. The Taliban's capture of Dostum's fortress and airfield in Mazar-e-sharif in 1997 forced him into exile in Uzbekistan and Iran. He returned in 2000 to join the Alliance, seeking to avenge that defeat. Dostum's force of some 20,000 militia fighters was composed mostly of ethnic Uzbeks who are members of his political group, Junbish-e Melli. Karzai appointed Dostum as his special adviser on security and military affairs, with effective control over security affairs in the northern Afghan provinces of Balkh, Jowzjan, Sar-e Pol, Samangan, and Faryab.

Atta Mohammad, from the rival ethnic Tajiks, fought against the Soviet invasion, and at the time of the fall of the Taliban commanded some 20,000 troops. Mohammad had close ties with Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, with whom he was a member of Jamiat-e Islami, a predominantly ethnic Tajik political grouping.

Both Dostum and Mohammad joined the Northern Alliance, fighting alongside other Afghan commanders, as well as US forces, to help defeat the country's strict Islamist Taliban regime in 2001. But in the years since the Taliban was ousted from power, the same militias have turned on each other repeatedly in hit-and-run battles that have brought instability and lawlessness to parts of five northern Afghan provinces.

The involvement of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) helped bring Dostum and Mohammad towards an agreement in May 2002 to hold regular meetings between their factions. This worked to lessen active conflict, but fighting still occurred in Faryab province and Dar-I-Souf.

Since May of 2003, provincial governors have not been allowed to hold a military title. In Herat, in August 2003, President Karzai removed Governor Ismail Khan from his command of the 4th Corps.

In a 13-point declaration signed on 20 May 2003 by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai and 10 provincial governors, one deputy governor, and two military commanders, the provincial authorities agreed to "follow and implement the laws, regulations, and legislative documents of the country and their job descriptions," Radio Afghanistan reported on 20 May. The provincial authorities also pledged to implement internal and external policies as directed by the central administration; not to interfere in the affairs of other provinces; and not to hold military and civilian posts simultaneously. Further, Article 11 of the declaration abolished special titles that some of the regional leaders had adopted for themselves, such as "special envoy of the head of state" or "amir," adopted by Dostum and Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, respectively.

Signatories to the 20 May 2003 Agreement:

  • General Mohammad Ismail Khan, Governor of Herat Province
  • General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Deputy Defense Minister
  • Lieutenant General Atta Mohammad, Commander of Army Corps No. 7
  • Lieutenant General Gol Agha [Sherzai], Governor of Kandahar Province
  • Haji Din Mohammad, Governor of Nangarhar Province
  • Abdol Latif Ebrahimi, Governor of Konduz Province
  • Sayyed Mohammad Ali Jalali, Governor of Paktika Province
  • Mohammad Abdul Karim Barawi, Governor of Nimroz Province
  • Abdol Hayy Ne'mati, Governor of Farah Province
  • Mohammad Eshaq Rahgozar, Governor of Balkh Province
  • Sayd Ekramoddin Masumi, Governor of Takhar Province
  • Abdul Hakim Taniwal, Governor of Khost Province
  • Afzali, Deputy Governor of Badakhshan Province

In a decree issued on 21 May 2003, Karzai appointed Deputy Defense Minister General Abdul Rashid Dostum as a special adviser on security and military affairs. Dostum was instructed to dismantle Army Corps No. 7, commanded by his Jami'at rival, General Atta Mohammad. Mohammad, however, stated that he would not relinquish his command of the Army Corps No. 7, effectively challenging Dostum's job description. In a related development, Mohammad resigned from his post as "first deputy head of the Leadership Council of the northern provinces of Afghanistan," Balkh Television reported on 20 May 2003.

In late September 2003 troops belonging to the longtime rival commanders Dostum and Mohammed clashed in northern Afghanistan's Sar-e Pul province. The two commanders are nominally aligned with the central government, but are considered independent warlords, autonomously ruling the areas occupied by their troops. Their forces frequently engage each other in efforts to take control of Afghanistan's north. The United Nations and other mediators have repeatedly sought a regional truce, on several occasions brokering meetings between Dostum, Mohammad, and other local commanders.

In October 2003 the Afghan central government deployed police in northern Afghanistan in an effort to bring an end to the recurring battles between the rival groups. About 300 police officers from Kabul were deployed in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif to help monitor a cease-fire between the forces of the two feuding warlords.

The police force was token in size against the tens of thousands of militiamen loyal to each of the warlords. And yet, the deployment had enormous symbolic significance because it appeared to signal the start of a serious effort by Karzai and his international backers to extend the authority of the Kabul-based government.

Dostum and Mohammad signed an agreement on 11 October 2003 to extend their shaky cease-fire into other areas that have suffered from factional violence since the collapse of the Taliban regime nearly two years ago. Those areas include the provinces of Balkh, Samangan, Jowzjan, Sar-i-Pul, and Faryab. Dostum and Mohammad last signed an initial cease-fire on 9 October that involved only their private militia forces close to Mazar-i-Sharif. That deal came after a fierce tank and artillery battle advanced to within 20 kilometers of Mazar-i-Sharif. Some reports said as many as 60 militia fighters were killed.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in Afghanistan 4 December 2003 on a one-day visit, during which he met with Dostum, whose forces had been accused of acting too slowly in disarming. Defense officials said that while Dostum's faction had handed over three tanks to Afghan security forces, his rival Mohammad had turned in more than 50.

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