U.S. is building a new tribe of warlords in Afghanistan
The Sunday Guardian, June 20, 2010
Just as the
fattened jihadist militias in the 1980s, short-term interests are again leading
it to fund private Afghan miltias. This will carry serious consequences for
regional security, long after the Americans have pulled out from Afghanistan.
The war in Afghanistan,
in any case, is becoming increasingly unwinnable for the Americans, as
underscored by the recent series of U.S. political
and military setbacks. The Afghan Taliban, with its inner shura (council) ensconced in the Quetta area of Pakistan,
is stepping up attacks across Afghanistan.
That has brought into question the viability of President Barack Obama’s plan to turn around Afghanistan
and begin withdrawing forces by July 2011.
Faced with a desperate situation,
the administration is rolling out local militias in virtually every Afghan
province. It is racing to secure Afghanistan so
that the president can start pulling out from July 2011 — a deadline he set on
his own, overriding the concerns of a sceptical military.
Under the militia-building plan, designed to
complement Obama’s two successive troop “surges,” local militias are being set
up in the Afghan provinces as part of a strategy to get a handle on the
situation. The militias are being established in two ways — either by training
and arming village recruits, or by bribing insurgent leaders to cross over with
their fighters and become the new law-enforcement force. The latter way has
become increasingly popular with the Americans as it offers the quickest
As a result, a new array of U.S.-backed provincial warlords have emerged across
Afghanistan, with millions of dollars in American funds being paid to them to
provide highway security and run missions with U.S. special forces. The
combination of American-sanctions arms and American funds has made these
warlords, with their private armies, so powerful that they have orchestrated
the removal of local Afghan officials who have dared to defy their diktats.
For example, in southern Oruzgan Province, the most powerful man today is not the provincial governor or the
local army commander or the police chief, but a U.S.-funded chief of a
1500-strong private army, Matiullah
The U.S. support for establishment of private
militias, initiated quietly without any consultation with allies and partners,
flies in the face of the common agreement that the international community must
focus on institution-building, demobilization of existing militias and
reconstruction to create a stable, moderate Afghanistan — goals that have prompted
India to pour massive $1.5 billion aid into that country. The decision ignores
the danger that such militias could go out of control and threaten regional and
international security. That is exactly what happened with the militias President
Ronald Reagan heavily armed in the 1980s, the so-called mujahideen.
The new U.S.-supported warlords
already are acting as a law unto themselves, undermining state institutions,
conniving with drug dealers and seeking to strike private deals with the
Taliban. As the Taliban
have targeted for assassination former insurgents who have switched sides, some
of the warlords have sought to keep both the Americans and the Taliban happy.
The Americans, for their part, have sought to encourage greater defections from
insurgent ranks by offering new incentives. For example, it has been made
public by British Maj. Gen. Philip Jones, who directs the reintegration effort
for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. that insurgents who cross over to
the NATO side can keep weapons to provide security to local communities.
Confronting grim realities on the ground, Washington is seeking to pursue shortcuts, lest the
Afghan war burn Obama’s presidency in the same way Iraq consumed George W. Bush’s.
Still, it is important to remember the origins of the Afpak problem.
A covert U.S.
war against the nine-year Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan
helped instil an Afpak jihad culture and create Frankensteins like Osama bin
Laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar. It was at a mid-1980s White House ceremony
attended by some turbaned and bearded Afpak “holy warriors” that President
Ronald Reagan proclaimed mujahideen leaders the “moral equivalent of the
founding fathers” of America. Now a
second military intervention in Afghanistan
since 2001 — this time by the U.S.,
with the aid of NATO and other allied troops — has further destabilized the
Yet, in trying to salvage the overt U.S. war in Afghanistan, Obama is ignoring the
lessons of the earlier covert war and unwittingly seeking to repeat history. In
the same way the U.S.
created mujahideen by funnelling
billions of dollars worth of arms to them in the 1980s, Washington is now
setting up local militias and warlords across Afghanistan. And just as the covert
war’s imperatives prompted the U.S. in the 1980s to provide multibillion-dollar
aid packages to Pakistan while turning a blind eye to its nuclear-smuggling and
other illicit trans-border activities, Washington is now showering
unprecedented aid on that country while seeking to neither bring the rogue
Inter-Services Intelligence under civilian oversight nor subject the now-free A.Q.
Khan to international questioning. The U.S.
indeed has increased its cooperation with the Pakistani military, including new
joint CIA-ISI missions in tribal areas, commando training to Frontier Corps and
sharing of U.S.
intercepts of militant cellular and satellite phone calls.
Before long, the new militias would be
terrorizing local populations. The new breed of warlords would likely foster
anarchy. The Americans will leave behind an Afghan
government too weak to enforce its writ and a new tribe of warlords eager to
challenge central authority.
is unable to stop the misuse of its large annual military aid by Pakistan or
account for the arms it has supplied to Afghan security forces. Controlling
non-state actors is even harder. That
is the lesson from the rise of the Afghan Taliban, fathered by the ISI and
endorsed by U.S. policy as a
way out of the chaos that engulfed Afghanistan after President
Najibullah’s 1992 ouster.
Just because Afghan security forces are not yet
sufficiently large or adequately groomed to take over the fight cannot justify
the setting up of more militias in a country already swarming with armed
Obama’s Afghan strategy should be
viewed as a shortsighted strategy intent on repeating the very mistakes of
American policy on Afghanistan
and Pakistan over the past
three decades that have come to haunt U.S. security and that of the rest
of the free world. Obama is giving
priority to what is politically expedient than to long-term interests — the
very mistake that gave rise to the phenomenon of jihadist transnational terror.