Experts Ponder Motives Behind Karzai’s Private Talks With Warlords

June 11, 2004

Afghanistan: Experts Ponder Motives Behind Karzai’s Private Talks With Warlords

By Ron Synovitz
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai is denying reports that recent meetings with some of Afghanistan’s regional warlords resulted in a political deal for governing the country after September elections. But experts on Afghanistan say they believe there may have been some agreement between Karzai and the powerful regional militia commanders aimed at enhancing the registration of voters.

Prague, 9 June 2004 (RFE/RL) — Hamid Karzai, who is widely expected to win Afghanistan’s presidential elections in September, has admitted that he met privately during the past two weeks with several of the powerful warlords who control large areas outside Kabul.

But Karzai has vehemently denied rumors in the capital that he made a deal to form a coalition government with the regional militia commanders.

In an interview with “The Washington Post” earlier this week, Karzai said regional militia commanders have offered not to field a candidate against him in September’s elections out of a sense of patriotism. Karzai said the commanders agreed that competitive elections between polarized factions in Afghanistan could easily degenerate into an armed conflict.

Karzai also said he wants to bring the militia leaders into the political process rather than “push them into a corner” or “frighten them away.”

Christopher Langton, the head of defense analysis at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, told RFE/RL today that he suspects Karzai may have engaged in some political bargaining with the militia bosses.

“[There are a couple of things to say] about a possible deal between Karzai and people we used to call ‘warlords,’ who probably still are to some extent — principally Ismail Khan [in the western Afghan province of Herat], [General Abdul Rashid] Dostum [in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif], and maybe his own Minister of Defense [Mohammad Qasim] Fahim,” Langton said. “A couple of weeks ago, they agreed in principal that they would not stand against him as president — which, in a sense, is the beginning of a deal already. I would suspect that he has said to them: ‘In return for this, which also means that you are not going to destabilize my leadership, I will give you a certain amount of autonomy.'”

Langton said he also believes Karzai will try to reach agreements with Pashtun tribal leaders in southern Afghanistan in order to make it easier and safer for election officials to register voters ahead of the September polls.

“When we talk about warlords and chieftains in [the southern] part of the country, I suspect again that Karzai will be seeking a traditional Afghan approach in order to allow registration to go on,” Langton said. “In other words, he’ll be saying to the Pashtun tribal chiefs, ‘Let’s have some peace and quiet and allow this activity to happen — allow the elections to happen.’ Now, I’m not quite sure what he will [offer] in return, but it is a truly Afghan way of doing business. We shouldn’t be surprised.”

Despite Langton’s suspicions about what Karzai may be saying to the militia commanders in private talks, he concluded that it would be wrong to imply anything sinister or underhanded about those meetings.

“I think ‘deal’ is too strong a word,” Langton said. “‘Deal’ tends to imply some kind of underhand wheeling and dealing. I think what they’ve probably been doing is recognizing the differences in the different parts of the country. And therefore, logically, there has to be a separate approach to each power base in each part of the country in order to make the elections work. Therefore, I suspect behind this story, the fact is probably that Karzai has been talking to them individually and explaining his position — and explaining that their position is not threatened by this [electoral] process. I think [Karzai’s meetings have been] more a process of explanation, rationalization and, maybe, a certain amount of compromise in order that the elections can go ahead. And that is the priority.”

Some of the officials in the Afghan Transitional Authority say they have been angered by rumors of coalition talks between Karzai and the militia commanders. Deputy Information Minister Abdul Hamid Mobarez has said Karzai could undermine Afghanistan’s fragile democratic reforms by forming a coalition with religious fundamentalists who control their own private armies.

That view is supported by Jon Sifton, a researcher on Afghanistan for the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch. In an interview with RFE/RL, Sifton also said he is unsure about the veracity of rumors suggesting a coalition deal between Karzai and Afghan warlords. But Sifton said his organization is concerned that political bargaining between Karzai and the militia commanders could undermine the long-term prospects for peace and stability in the country.

“We don’t know if there has been a deal,” Sifton said. “But we do know that President Karzai has been talking to several of these personalities — these recalcitrant, autonomous regional commanders like Ismail Khan and General Dostum in the north. We are concerned that instead of serving to make the elections more free and fair — which is what President Karzai claims he is trying to do by talking to these men — it is [really] no more than political bargaining.”

Sifton concluded that Karzai’s approach to Afghanistan’s rival militia commanders could entrench their powers further rather than accomplish what most Afghans want to see — a reduction in the powers of the warlords.

“President Karzai has to understand that Afghanistan’s future doesn’t lie with facilitating a peace agreement between different warlords,” Sifton said. “It lies in reestablishing a legitimate civilian government through free and fair elections. Peace is important, and it is important to keep these rival militias from fighting. But the way to ultimately prevent them from being a problem in Afghanistan’s future is to marginalize them from the governance of Afghanistan by having free and fair elections. President Karzai has taken a sort of ‘go-it-slow’ diplomatic approach with the warlords. This isn’t working. All it is doing is serving to entrench the warlords and make it more difficult to get rid of them in the long term.”

For his part, Karzai has said the most important goal for Afghanistan is to establish a strong and stable government. He said attaining that goal is an even higher priority than creating a perfect democracy.

Karzai told “The Washington Post” that if Afghanistan must choose between peace and security or holding competitive elections, the decision must be made “very carefully.”

Afghanistan’s Catch-22: if not Karzai, then Who??

June 7, 2004

After I had vented out all my anger at Karzai’s backroom deal (previous post) it suddently hit me that “If not Karzai, then who? who are Mr. Karzai’s rivals and other potential presidential candidates?” And then I realized how far deep in mud we the people of Afghanistan are stuck: Karzai is our best bet. Under the circumstances, Karzai is the best candidate to vote for.
I will try to explain why. Given that on the one hand we have this president -who by far seems to have the upper hand in the upcoming elections- but to make up for it has flirted with a streak of ethnically narrow-minded policies; succombing to warlords; making distinctions such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban and embracing the good (which in itself would not be a horrendous thing if it did not point again to how desperately he wants to involve his ethnic Pashtoon constituency unproportionately in the new government; firing the planning minister -which he was not legally allowed to under the Bonn accords-; and as the accusation goes, taking more of his instructions from the US envoy to Afghanistan than the people of Afghanistan and their representativs.
Pretty un-tempting ha?
Wait till you hear who is challenging him: the runners up include an Mujahideen commander -Haji Muhaqqiq that for all the promises of reconciliating the nation and unifying it still has a stained background and would be utterly unacceptable to all non-Hazara ethnicities. His election -a far and unrealistic prospect at any rate- might spark an even more violent reaction from the ethnic Pashtoons and the religious fanatics -Muhaqqiq is a Hazara and belongs to the religious minority Shia sect of Islam- in the South and East of the country. His credentials at running the affairs of the government were put to test when he was still head of the planning ministry and it can be safely said that he is a far cry from a trained and educated beaurocrat. And for all that matters, one would think he has gotten on the ticket with the knowledge that he is bound to lose; but he hopes to play the Afghan politics version of the Vermot Governor Howard Dean- serve as a nat on the consciousness of those in power, bring issues to the surface that would otherwise go unnoticed, and for the first time in Afghanistan’s long history of ethnic marginalization against the Hazaras put the ethnicity’s name on the electoral ballot… At any rate, Mr. Muhaqqiq’s ticket is unappealing to majority of the people of Afghanistan and his hopes of winning thin; and all the better for it one would think, given his poor credentials and his past involvements.
Another name that has come up lately as a competitor in the upcoming elections is that of ex-Communist party member, ex-Masood loyalist, and poet-author in exile Mr. Latif Pidram hailing from le pays de DeGaulle. His seems a voice for moderation and reason, and frankly I have not been able to dig up enough shady things about his past -yet. His past communist connections are as heart-warming (communism was a-la-mode back in the day in Afghanistan and all who got involved in it were not brainwashed KGB agents but included some very progressive intellects like Mr. Pidram) as it is bound to wash down his hopes of election amid the phobia and hatred for the defeated ideology in the Afghan society. Then comes his connections with Masood -now elevated to the honorary ‘hero of the nation’ status but none the less boasting a very criminal trackrecord in years following Jihad when his troops got ahold of Kabul and cleansed some of its Hazara-populated neighborhoods in the capital’s west. That may reduce his hopes of getting elected among this ethnicity’s members, notwithstanding that a person of Mr. Pidram’s consciousness would have certainly condemned the atrocities had his party loyalty allowed. And then one is not sure that for all his intellectual aura and life in the west, he may have picked a streak of Monsiour Le Pen’s nationalistic fever -afterall he is from Afghanistan and in this country you will find few who are so utterly ‘unloyal’ to their own ethnicity as to think outside its immediate bounds and work for the interest of the wider country… we may not have to wait for long to hear of Mr. Pidram’s agenda as he starts campaigning for September…
Then comes the female hopeful Dr. Masooda Jalal. Somewhat of a radical myself, and far too influenced by western feminism -I know, what a terrible thing to be in Afghanistan!- I would have certainly voted for this woman. But I would have done so with the sure certainty that an overwhelming majority of the country would not. Unfortunately for Dr. Jalal, but that sort of thing is a little premature given Afghanistan’s traditionalistic society…
That leaves us with a few more who follow in the dusty road behind, and you can be sure that in a divided country like Afghanistan surprises like India are not within the bounds of probability.
So… back again to Mr. Karzai who holds the front so far and is bound to do so until September; that is if he does not do anything else to alienate other ethnic groups. If I get a personal moment with him sometimes soon -a not so probable thing, but I am hoping to get to meet him this weekend- I would assure him that he can be Afghanistan’s John Kerry largely because of his electibility amid a row of not so attractive alternatives if he does not blow it, and if he assures the people that he would do what he looked like doing in the beginning of his administration and not the tapering down second part of it…