4 years, 10 months ago
I have long decried our irrational support of Nouri al-Maliki, who is a sectarian leading a sectarian party. His sectarianism may be part of the reason that Allawi, a Sunni, is virtually tied in the vote count with him. He allowed – and as Prime Minister, is accountable for – the dissociation of religious and political sects under the guise of the Iraq Justice and Accountability Commission. In many ways, the path forward has been more difficult in Iraq because of our alignment with losers like Chalibi and Maliki.
We mustn’t make the same mistakes in Afghanistan, but it appears that we are careening headlong into the same failure there.
The Taliban, who imposed de facto rule in Marjah in 2008, appear to have scattered since the offensive, but their influence still looms. The leaders of the insurgency mostly fled, locals say, and their shadow government – complete with Islamic courts and a “police” force – has disbanded.
But the residue of nearly two years of Taliban rule remains. Most midlevel leaders and the rank and file have simply melted back into the population. “They still have spies and supporters everywhere. If they catch us talking to the troops they can behead us,” says Musa Aqa Jan, a laborer, echoing a widely shared view …
Many of those who have fled have returned, however, and say they are ready to brave the possibility of Taliban threats. But for them an even greater potential danger lurks: the new government slated to take the Taliban’s place.
The man tapped to be Marjah’s governor is Abdul Zahir, a Helmand native who has spent the past 15 years in Germany and is unknown to most of the local population. He only travels with heavy protection and has yet to visit most parts of Marjah. It may take months before his efforts can be appraised, Helmand authorities say.
In the meantime, he is helping assemble one of Marjah’s key governing institutions: the local shura, or council. This group will draw from local notables and will aid Mr. Zahir in running day-to-day affairs. The Afghan government will ultimately pick the body’s members, but with input from the local population and Western officials.
It’s the makeup of this council that stokes the most concern among locals. At the heart of the fears is whether it will include a notorious veteran mujahideen commander who has played a central role in Helmand’s politics for more than 20 years. Abdur Rahman Jan was the province’s police chief until 2006, and he heads a 34-man council of landlords, elders, and commanders that ruled Marjah until the 2008 Taliban takeover.
While in power the council became so infamous for abuse that some say it turned locals away from the government. “The main reason the Taliban grew in Marjah is because of these people,” says Qasim Noorzai, a government official in Helmand who works with tribal elders from the area. A number of other government officials, Marjah elders, and locals agree with this assessment.
Marjah elders who met President Hamid Karzai earlier in the month insisted that their backing of the new government depends on whether the old officials are excluded, authorities say. “But they [the old officials] have really good connections and backing in Kabul, so they are not out of the picture yet,” says Mr. Noorzai.
As Afghan officials work to develop a new council, the old council is angling for influence in the post-Taliban administration. “We want to convince the Afghan government and the Americans that only we can stabilize Marjah,” says Muhammad Salim, a council member, interviewed in Kabul. He and more than a dozen others have traveled to the capital several times in recent months to lobby lawmakers and associates of President Karzai
Mohammad Moqim watches in despair as his men struggle with their AK-47 automatic rifles, doing their best to hit man-size targets 50 meters away. A few of the police trainees lying prone in the mud are decent shots, but the rest shoot clumsily, and fumble as they try to reload their weapons. The Afghan National Police (ANP) captain sighs as he dismisses one group of trainees and orders 25 more to take their places on the firing line. “We are still at zero,” says Captain Moqim, 35, an eight-year veteran of the force. “They don’t listen, are undisciplined, and will never be real policemen.”
Poor marksmanship is the least of it. Worse, crooked Afghan cops supply much of the ammunition used by the Taliban, according to Saleh Mohammed, an insurgent commander in Helmand province. The bullets and rocket-propelled grenades sold by the cops are cheaper and of better quality than the ammo at local markets, he says. It’s easy for local cops to concoct credible excuses for using so much ammunition, especially because their supervisors try to avoid areas where the Taliban are active. Mohammed says local police sometimes even stage fake firefights so that if higher-ups question their outsize orders for ammo, villagers will say they’ve heard fighting.
With corrupt government and corrupt police, there is little left for the population to do other than turn to armed gangs for defense. Enter the Taliban – again – after they have been dislodged by the blood, sweat and tears of U.S. warriors.
We are in such a hurry to develop a legitimate government and security apparatus that we are on the verge of developing an illegitimate one. We (or rather, the British) made this mistake in Musa Qala as well. If we are going to appoint rulers, the least we can do is appoint men who actually care about the people under their charge.