Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Afghanistan's hard realities

Article by Robert D Kaplan on Afghanistan

Afghanistan is not some barbaric back-of-beyond, but the heart of a cultural continuum connecting the cosmopolitan centers of Persia and India. In fact, Afghanistan has been governed from the center since the 18th century: Kabul, if not always a point of authority, has been at least a point of arbitration. Especially between the early 1930s and the early 1970s, Afghanistan experienced moderate and constructive government under the constitutional monarchy of Zahir Shah.

A highway system on which it was safe to travel united the major cities, while estimable health and development programs were on the verge of eradicating malaria. Toward the end of this period, I hitchhiked and rode buses across Afghanistan. I never felt threatened, and I was able to send books and clothes back home through functioning post offices.

Ismail Akbar, a writer and analyst in Kabul, told me: “Thirty years of war and Pakistani interference have weakened Afghan national identity from the heights of the Zahir Shah period."

Karzai lacks the skill to build a popular power base like the one the late Afghan Communist leader Babrak Karmal was able to build in the late 1970s and early 1980s, or even like the one the Soviet puppet Najibullah built later on.

On Afghanistan's complex tribal structure:

The area was populated by Nuristanis, Kohistanis, and Pashtuns, all of whom harbored disdain for the Gujars, migrant farm workers from over the border, who, in their eyes, were “not real Afghans.” (So much for the argument that there is no Afghan national identity.) The Nuristanis, in turn, were divided into the Kata, Kom, Kushtowz, and Wai clans. The Kom were split into hostile and well-armed groups whose current divisions stemmed from the war against the Soviets in the 1980s, when some of the Kom backed the radical forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, known as the HIG, or Hezb-i-Islami-Gulbuddin, and other Kom sub-clans were loyal to the moderate National Islamic Front of Afghanistan. The Kata, meanwhile, were generally loyal to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (“Army of the Righteous”), which carried out major attacks against India from bases in Pakistan. The Pashtuns themselves were divided in some cases, on account of blood feuds, into five elements.

On making deals with Taliban and non-Taliban elements:

"The HIG already have members in Karzai’s government, and it could evolve into a political party, even though Hekmatyar may be providing alQaeda leaders refuge in Kunar. Hekmatyar has reconcilable ambitions. As for the Haqqani network, I can tell you they are tired of fighting, but are not about to give up. They have lucrative business interests to protect: the road traffic from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to Central Asia." Lamb, the former SAS commander, added: "Haqqani and Hekmatyar are pragmatists tied to the probability of outcomes. With all the talk of Islamic ideology, this is the land of the deal."