Events

Guns and Governance: Warlords in Afghanistan's Future

November 10, 2004 // 11:00am1:00pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Asia Program

Based on his October 2004 travel in Kabul and northeastern Afghanistan, Olivier Roy observed that effective Afghani government policies are resulting in the collapse of warlords' military power. Roy elaborated upon a distinction between warlords and commanders, suggesting that while warlords are losing the legitimacy they acquired during their jihad against the Soviets, it is commanders who are maintaining influence in Afghanistan today. Commanders transform their own family clans and supporters into local groups, relying on alliances with other commander-led groups to be integrated into a larger structure. In regions where the Afghani government has achieved representation and established ground forces, commanders have limited power. Roy argued that political Islam as a component of Afghani political identity has dissipated; political Islam as a component of Afghani social identity is still alive. He believes that the convergence of conservative Islam and anti-U.S. sentiment is not prevalent in Afghanistan, and he remarked that the presence of Western troops and non-profit organizations has had a positive effect in avoiding misunderstandings that could lead to such a marriage.

Radek Sikorski spoke about the progress toward stability that he perceives in Afghanistan, basing his remarks on staggered trips to Herat and surrounding villages. In 1979, the revolution against communism began in Herat. In 1987, Sikorski observed evidence of widespread massacre and destruction by the Soviets. During his visit to a remote village outside of Herat in 2003, Sikorski observed that many houses were still in disrepair, as the village was receiving no assistance from international or state-funded missions. Yet, the majority of citizens were registered to vote and registered to attend school. Sikorski's most recent stay in Herat confirmed that the city boasts steady electricity, industrial farms, a grid system that enables bustling marketplaces, Internet access, and most importantly, a sense a civic pride that had been absent for several decades. Sikorski suggested that increased stability in the Herat region could be attributed to the dedicated leadership of Ismail Khan, who was a mujahideen fighter against the Soviets and who ruled the city before the Taliban took over in 1995. Sikorski first met Khan in 1987 and was impressed by his long hours and open door policy in providing service to Herat's citizens. Shadowing him again in 2003 confirmed for Sikorski that Khan has been encouraging a well-balanced Afghan-Islamic nationalism through constructive appeals that are shifting the worldview of the populace.

Barnett Rubin cited Afghanis' dedication to a centralized hierarchical governing structure as an indicator that warlords do not have a future political role in Afghanistan. Warlords exercise power based on their personal control over local resources, and popular support for warlords depends upon whether they gain power in a predatory or cooperative manner. Before 2001, the only reason for supporting the Taliban was its ability to contain the warlords. Now that American forces have been credited with overthrowing the Taliban, Afghani citizens are reexamining what they consider to be an accurate representation of Islam. Neither the Taliban nor the warlords embodies this vision, and Rubin emphasized that there is no Islamist agenda in the constitution. Rubin identified several obstacles to absorbing local power-holders in Afghanistan: the slow pace of state-building and judicial reform; the absence of political positions that are not appointed by President Karzai; and the drug trade, which is largely responsible for the economic progress observed in Afghanistan over the past few years.

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