Feb 4, 2002
Starting at the end of January, a battle raged between the forces of two warlords over the city of Gardez, 75 miles south of Kabul. This battle shows what the future of Afghanistan is likely to be. Saifullah, one of the warlords with ties to the Northern Alliance, had been in control of the city, since the Northern Alliance swept past Kabul. But Hamid Karzai, the new head of Afghanistan who was hand-picked by the United States, appointed Padsha Khan Zadran to replace him.
Zadran was not appointed because of his devotion to the Afghan people, but because of his willingness to make a deal with Karzai, who needs reinforcements against the Northern Alliance. Zadran. has a reputation for corruption and brutality covering 20 years. Just last month he told the U.S. Special Forces that a convoy of Taliban and Al Qaeda were in the region. In fact, it was a convoy of tribal elders on their way to Karzai’s inauguration. The U.S. bombed the convoy, killing dozens of the tribal leaders. Their families say that Zadran wanted them bombed because they had refused his demand to support him as governor of the province of Paktia, of which Gardez is the capital.
Gardez, the city which Zadran attacked, has no paved roads, no proper hospitals or schools and no electricity except for the few rich who have a home generator. The troops of the two warlords shelled each other with mortars and artillery in and around the city, killing as many civilians as troops. A dozen children were killed and dozens more wounded. After his forces failed to take the city, Zadran issued a threat to devastate it: “I’ll kill them all, humans and animals.”
Both sides denounced the Taliban, and both sides included Taliban troops as they fought over control of the city. This is not surprising. After all, the forces of many warlords had rallied to the Taliban when they were taking over control of the country in 1996. Now, the Taliban troops are returning to the armed gangs supporting local warlords.
The recent battle at the hospital in Kandahar gives, indirectly, a picture of what happened – or, more exactly, didn’t happen in the U.S. war on Afghanistan. For almost two months, a handful of Al Qaeda gunmen held an unoccupied wing of a hospital. Neither the U.S. forces, nor local forces nor the central forces of Karzai’s government were ready to carry out the kind of fight needed to dislodge them. And yet, this empty building was held by only a handful of men – obviously if all the Al Qaeda and Taliban forces had made as determined a stand, there would have been no apparent, easy victory for the Northern Alliance.
But that wasn’t what happened.
With the invasion of the country by the U.S., many of the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces just melted away. They weren’t defeated. They weren’t killed. Most couldn’t be found. Some, of course, went into Pakistan. But for the others, many just merged with the armed gangs supporting local warlords. And now these local warlords are going into battle against each other with the population caught in the middle.
Karzai’s government in fact rests on these warlords who have their own armies and control their local territory. These local warlords in the government were the same men in charge of the government from 1992 to 1996, when they tore the country apart in a continuous civil war as they fought in shifting alliances to see who could grab more territory. Today, the same thing is resuming, with the population continuing to pay the price.
Hamid Karzai was being honored and feted in Washington DC as the salvation for Afghanistan when his warlord lost out in the battle for Gardez. So he had to cut short his trip to scurry home to try to cobble together a new “alliance.”
This is not the picture the Bush administration gives of Afghanistan. This is not a country freed of terror. It’s an Afghanistan being plunged into a more deadly terror.