Jul 1, 2002
In June, a loya jirga, or, grand council, assembled in the capital city of Kabul, supposedly to select a new Afghan government. The U.S. government and media played up the event, calling it the first step towards a democratic Afghanistan.
Extensive news coverage was given to some of the speeches made at the loya jirga – as proof that democracy was at work. Delegates criticized the warlords who are responsible for the violence and destruction that has plagued Afghanistan for decades. But these speeches, just like those grandiose speeches we hear now and then in Congress, remained just that – speeches. The elected representatives who gave these speeches had no power whatsoever. The real power was wielded in deals made behind closed doors, by those same warlords who were the targets of these speeches.
In the end, the “new” government was mostly the same as the old government led by Hamid Karzai before the loya jirga. If there was any change, it was for the worse, for it meant the strengthening of the power of the warlords and religious fundamentalists. The elected delegates of the loya jirga simply rubber-stamped the power-sharing agreements made by the warlords.
These agreements are the same kind of deals that were continuously done and undone by these same warlords throughout the 1990s. Just look, for example, at Karzai’s three vice presidents.
Mohammad Fahim also kept his post as Defense Minister in the government. An ethnic Tajik, he is the military commander of the Northern Alliance and the successor of Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was assassinated last September. During the civil war between 1992 and 1996, when different warlords were fighting over Kabul, Massoud’s troops shelled the city and committed atrocities against civilians belonging to other ethnic groups.
Haji Abdul Qadir is an ethnic Pashtun, currently in control of the eastern city of Jalalabad. In 1996, Qadir gave shelter to Osama bin Laden when bin Laden returned to Afghanistan from Sudan.
Karim Khalili, the third vice-president, belongs to the Hazara ethnic group. After the Taliban came to power in 1996, Khalili aligned himself with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, until the Taliban turned against him and drove him out in 1998.
Karzai offered vice-presidencies to two other warlords, Uzbek Abdul Rashid Dostum and Tajik Ismail Khan, but they both declined. They apparently preferred to use their influence from their local bases of power – Dostum from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and Khan from the western city of Herat.
The important post of the Interior Minister went to the 80-year-old Taj Mohammad Wardak, who returned to Afghanistan this year from his 15-year exile in Los Angeles. Since his arrival, Wardak has been leading a battle against another warlord, Padshah Khan Zadran, over the city of Gardez – which both warlords are in the process of destroying in order to control it.
Karzai appointed Sheikh Hadi Shinwari, a fundamentalist, as chief justice. Shinwari’s first act in office was to accuse Karzai’s Minister for Women’s Affairs, Sima Samar, of blasphemy. When Samar had been brought into the “interim” government – the only woman so “honored” – Bush pointed to her as the mark Afghanistan is changing. But under pressure from Shinwari, Samar has now resigned from her post. Karzai also accepted the demand of the fundamentalists to call the government “Islamic.”
In short, it’s back to business as usual in Afghanistan. That means more war between warlords and more destruction, more repression against women and anyone who dares to oppose the warlords or religious fundamentalists, more extortion and violence against the population. Reportedly, extortion on the road is rampant again as it was before the Taliban. Looting and rape are also widespread, for example against Pashtuns in the areas controlled by the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance, the backbone of the U.S.-led Afghan coalition.
And Afghanistan is once more on its way to becoming the main supplier of opium in the world, as the warlords have now been freed to engage in the lucrative drug business again.
These are the warlords that the Bush administration calls “the good guys,” and this whole mess is what the Bush administration calls “bringing peace and democracy” to Afghanistan.
It would be laughable – if it weren’t for the price being paid by the population of Afghanistan.