Hamid Karzai, the US-appointed president of Afghanistan, is used to saying one thing and doing the opposite because he has little authority to make decisions; such is the plight of all puppets. After insisting for months that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held on time, he was forced to postpone the presidential election to October 9--a minor affair in troubled Afghanistan--but parliamentary elections have been postponed until April 2005. There is considerable doubt about whether these will be possible even then, given the precarious security situation. Karzai, however, faces another, more serious dilemma: his term as president ended in June, by the terms of the accord of June 2002, under which he was to be president for only two years. But such legal niceties can hardly constrain the American occupiers, who are the real decision-makers in Afghanistan at the moment: the US's invasion and occupation of Afghanistan were acts of international lawlessness and piracy by a bunch of greedy businessmen who seized power through fraud even in Washington.
Many observers familiar with the Afghan scene are unsure whether the rush to elections is wise. Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born US ambassador to Kabul who is regarded as the biggest warlord, made the fantastic claim on National Public Radio last month that six million people have already been registered to vote. The UN and other international observers put the figure at less than 10 percent of the population, mainly because of the activities of the resistance. In some parts of the country, such as the Panjshir Valley, Nuristan and Paktika, registration is at less than 0.6 percent, hardly a crowning achievement; in any case, most Afghans have more pressing needs: food, shelter, water and safety and security from the marauding warlords and their thuggish followers.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times (July 19), Ansar Rahel, a US-trained Afghan lawyer, revealed how most Afghans perceive the registration. People can register at many stations without having to show any identification papers, so they do. The reason is simple: they believe that it will entitle them to wheat and other food items, a belief that they learnt during their years of exile in Pakistan, where ration-cards were the norm. He told the tale of one elderly Afghan who confronted him at a registration-booth, demanding to know where the wheat was being distributed. When told that this place registered people for elections, the old man asked: "What is elections?"
Then there is the problem of lack of security. Kidnapping of children has gone up alarmingly. Huge ransoms are demanded; failure to pay results in children's fingers or feet being amputated; often they are murdered and their bodies dumped. Warlords on the payroll of the US government are behind most of the kidnaps. This is the result of the US obsession with fighting the Taliban and al-Qa'ida. American bounty-hunters and vigilantes, most of them convicted criminals, have also joined the spree. One notorious figure, Jonathan "Jack" Idema, a former US Special Forces soldier, was arrested and tried after a number of Afghans complained that they had been dragged from their homes by him, held in his "private" prison, and tortured. At his trial last month, Idema said that he operated with the full knowledge of US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Even if this claim is exaggerated, it is clear that the bounty-hunters are acting with the knowledge of the US military, to whom Afghan lives mean nothing. Idema had been interviewed by American television stations, Fox and CBS News, and presented as some kind of a modern-day cowboy. After initial denials the US army was forced to concede on July 23 that it had had dealings with Idema, but said that he was not working for them "officially".
Meanwhile, Karzai admitted on July 11 that the root-cause of most of the problems plaguing Afghanistan is the warlords, with their huge private militias. In a radio broadcast three days later, he threatened to deal with them firmly if they did not disarm. How he would go about this became clear on July 20, when he appointed three rebellious warlords to important posts: Mohammad Atta, a Tajik and opponent of Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, was appointed governor of Balkh province after he (Atta) had driven the government-appointed governor from office a few days before. Two other warlords, Khan Muhammad and Hazrat Ali, were made police chiefs in their respective areas.
Despite repeated threats, less than 10,000 of the estimated 60,000 militias have been disbanded. In addition, those recruited into government forces have a tendency to get the training and equipment, then disappear with them, back to banditry and pillage. The crucial factor in determining people's attitude is security; the government cannot protect itself, much less protect others. The various militia members know this; by attaching themselves to one of the warlords, often one from their own clan or tribe, they buy security for their families because group and tribal instincts come into play. This is something the government cannot offer. In addition, the US continues to undermine Karzai's authority by bribing various warlords to keep them from making further mischief.
Karzai admitted to the New York Times (July 12) that his government should get barely a grade D for achieving its goals. He said that corruption remains rampant and that failure of the disarmament programme is a source of great anxiety for people. But he is pushing ahead with the presidential polls because he knows he is widely expected to win, in a field of a dozen minor challengers. Several powerful northern political leaders and warlords have given him their support, almost certainly at the behest of the US, thus almost certainly ensuring his victory.
While Karzai and the US continue to strike deals with the most undesirable characters in the country, neither misses an opportunity to hurl accusations at Pakistan for "not doing enough" to prevent attacks by remnants of the Taliban. It was such allegations that forced the Pakistan army to launch its disastrous campaign against the tribesmen of South Waziristan. The government of general Pervez Musharraf has put its hand in a hornet's nest and created a long-term problem for itself by tangling with the tribesmen. Many of them are seasoned veterans of the Afghan and other jihads, and have given an excellent account of their fighting skills by taking on the far better armed but poorly led Pakistan army. The tribesmen are fighting for their honour, while the Pakistani soldiers are seen as mercenaries working for the Americans.
In Afghanistan, those opposing the foreign occupation forces have managed to disrupt US-led attempts to pacify the country by preventing Afghan puppets from pushing their agenda. Despite 20,000 US troops and thousands of NATO-led "peacekeepers", they have failed to provide protection to aid-workers, government officials or foreigners working on various showcase projects that garner publicity but do little to alleviate the suffering of ordinary Afghans. Both the UN and western journalists have been forced to concede that violence has turned many parts of Afghanistan into no-go areas for aid-workers. A spokesman for the NATO-led "peacekeepers" said that security is deteriorating as the resistance intensifies.
While the US has been threatening Pakistan with dire consequences if it does not stop the Taliban's attacks, one of its closest allies--Britain--has been negotiating in secret with the Taliban through Maulana Fazlur Rahman, leader of the Jami'atul Ulama-e Islam, a political party whose madrassas in Pakistan have produced thousands of recruits for the Taliban. The Maulana admitted in a newspaper interview last June that he was acting as a mediator between the Taliban and the British, who in turn were working on behalf of the US. British foreign secretary Jack Straw had met him on a visit to Islamabad, reinforcing speculation that it was in connection with secret talks aimed at providing a face-saving formula for the US to pull out of Afghanistan. Maulana Fazlur Rahman even made a surprise visit to London, where he is reported to have met officials from the British foreign and home offices, as well as intelligence officials. While the Maulana is a master intriguer who can spin on a dime for his personal benefit rather than the larger interests of the Ummah, it is revealing that at a time when Bush was entertaining Karzai in Washington (on June 15), his British stooge was negotiating secretly with the Taliban. Even Karzai has been forced to say that those Taliban who are not involved in "criminal" (read "resistance") activity will be permitted to participate in the elections. So far there have been few takers.