JALALABAD – While al-Qaeda may have fled Afghanistan – and is now maintaining dormant cells in Pakistan and reorganizing itself in northern Africa – the anti-American jihad in the Afghan Pashtun belt is in full swing. As Asia Times Online has reported, this has been the inevitable outcome of a series of American blunders in Afghanistan.
Everybody and his dog is on board the new jihad to “kick out the foreign invaders”: infamous Pashtun warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; extra-well-connected Arab protege “Professor” Sayyaf; the “Emir of the Southwest” Ismail Khan; Mullah Omar (hidden in the depths of Kandahar province), the Taliban leadership and their former military commander, the formidable Jalaluddin Haqqani; and vast mid-level sectors of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Afghanistan everywhere is warlord country. Uzbek warlord General Dostum, currently vice-minister of defense, ignores Kabul, runs the north like a personal fiefdom, and is rumored to be very much interested in the jihad (Dostum and Sayyaf were always very close; Sayyaf was practically Dostum’s mentor). Ismail Khan runs the southwest – and he has joined the jihad. Khalil Khalili runs the center – but for the moment he is mum. Gul Agha Sherzai – who barely escaped the assassination attempt against Hamid Karzai in Kandahar recently – runs the south and remains cozy with the Taliban leadership. And the opportunist but weak Hazrat Ali – handsomely paid by the Americans – sort of runs the east, after the killing of Haji Qadir in Kabul, which the whole Pashtun belt is convinced was ordered by the Northern Alliance. Bacha Khan Zadran was in control of the southeast (Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces) until Kabul nominated another governor. Zadran collaborated with the Americans, but he won’t quit until he totally defeats Kabul.
Afghan returnees from the US and Europe complain – in vain – in Kabul that warlords still command thousands of soldiers, and deeply believe everybody needs their leadership. Although at the beginning of 2002 in Tokyo the international community promised US$4.5 billion in reconstruction aid, the Afghan population – especially the almost 1.7 million refugees who came back from Pakistan and Iran – see no tangible benefits, apart from the road Iran is paving from Herat to the Iranian border at Islam Qilla.
A crucial joint aid package from the US, Saudi Arabia and Japan for road building was announced last week to President Hamid Karzai in New York. The joint project will rebuild the backbreaking road – or rather moonscape – linking Kabul, Kandahar and Herat. The US will contribute $80 million, and Saudi Arabia and Japan $50 million each. (To meet costs, somebody has to still come up with $70 million.) The road should be finished by the end of 2005. The US Congress approved $255 million for Afghanistan in 2001, but the White House rejected part of that aid, and it has not made any request for Afghan aid in 2003.
Corruption is rampant in Kabul: even Kabulis criticize Karzai’s cabinet as a bunch of greedy American puppets. In the vast countryside, kids still cannot go to school – no schools have been built – and teachers have not been paid in months. Returnee advisers with top American diplomas are getting desperate: they admit that if the inefficient American-sanctioned Karzai government breaks down, it would be like the end of a ceasefire. All bets will be off,and the only ones to gain will be well-armed and extremely resentful Pashtun warlords.
All over the Pashtun belt there are three key recurrent themes: people feel totally ignored by Kabul, are sick of tired of the ubiquitous insecurity, and deeply resent the American presence. The Taliban are making a killing, distributing pamphlets all over the Pashtun belt, reminding people of the lack of security everywhere, even inside the bazaars, and that TV, music and movies are “forbidden by Islamic law.” UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Karzai both pleaded for a larger international force at a recent high-level meeting of donor and neighboring states in New York. Karzai begged for a few hundred extra troops in the main cities – like Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat – as a means of proving graphically to average Afghans that the international community was committed to Afghanistan’s security. The Pentagon once again vetoed the idea.
Amid so much doom and gloom, there is at least a ray of hope in Jalalabad. Nasirullah Baryani is the younger brother of the slain Haji Qadir and the current Nangarhar governor, Din Muhamad. He is also the brother of famous mujahideen commander Abdul Haq, captured and killed by the Taliban last November. They are all members of the grand family of Nangarhar – 100 cousins in only one generation. But now only two brothers remain alive: Baryani and Din Muhamad.
Baryani also fought the anti-USSR jihad in the 1980s. Afterward he “put away the guns” and lived for years in Germany (apart from Pashto and Urdu, he speaks fluent German and English). In these past two years, he lived in Peshawar, always talking about rebuilding Afghanistan. He came back to Afghanistan last November, after the assassination of his brother Abdul Haq and the fall of Jalalabad to the so-called Eastern Alliance – allied to the Northern Alliance. The Eastern Alliance supremo was none other than his older brother Haji Qadir, whose portrait now adorns every shop and 4X4 vehicle in Nangarhar.
Baryani was the only notable in eastern Afghanistan who did not want to be associated with the Americans. He now runs the Abdul Haq Foundation in Jalalabad, “Only money from the family, no help or aid from outside.” There are unconfirmed rumors in Kabul that the family wealth was built on heroin trafficking – but it does not matter. The main fact is that Baryani is not a Dostum, or a Fahim, a Sayyaf or a Hekmatyar.
Baryani’s motto is “put out the guns, pick up the pens.” This is scribbled on mud walls all over Nangarhar, especially on the road from Jalalabad to Torkham, on the Pakistani border. Baryani believes that the traditional loya jirga (grand council) system is capable of solving all of Afghanistan’s problems. He is obviously not talking about the jirga in Kabul in June which put in power the new Hamid Karzai government: there is a wide consensus in most Afghan provinces that the meeting was hijacked by the American envoy, “oil man” Zalmay Khalilzad.
Baryani is extremely critical of the Northern Alliance’s incompetence and of American meddling. Like any educated Pashtun, he views Kabul as controlled from Washington. He is especially critical of the fact there’s no Pashtun representation at the top. But at the same time he abhors the Kalashnikov culture, so he does not advocate a violent solution. Baryani is extremely suspicious of Hekmatyar’s motives – and does not see the emergence in the near future of a genuine Pashtun leader.
Baryani is involved in something absolutely unheard-of in post-Taliban Afghanistan: with the help of a German businessman, he is devising a strategic business plan to develop his province. Three key areas have been identified for investment: transport and commerce; orange culture (during the communist government in the late 1970s and early 1980s, orange culture in Nangarhar was a very successful model of socialist agriculture); and energy (the province has eight dams, and it could sell plenty of solar and hydroelectric energy). And most crucially, Narngahar is also the only province in Afghanistan with a network of functioning schools and qualified teachers.
Baryani is not in it for the money – or the power. The motto says it all, “Put out the guns, pick up the pens.” He’s one of the few trying hard. A recent United Nations report in Kabul, quoting figures from the Afghan Ministry of Education, confirms the daunting task. Only 3 million Afghan children – from a total of 4.5 million – are now enrolled in school. Afghanistan immediately needs at least 2,500 more schools and 30,000 more teachers. The average salary of a teacher is now 170,000 afghanis, a mere $36 monthly. The moral high ground of the international community will be mere rhetoric rubble if there’s no urgent help for Afghans to pick up their pens.