Afghanistan continues to be roiled by a violent Taliban insurgency, but reconciliation talks in Abu Dhabi have brought the warring parties a bit closer to peace, according to UAE officials. Photo: iStock.
Afghanistan continues to be roiled by a violent Taliban insurgency. Photo: iStock

While the Taliban’s violent insurgency continues in Afghanistan, corrupt politicians and warlords are injecting ethnic politics into the minds of Afghanis to undermine the government’s control and threaten the country’s security.

A so-called “Great National Alliance” was declared in Ankara, Turkey a week ago in the presence of Afghan First Vice-President Abdul Rashid Dostum and other Afghan politicians, including the powerful warlord Atta Mohammad Noor.

The warlords are agreed about two things: muscle and money. The warlords are deeply involved in the internal affairs of the Afghan government and they all have personal militias.

By any measure, the country’s stability hangs as much on the internal struggle between the Afghan strongmen as on the Taliban insurgency. Remarkably, the two forces — the Taliban, and the warlords — have fought with each other since Soviet invasion troops left the country in 1989.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the US came to rely on warlords in order to topple the repressive Taliban regime. Count this as a strategic mistake by the US in Afghan politics

They battled each other to capture Kabul, with the Taliban eventually seizing the capital. However, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the US came to rely on warlords in order to topple the repressive Taliban regime. Count this as a strategic mistake by the US in Afghan politics. Furthermore, criminal Afghan politicians have long depended on intimidation and coercion to sustain influence over Afghan civilians.

The government is facing two challenges. The country is politically divided between warlords and local strongmen on one side and reformist, educated technocrats on the other. The second challenge is the ongoing Taliban insurgency and other terror groups inside the country.

Fundamentally, each side is promoting different paths for the country’s future. Persistent Afghan government greed is the indirect result of 9/11, as Western intervention led to the payment of millions of dollars to former warlords and their militias.

The system is operated by Afghan politicians who threaten state security. The agitation among political forces is nurtured by unethical politicians seeking to safeguard their electoral constituencies. In addition, Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic country where it’s unthinkable that an ethnic Tajik will vote for an ethnic Pashtun candidate and vice versa. As a result, the warlords, regional strongmen, and militias divide the country into distinct power centers.

The system depends on international financial support, which has been handed to Kabul without conditions since 2001. To date, former jihadi leaders, warlords, and regional strongmen have profited from the earlier defeat of the Taliban regime. They are considered to be the country’s most influential political elites, having gained access to government facilities with the help of jobs in the bureaucracy.

These warlords and former jihadists are accused of human-rights violations. The elites in Kabul have deeply criminalized the politics of Afghans, with many of them involved in narcotics, smuggling, illegal mining, kidnapping, torture, and detention. Local strongmen openly promote ethnic and identity politics, fueling dangerous sectarian movements and polarization.

Hamid Karzai’s tragic legacy

This is a tragic legacy of former president Hamid Karzai, who sponsored the criminal networks, empowering local strongmen through financial aid deals and thus corrupting politicians.

The parliament is full of former warlords and strongmen who gain access through nefarious actions.

Most of the warlords are responsible for the violence in parts of the country. They establish control over the use of force in provinces and districts where they have installed militiamen.

Former commanders and combatants who fought the Soviet army and later the Taliban are at the disposal of warlords and jihadists. Some warlords use a combination of threats and rewards to keep the commanders in check. Furthermore, warlords favor their own tribe and clan, leading to corruption.

To hold the warlords and corrupt politicians accountable the judiciary system must be strengthened. The security apparatus must hand over corrupt politicians and warlords to the justice department. And removing strongmen and the warlords from the Afghan security sector will pave the way for transparent judiciary system.

The current government, with the assistance of the US, could influence and shape the Afghan political scene by holding accountable the warlords and local strongmen for their heinous acts.

Lastly, the Afghan government must also know that there is no difference between Taliban insurgency and nefarious acts of warlords and local strongmen — both of these forces cheat Afghan society in the name of politics.

Ihsanullah Omarkhail is a PhD candidate in the field of non-traditional security management at Zhejiang University, China. His research areas include terrorism, peace, state building, and China-US competition.