Man putting flowers in barrel of gun representing choosing peace over violence

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Afghanistan is struggling to achieve peace and stability. In the process, the government has to cope with both the problem of insurgency on one side and the warlords’ atrocities on the other. The latter problem was seen most recently in the case of Nizamuddin Qaisari, a militia commander in the country’s north.

The government led by President Ashraf Ghani has been struggling to sap the strength of the warlords. Like many Afghan citizens, the president himself wants to put an end to the warlords’ private armed militias. All of the warlords aggressively use their personal militias for political purposes, while at the same time undermining state security institutions.

In many weak and failed states, warlords expropriate from nations the chance of lasting economic growth and security. In most cases, societies have managed to eradicate warlordism, allowing the formation of a stable government and a structured state. However, the Afghan nation is still striving to pave the way for a stable government with the help of the international community and under the leadership of Ghani.

Now it’s time for the US to steer clear of warlords and extremist elements, including some Taliban, and incorporate technocrats in the Afghan system to build a nation based on democratic values

Now it’s time for the US to steer clear of warlords and extremist elements, including some Taliban, and incorporate technocrats in the Afghan system to build a nation based on democratic values.

Decades of civil conflict in Afghanistan have made warlords more powerful and assertive than putative state leaders. In mid-2002, Afghanistan had national government institutions, at least on paper,  but state leaders failed to create a functioning government system that could force out warlord rule.

Historically, gun battles, revenge killings, and business-related murders have occurred on a weekly or monthly basis in warlord-dominated areas. Furthermore, private international investment is rare in Afghanistan, because of insufficient assurance against the risks involved in carrying out business activities. At the same time, foreign aid is slow to arrive due to fear of attacks or kidnappings.

However, powerful actors inside the government have sought short-term benefits from warlordism, paying little attention to the future development of economic and political institutions.

The 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that the main purpose of any state was to keep anarchy at bay, so all inhabitants could go about their everyday business and invest in the future without fear.

On one side, the security and borders of Afghanistan have been breached by warlords like Qaisari and other militia commanders. On the other side, they control their home provinces. This is all due to inadequate efforts by the government of Afghanistan to oust all these warlords, which has proved to be a major challenge for the central government.

It’s even more challenging when the warlords prove to be stronger than the national government and coerce the central government to negotiate with them as in the case of Qaisari.

The non-functioning Afghan state

The absence of a functioning Afghan state makes other countries insecure as well. Because the international borders have been improperly controlled and managed and remain porous, weapons smuggling and other illegal trade activity have been widespread. Afghanistan has become a major supplier of heroin to the world, as its cultivation expanded to most of the country after the ouster of the Taliban in 2002.

The absence of a functioning Afghan state makes other countries insecure as well. Because the international borders have been improperly controlled and managed and remain porous, weapons smuggling and other illegal trade activity have been widespread

After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the US allied with Afghan warlords to bring about a massive change in Afghanistan’s governance. However, the US failed, because most of these warlords were unprofessional in delivering governance to Afghan citizens, and so the Afghan state remained dysfunctional.

Since 2002 the warlords have been funded by the US government and otherwise supported by neighboring states. The US has repeatedly given economic and military assistance designed to frustrate anti-Western agendas and bring stability. US actions have been severely criticized by human-rights activists because most of these warlords committed war crimes and other major atrocities.

But the US policy was fixed and never changed. During the long Afghan civil war, the US began supporting warlords against Soviet intervention in the 1990s, and even after 9/11 the Afghan warlords were a fundamental part of the US-led coalition war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It has remained a key tactic of US state-building and counterinsurgency operations in the country, but now it’s time for the US to realize its mistakes, that Afghan warlords have never allowed the state to function properly and achieve democracy.

Throughout the development of the Afghan state after 2002, the warlords were given ministerial posts and other influential positions such as police-chief roles and governorships with the blessing of the international community, even when they continued with impunity activities that undermined the state’s authority. The Afghan government, supported by the US administration, must compel the warlords to become “peace-lords” or else take action against their atrocities and activities that undermine state authority.

If Kabul and its American supporters fail to achieve this, the brutal insurgency of the Taliban, ISIS, and other international militants could bring more instability to Afghanistan and the region as a whole. It will be much harder to fight a two-front battle against warlords on one side and on the other side militant insurgency.

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Ihsanullah Omarkhail

Ihsanullah Omarkhail has worked as a consultant and political activist. He is a PhD candidate in the field of non-traditional security management at Zhejiang University, China.

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