COMMENT : Afghanistan’s shrinking army and the clouds of civil war —Musa Khan Jalalzai
The defection brings into question the loyalty and professionalism of the Afghan police and ANA while they join the Taliban and private militias to kill and kidnap innocent civilians
The rising power of Taliban militias, defection of Afghan army soldiers and police to private criminal militia units, sectarian rivalries, ‘warlordism’, and massive corruption in state institutions have put in danger the future of the Afghan state. On August 5, 2012, the Afghan president accepted the decision of parliament to dismiss Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Muhammadi for their weak response to the internal security threats and the recent cross-border infiltration. The Afghan parliament blamed the two men for failing to stop Pakistan’s rocket attacks and political assassinations across the country. Although their removal could be a blow to ISAF and NATO military command planning to hand over security to Afghan forces, western officials have long argued that President Karzai must end the game of ethnic politics within the armed forces. The coming shake up in the defence and interior ministries will weaken the political and ethnic influence of the Northern Alliance in the police and armed forces.
Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the Afghanistan pullout could allow al Qaeda to return. Military commanders told Mr Cameron that Afghanistan’s future could be jeopardised if foreign troops are withdrawn too quickly. The issue of desertion of the police and ANA soldiers has put the NATO military command in doubt whether the ANA would be able to maintain stability after the US and NATO withdrawal.
Senior military commanders in the ANA headquarters recently confirmed the desertion of Afghan army soldiers in the thousands. At present, more than 15,000 ANA soldiers are absent without leave, and as many as 25,000 have in effect been written off as permanent absentees or deserters. The defection once again brings into question the loyalty and professionalism of the Afghan police and ANA while they join the Taliban and private militias to kill and kidnap innocent civilians at night. General Zahir Azimi, the spokesperson for the Afghan defence ministry, denied reports based on 47 percent of soldiers fleeing military service, but he accepts 18 percent desertion.
General Zahir admitted that out of 136,000 soldiers, only 68,000 can read and write but very poorly. According to a Washington Post report, last year 24,000 soldiers left their military job within six months. Afghan soldiers receive training and weapons from NATO forces and turn their weapons on them. An Afghan soldier who killed four French soldiers received money from a rogue recruiter to forge his enlistment papers. This is not a single incident; there are many examples of Taliban infiltration into the rank and file of the ANA.
On August 3, 2012, a commander of the Afghan police killed 11 civilians in Uruzgan province. ANA soldiers do not want to fight the Taliban. They suffer anxiety and frustration due to their uncertain future. A total of 900 Afghan army soldiers and police were killed in the past four months. In Bamyan province, on August 6, 2011, two New Zealand soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack while their six soldiers and 11 ANA soldiers sustained injuries. In June 2012 alone, there have been 100 assaults on Afghan soldiers and the police every day. Last week, the Afghan interior ministry spokesperson confirmed the death of 635 police within the last three months. Unfortunately, as security has deteriorated, the Taliban insurgency strengthened and public confidence on the Afghan artificial state institutions eroded. The foreign forces have the only option to turn to the idea of private criminal militias. Afghans have been paying a heavy price, caught between the indiscriminate attacks of criminal militias and terrorist Taliban since the collapse of the Afghan state in the 1990s. A local elder in Kundus province told Human Rights Watch (HRW): “The most powerful ones will sometimes select a girl and tell the family that they want to marry her. For families there are only two choices: give the girl, or leave the area and go to Pakistan or Iran.”
In 2011, according to a recent HRW report, a 12-year-old girl was raped in her home in a Taluqan village (Qulbars) by men wearing Afghan army uniforms. Private criminal militias, the Afghan army and the police kill innocent people, rape young women, detain men and women illegally, kidnap young girls, grab land and raid houses at night in Kunduz, Herat, Baghlan, Uruzgan and Mazar provinces. In the past 10 years, the Afghan army and police never behaved professionally. They failed to meet the security needs, and hence the central government decided to form private militias. Rising civilian casualties have increased since March 2012. The Afghan government continues to give a free hand to war criminals and human rights abusers as well as corrupt politicians.
In northern Afghanistan, specifically, militias are proliferating. Male and female prostitution is on the increase. All these misadventures and criminal militias, according to the recent report of HRW, have alienated Afghans from the national government. Afghan intelligence agencies, which represent four different political ideologies, many sects and ethnicities, provide dangerous weapons to warlords and state-sponsored criminal militias (Afghan local police, ANAP, CDF, LDF, AP3, CDI, VSO).
Afghan police, army soldiers and private militias enter houses at night, sexually abuse young girls and boys and harass their parents in northern Afghanistan. Once, in Baghlan province, in April 2011, HRW reported criminal militiamen entered a house, abducted a 13-year-old boy and took him to the house of their commander where he was gang raped. In Kunduz, in June 2012, Lal Bibi, 18, was gang raped by members of private militias. “I am already a dead person,” she said in an interview dejectedly. Sexual assaults and rape have raised serious concern in northern Afghanistan. The atrocities of warlords and their private militias in towns and cities has been the central issue of public debates. Many Afghans see the future of their country as bleak. Public support for the government has declined as the Taliban intensified their attacks on government installations. The prospect of civil war is very much there while the dismemberment of the country on ethnic lines cannot be ruled out.
The writer is the author of Policing in Multicultural Britain, can be reached at email@example.com