Sunday, August 20, 2017

Why We Fight: Chapter 97,453

KABUL, Afghanistan — The senior security official in northeastern Takhar Province was deferential when he telephoned Commander Bashir Qanet. After all, he was talking to one of the most powerful government supporters in the province, who has hundreds of militiamen under his command.

 “Please could you stop killing your own people?” he asked the commander, whose irregulars had just opened fire on a couple of dozen pro-government worshipers inside a mosque, during prayers, killing five and wounding 37. 

The commander responded with a profane comment about the caller’s wife — the worst possible insult to an Afghan — and slammed the phone down. At that point the death toll of Afghan civilians attributed by the authorities to Commander Qanet’s three-month-long rampage in Takhar was about 30 (seven in just the last week), none of them insurgents, but the police and security officials as of Friday had been powerless to stop him or his followers. 

“Game of Thrones” has nothing on 2017 Afghanistan when it comes to violence in politics and crassness in war, not to mention plots almost too complex to follow. Just to be clear: Both men on the phone call were supposed to be on the same side, putatively supporting the beleaguered government in Kabul. The country may be in the midst of a steadily worsening, existential war against a determined Taliban insurgency, but Afghanistan’s leaders in the government camp often seem mostly at war with one another. 

That has hurt the government’s efforts to tame the insurgency. It is no coincidence that many of the places where the insurgents have made their biggest gains have been in the northern provinces, where warlords have long held power — and often are deeply resented.

This week, the largest city in the north, Mazar-i-Sharif, was in turmoil after Asif Mohmand, a provincial councilman, posted on Facebook the week before to scold a supporter of the famously vain governor of Balkh Province, Atta Muhammad Noor, whose picture has been pasted all over the northern capital on giant posters. There is not even an election going on.

 “Twenty times I told you not to put up another poster of that pimp and miscreant Atta,” Mr. Mohmand told the supporter in a video online. “This time when I catch you, I’ll kill you, you shameless fool, I’ll pump 30 bullets into your forehead, and then help myself to you.” (It was not clear what he meant by the last phrase.) . . . .

According to the normally authoritative New York Times,
infighting among Afghan government officials is
hampering the fight against the Taliban.
Governor Atta, a notorious warlord himself and hardly one to shy away from a fight, sent his gunmen and a contingent of police officers to meet the provincial counselor’s plane when it landed, only to encounter Mr. Mohmand’s own armed supporters there to defend him from arrest. The ensuing firefight raged through the terminal and its parking lots, killing two, wounding 17 and temporarily shutting down Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport. 

These violent disputes in Balkh and Takhar Provinces are the most recent evidence of the infighting that is diverting resources from the fight against the insurgency and undermining public support. Similar government supporters have taken place in other parts of the country, including the capital, Kabul, where the first vice president, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was forced into exile this year after the authorities charged him with the kidnapping, torture and rape of a political opponent. 

The infighting could be traced to ethnic tensions, grudges dating back to the civil war in the 1980s and ’90s and the government’s shaky American-brokered coalition of bitter political rivals that is long past its expiration date. Parliament should have been disbanded two years ago and the executive branch is split between two antagonistic leaders — President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. 

The result is the central government does not really control large swaths of its own territory, even where the Taliban is not a factor. Instead, it cedes authority to warlords, some in government and some just aligned with it, who are too powerful to be subdued and often too angry at one another to focus on their common enemy, the Taliban. Such infighting among the warlords is precisely what helped catapult the Taliban to power in 1996. 

And many of those warlords are still on the scene, on the government side.. . .

The New York Times, Aug. 19, 2017

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