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What Lies Ahead in Afghanistan?
Deteriorating security, political developments point to change
Daud Khan (aimalkhan)     Print Article 
Published 2007-04-13 02:14 (KST)   
The kidnapping and subsequent killing of Afghan journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi and the formation of a political alliance by former communist and mujahideen leaders in the name of Jubha-i-Milli, or the National Front, were the two main developments on the security and political fronts ruffling government circles and created a stir among the people in the central capital of Kabul.

Besides the killing of the local journalist by Taliban militants, the other main events unfolding on the security front last week included the kidnapping of two French aid workers in western Afghanistan, the killing of five Afghan de-miners in an ambush by the Taliban in the same region, six casualties among Canadian forces in a land mine blast in the southern regions and a suicide bomb attack in Laghman -- the first such incident in that province.

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The emergence of several grave incidents in just a one week period can also be seen against the backdrop of earlier warnings from the Taliban's much-hyped Spring Offensive, which forced the NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces to launch air and ground operations in the troubled southern region of the war-battered country.

Although NATO had brought home some gains, like the pushing back of the Taliban from Sangin district of the lawless Helmand province, as a result of their nearly two-month long Operation Achilles, it cannot be said that they had curbed the danger to the point where the militants could not stage a come back.

According to Taliban commander Mullah Sharfuddin, who spoke to this correspondent over the telephone soon after their dislodging from Sangin, their retreat was tactical, and they would soon recapture the district after collecting and coordinating with their fighters.

The commander also argued that they had vacated the district to avoid losses to civilians and their property. By "property," the commander meant the opium poppies. He said the harvest was ready and that war with NATO and Afghan forces would harm the farmers.

The day when the Taliban vacated the Sangin district in Helmand, another group of the same militants stormed and captured Khahk-i-Afghan district in the neighboring province of Zabul. Other than that, Musa Qala district of Helmand has been under their control for more than two months.

Besides the security front, the formation of a new alliance in a country, where security and violence dominated every other activity over the previous two and a half decades, is being watched with utmost interest.

Already under pressure from a group of parliamentarians, a vast section of the society and the journalist community for their failure to save the life of an Afghan journalist, the announcement of a new political alliance in the name of Jubha-i-Milli doubled the worries of the Afghan government.

With former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani as its head, other main actors in the newly-formed alliance are Speaker of the Afghan parliament Younus Qanuni, President Karzai's chief of staff and Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, Karzai deputy Ahmad Zia Masoud, former defense minister and member of parliament Qasim Fahim, leader of the minority Hazara community Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, Energy and Water Minister in President Karzai's cabinet Ismail Khan and communist-era interior minister Sayed Mohammad Gulabzoy.

Former warlord and member of parliament Abdul Rab Rasul Sayaf and his erstwhile opponent and Shia leader Mohammad Mohaqiq and another Shia leader and President Karzai's second deputy Karim Khalili are not part of the newly-formed alliance, which is considered as a front against the U.S.-backed president.

Interestingly, all the names mentioned above, both in the newly-formed alliance and the president's camp, are facing charges of war crimes during the more than two decades of war and civil strife.

In its report some four months back, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (H.R.W.) had accused them of war crimes and demanded their trial. The report triggered much hue and cry among the warlords and prompted their supporters to organize a large gathering in Kabul to exert pressure on President Karzai not to approve any law that goes against the former warlords.

The formation of the Jubha-i-Milli has also become a hot subject because Afghanistan did not have a history of hectic political activities and formation of political alliances. Hence, many in this Afghan capital believe some secret hands were involved in gathering the former rivals, like former communists and mujahideen leaders, on a single platform.

President Hamid Karzai was the first who pointed finger at the formation of the alliance by announcing that the alliance had taken form with the blessings of some foreign embassies.

The leaders announced the existence of their alliance when President Karzai was in India to attend the SAARC summit. Soon after his return, he said the intelligence agencies had found clues to involvement by foreign embassies in the formation of the National Front.

Although Karzai did not specifically mention any country, analysts and political observers in Kabul have come to believe the Afghan leader meant his country's closest neighbors; Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and India (though India is not a neighbor state).

Asked about the involvement of any or all of the five countries in the new development, political analyst Wahid Muzdha told this reporter that its links to Russia might not be ruled out because the Afghan foreign minister, Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta, during his recent visit to Russia, had asked the government of that country to help Afghanistan's government instead of lending support to political parties there.

When the same question was posed to Danish Karokhel, senior Afghan journalist and director of the Pajhwok news agency, he said both Iran and Pakistan had a stake in Afghanistan, and an unfriendly government in Afghanistan would always remain a thorn in the flesh of the two countries.

He was of the view that Pakistan's involvement in the new alliance was a possibility because its terms with the incumbent Afghan government are far from cordial. Pakistan is also worried about the permeating influence of India, its arch rival, and Afghanistan and would not sit finger-crossed in the prevailing situation.

About Iran, Mr. Karokhel said that the country enjoys good ties with leaders like Burhanuddin Rabbani. Formation of such an alliance was a need of the hour for Iran because of its strained relations with the United States, he said.
Approached for comments, spokesman for the alliance Mustafa Kazimi rejected the allegations and speculations about the involvement of foreign hands.

Kazimi challenged President Karzai to sue the leaders in the court of law if he had any proof of their getting support from abroad instead of leveling "baseless" allegations.

He said their alliance had roots in Afghanistan and was formed to promote the ongoing political process in the country.

However, what worried the Afghan government and led to the speculation were the two main points included in the manifesto of the Jubha-i-Milli, namely: the switching over of the country's existing presidential system to a parliamentary form of government and the definition of the status of the Durand Line, the 2,640-kilometer rugged border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Observers believe leaders of the alliance are in favor of recognition of the Durand Line, drawn in 1893 by the then colonial rulers of the united India and which has long been a constant source of tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan (because the former did not recognize the border).

Only the future will show the consequences of the new alliance, which is also considered by many as the new shape of the former Northern Alliance, but it has given birth to two main groups and resurfaced the differences which remained suppressed for the previous five years.

The one group is the leaders and supporters of the Jubha-i-Milli, or the National Front, while the second is consisting of leaders who are supporting Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

If the developments continue to progress in the same direction, the situation might pave way for some sort of reconciliation with fugitive former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar on the ground that his Hezb-i-Islami party have around 40 MPs in the existing Afghan parliament, and their support for any of the two sides would certainly add to their strength.

However, the main impediment in bringing Hekmatyar back into the main stream is the United States, whose list of "most wanted men" also contain the name of the former Afghan premier.

Winning Hekmatyar's support against the National Front, President Karzai must get a nod from the U.S., the main backer of his government. At the same time, Karzai's opponents (the alliance leaders) might also establish contacts with the fugitive warlord (Hekmatyar) to turn his party men in their favor and exert more pressure on the government. In such a situation, they would have to raise their voice for the return of the former premier, who is hiding for fear of arrest or worse by the U.S. military.

What will be the outcome of the existing scenario is anyone's guess. But if the wave continues to move in its current direction, the situation might pave way for negotiations with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose party is also involved in an armed struggle against the U.S.; if not with the hardliner Taliban, led by another fugitive leader and U.S.' most-wanted man, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Daud Khan

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