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The Bitter Experience of Governmental Paramilitary Militias in Afghanistan

Hamidullah Bamik

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Militiamen in Kunduz province, Afghanistan. © 2011 Ton Koene

Over the course of several decades, Afghans have been suffering from militias who have a wide range of uncontrolled armed forces. These militants include groups that engage tribal leaders, private security companies, groups of gangs, and insurgent groups. The most obvious term for the paramilitary militias in Afghanistan is the word “arbaki”. The term also includes non-responsible armed forces that have been created within the framework of official governmental military programs under Afghan Local Policy (ALP). The militias have been involved with any kind of group that has been involved in deadly tribal repressions, assassinations, smuggling, and extortion. Raping women, boys and girls is a common practice by the militants. Therefore, many of them have been accused of committing human rights violations.

After the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the Taliban-led rebellion has been intensified in the country. To deal with along with the insurgency, the Afghan government and its international supporters expanded the Afghan National Police by creating paramilitary militias in the form of the Afghan Local Police. This policy led to the reactivation of various armed and non-responsible groups, especially in the north of the country. Moreover, this policy indirectly paved the way for powerful local elders to create their own small militia groups to counteract the deteriorating security situation in their communities.

The Afghan government approved the establishment of ALP in July 2010, and this force was established on August 16, 2010, by presidential decree. According to the US Army and the Afghan Government, the Afghan Local Police were set up throughout Afghanistan to defend those areas in rural communities where the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army are inadequate. In other words, paramilitary forces were established for short-term tactical needs, such as working with the counter-terrorism team at border areas. ALP was a major effort to correct strategic problems in the war against the Taliban. It was argued that Afghan security forces are sent to areas whose inhabitants view them as foreign because of their ethnicity and race. Thus, how the Afghan government with the support of the US founded ALP.

Initially, the Afghan government decided to recruit about 10,000 people as ALP, but the US Congress has approved funds for 30,000 ALPs. In August 2011, 7,000 were recruited as local police. They receive almost 60 percent of the National Police salary, which is 165 euros, and dress differently. They serve on the front lines of the violence.

One of the key hypotheses that have laid the foundation of the Afghan Local Police is that, despite the existence of weak command structure hierarchies, the Afghan National Police (ANP) will control ALP. The key point here is that the number of local police in the districts they operate is higher than the official police officer in that district. In addition, the local police are supported by separate and informal networks of powerful government officials and local authorities that do not allow them to be questioned.

Moreover, the instructions given to the local police are not clear on the competencies of ALP. Similarly, it is unclear whether ALP follows the internal regulations of the Afghan National Police framework on interrogations, detention, and the process of handing over detainees to the ANP. On the other hand, ALP units are trained for three weeks, while ANP officers have six weeks of elementary education. Apart from this, after the end of ALP’s mission, there are no clear guidelines on the process of integrating and consolidating the ALP units within the ANP.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group on the controversial issue of mobilizing village people in the form of Afghan Local Police to fight against the Taliban groups and ISIS echoes that in most cases the local police program has led to the empowerment of local militias who are not accountable to the Afghan government. The report says that the local police program did not reduce violence, and instead of improving security in Afghanistan where they operate, the security situation has been worsened.

The International Crisis Group adds that although the local police program was considered as a temporary solution to the recruitment and escape of the Afghan security forces, in 2014, the Afghan government decided to increase the number of ALP from 29,000 to 45,000.The report of the International Crisis Group refers to cases of harassment by local police and illicit tax evasion by them. In the report of the International Crisis Group, allegations of sexual assault, looting, and imprisonment of people in torture chambers in dry wells filled with snakes by non-militias are also mentioned, for instance, in Faryab Province.

Before the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, Afghan people have experienced the establishment of similar paramilitary militias by the Afghan government, too. The first paramilitary forces refer to the ruling People’s Democratic Party – during the Soviet Union supported governments in Kabul in the late 1980s. The Kabul People’s Democratic Party backed by the Soviet Union founded its own paramilitary militias to fight against the Mujahidin and other rebels. Itwas one of the most terrible experiences that Afghan people tasted during in the late 1980s.

On the other hand, the US government also provided money and weapons to various groups of the Mujahidin to fight against the Soviet Union and its so-called governments. After the withdrawal of Soviet Union forces in 1990, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union took up the bloody Mujahideen wars. And left these militias to fight with each other for gaining the power. The US and Soviet Union backed governmental warlords and strongholds were lawless factions and ready for another armed conflict in Afghanistan.

The current paramilitary militias operating in Afghanistan are controlled by people who are called local power or warlords. These are the major warlords to former Mujahideen commanders who, at the time of the jihad against the Soviet Union, created a power base. And now their sources of power and support have expanded deep into the institutions of governance in the center and in the neighborhoods. Extremely inaccurate behavior of the militias has driven people from the national government and in some cases contributed to the expansion of the rebellion.

From its inception, the plan of arming local people against the Taliban was nothing but strengthening the local warlords on a wider scale. The Afghan government policymakers did not think that one day these warlords become uncontrollable powers that the government should enter into a bloody war to subjugate them later on. The US government is not at all worried about the fact that these ALPs are entering illicit drug trafficking and economic mafia and land usurpation because the US government only thinks about weakening the Taliban groups.

After the formation of the Karzai government in 2002, the Afghan government and its international supporters have pledged to disarm illegal armed groups and return them to civilian life. But such efforts have been largely demonstrative and ineffective. The personal interests of latent and powerful individuals in the Afghan government, as well as the financial, logistical and military support of the United States and other international forces from the militias, have undermined the process of disarmament.

Political experts argue that the Afghan Local Police and pro-government militias are dangerous, and the Kabul government should stop the call for their expansion. Instead, the Afghan government should take steps and measures to improve stewardship and supervision over ALP in areas that they operate. Additionally, the Afghan government should adopt serious measures to integrate ALP forces into Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) so that they can be held accountable to the Afghan government authorized entities. Now that the Trump Administration wants to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, the paramilitary forces can pose more serious threats to the stability of the Afghan central government if they are not disarmed and controlled.

Hamidullah Bamik is a Fulbright Scholar, education policy analyst, and a social development researcher. His research focus is on girl’s education and women empowerment, gender equality, good governance, and socio-economic development in South Asia but particularly Afghanistan. He has worked with World Bank Capacity Building Projectsat Supreme Audit Office of Afghanistan from 2013 to 2018 as a capacity building consultant. Currently, he is working as a social development researcher at Asia Culture House, a non-profit cultural and art organization based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Additionally, he is a frequent contributor on sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and social developmentissuesto Outlook and Etilaatroz, the two leading Newspapers in Afghanistan, and Modern Diplomacy, a leading European opinion-maker with far-reaching influence across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

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US geopolitical interests offer Iran sanctions loophole amid mounting tension

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Indian-backed Iranian port of Chabahar has emerged as a major loophole in a tightening military and economic noose and ever harsher US sanctions that President Donald J. Trump, reluctant to be sucked into yet another war, sees as the best way to either force Tehran to its knees or achieve regime change.

Alice Wells, the State Department’s assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, said during a meeting with Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani that Chabahar had been exempted at Afghanistan’s request.

The State Department said earlier that the exemption was granted because it was related to “reconstruction assistance and economic development for Afghanistan, which includes the development and operation of Chabahar Port.”

US officials said privately that the exemption was also a nod to India that sees Chabahar as vital for the expansion of its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asian republics.

They said it was moreover an anti-dote to the Chinese backed port of Gwadar just 70 kilometres down the Arabian Sea coast in the troubled neighbouring Pakistani province of Balochistan.

That may be a long shot, certainly as long as India like much of the rest of the world is restricted by the US sanctions in its economic and commercial dealings with Iran.

The exemption comes however as Chinese security concerns in Balochistan as well as Pakistan at large are mounting.

China’s massive US$45 billion plus Belt and Road-related infrastructure investment in Pakistan with Gwadar and Balochistan at its core has become a prime target for nationalist insurgents that has officials in Beijing worried. It has also reinforced long-standing doubts in some circles in Beijing about the viability of the project.

Dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC, China sees the project, involving a network of roads, railways and pipelines that would link Gwadar to China’s troubled north-western province of Xinjiang as a key economic component of its brutal effort to Sincize the strategic region’s Turkic Muslim population.

“China, you came here (Balochistan) without our consent, supported our enemies, helped the Pakistani military in wiping our villages. But now it’s our time… Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) guarantees you that CPEC will fail miserably on the Baloch land. Balochistan will be a graveyard for your expansionist motives,” a commander of the BLA’s Majeed Brigade said in a video message released a week after militants stormed a hilltop, highly secured luxury hotel in Gwadar, killing five people.

The BLA claimed a month earlier responsibility for an attack on a convoy on a highway leading out of Gwadar in which 14 Pakistani military personnel died and an assault last year on the Chinese consulate in Karachi.

The attacks and threats have prompted Chinese sceptics of China’s massive investment in Pakistan to express their doubts more publicly.

“Gwadar wants to be in the shipping business, but it has failed to do so. Pakistan’s economy is not very good, and this port has become very wasteful … under these circumstances, including with the hotel attack, how can China conduct its business? The roads and traffic cannot even be maintained,” said Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming.

While many in Pakistan believe that the BLA enjoys Iranian support and Iranians are convinced that Pakistan enables shadowy Islamic militants who have claimed responsibility for a rare suicide bombing in December in Chabahar and attacks on Revolutionary Guards elsewhere in the Iranian province of Sistan and Balochistan, fact of the matter is that both countries are vulnerable to Baloch insurgents.

The situation on both sides of the Iranian-Pakistani border is complicated by suspicions that the violence also has links to the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia and that the Baloch provinces of Pakistan and Iran could become a stage for a proxy war.

Amid reports that China has reached out to Baloch nationalist leaders in exile, Pakistani security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana cautioned that the exiles may no longer be in control.

“The new leadership of the Baloch insurgency largely hails from the educated middle class with urban backgrounds and is not hiding in Europe; therefore, it does not face the sort of constraints that exiled Baloch leaders do vis-à-vis Iran,” Mr. Rana said.

Mr. Rana noted that Iran’s influence in Pakistani Balochistan was visible in oil smuggled across the border, Iranian products in grocery shops and the supply of electricity to the coastal strip of Makran that includes Gwadar.

“For Pakistan, the security cost of CPEC is increasing which could frustrate the Chinese as well as foreign and local investors,” Mr. Rana warned.

For now, China confronts a more serious challenge in Gwadar, Balochistan as well as other parts of Pakistan that are struggling with un-related incidents of political violence compared to India and Chabahar.

That could change if the Saudi Iranian component of the low level Baloch insurgency spins out of control with the escalating stand-off between the United States and Iran.

Iran appears to have pinned its hopes that Chabahar will be shielded from the impact of regional tensions on the perceived US geopolitical need to protect India’s interest in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Said Pir Mohammad Mollazeh, an Iranian Afghanistan and Central Asia scholar: “US long-term geopolitical interests, due to the lack of relations with Iran, require India to maintain its position in the region and protect India as a partner in Central Asia… Chabahar port is considered to be a very important and strategic which is an opportunity for our country to enable Iran to reduce its sanctions by means of economic exchanges in Chabahar.”

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Pointless Colonial Massacres and Post-Colonial Wars and Killings on the Indian Subcontinent

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Two colonial mass killings from the twentieth century are always remembered:  The Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre on April 23, 1930 in Peshawar (then India, now in Pakistan) was the result of peaceful demonstrations protesting the arrest of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who had called for a nonviolent movement of ‘patience and righteousness.’  Authorities nervous at the size of the crowds called in the military.  The local Garhwal Rifles refused an order to fire.  A special city disturbance column and four armored cars were sent for;  they did not.  The number of dead vary with the source ranging from 20 to 400.  Whatever the figures, the incident legitimized the protest movement and creating a new Gandhi of the northwest in Ghaffar Khan. 

Pakistan since independence has had insurgencies — in the Northwest where Peshawar is located,in Baluchistan (ongoing) and, the worst of all in  its eastern half in 1971 that led to the birth of Bangladesh.  Estimates of casualties range from 300,000 to 3 million. 

This year is the centenary of the notorious Jallianwalla Bagh massacre in Amritsar.  April 13, 1919 was the day of Baisakhi, a major Sikh festival, so people had come to the holy city from surrounding Punjab villages and gathered to listen to speakers.  They were also unhappy with the deportation of independence leaders Dr. Saifuddinn Kitchlew and Dr. Satya Pal out of state to Dharamsala.  The protesters were mostly Sikh, the leaders being deported a Muslim and a Hindu, and India then secular in the minds of the people. 

Brig-General Reginald Dyer the local commander had banned all meetings.  To him the crowd gathering in the Bagh was a challenge to authority.  He took a contingent of Gurkha troops and proceeded forthwith to disperse what to him was an illegal assembly.  It is worth noting that Nepali Gurkhas are alien to the area, speak a different language, and look more like Tibetans.  The force took up positions on a raised bank at the main entrance and were ordered to fire on the unarmed crowd.  People tried to flee toward the other exits and in the stampede some were trampled.  Yet the firing continued for an incomprehensible ten whole minutes using up 1650 rounds and leaving hundreds dead and over a thousand wounded.

No respite for the Sikhs despite their anti-Muslim stance during the 1947 partition.  In 1984 following Indira Gandhi’s assassination by a Sikh bodyguard — itself a result of her military response killing Sikh religious zealots occupying the Amritsar Golden Temple — riots broke out.  An estimated 8000-17,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi and Haryana.  The connivance of the Delhi police and the Congress party has long been suspected, and Human Rights Watch has complained of no prosecution for the killings.  Ditto for the perpetrators of the Muslim pogrom in Gujarat during Narendra Modi’s rule.

While the callousness of the Qissa Khwani Bazaar and Jallianwalla Bagh incidents horrifies, the number killed pales in comparison to what has happened since independence.  Within months of freedom, India invaded the independent principality of Hyderabad, allied to the British since the 18th century.  An estimated 200,000 people were killed and many fled to Pakistan.

It also invaded, occupied (1973) and then annexed Sikkim in 1975, a Himalayan foothill monarchy since 1642.  The suppressed independence movement in neighboring Assam and the Northeast and other ongoing insurgencies across at least a quarter of India continue. 

In Kashmir, a decades long struggle for some kind of autonomy has cost tens of thousands of lives.  Estimates vary from 40 to 80 thousand.  Some Indians have a conscience:  Long critical of India’s stance, the Booker Prize winning novelist and peace activist Arundhati Roy has called the Modi government ‘reckless’ in its policy there.

The Muslim minority in India appears to be intimidated and abused.  A recent feature story on Chamanganj, a Muslim neighborhood in Kanpur, illuminates the distress and discrimination experienced by Muslims.  The Congress candidate never visits; the BJP candidate shows up hoping to capture some votes but his party’s policy is notoriously anti-Muslim.

The violence against Christians is also on the rise.  Opendoorsusa.org reports over 12,000 incidents last year, while the number of churches attacked rose dramatically from 34 to 98.  It has now become the 10th most dangerous country in the world for Christians on the 2019 World Watch List.

A secular India, the pride of Indian independence leader and its first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is under threat.  In its place, a muscular Hindu nationalist agenda enforced by goons from nationalist organizations has been labeled “saffron terror”.  The Hudson Institute called these attacks “not inchoate mob violence, triggered by … insult; rather they involved careful planning by organized Hindu extremists …”

The record is surprising yet evident:  Independent India has killed hundreds of times more people than the Dyer atrocity, and the present-day Indian subcontinent is becoming a noticeable contrast to the relatively secular country of 1919.  In India itself, the Modi government and its affiliates by encouraging Hindu nationalism must shoulder the blame. 

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The Durand Line Issue

Hareem Aqdas

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The Durand Line is a 2,200-kilometre debated border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was set up in 1893 between Sir Mortimer Durand, a British negotiator and respectful hireling of the British Raj, and Abdur Rahman Khan, the Afghan Amir, to settle the constrain of their individual circles of impact and make stride discretionary relations and exchange between the two nations. Afghanistan was considered by the British as a free state at the time, in spite of the fact that the British controlled its remote issues and discretionary relations. The single-page assertion, dated 12 November 1893, contains seven brief articles, counting a commitment not to work out obstructions past the Durand Line.

 A joint British-Afghan boundary overview took put beginning from 1894, covering a few 1,300 km of the border. Built up towards the near of the British-Russian “Great Game”, the coming about line set up Afghanistan as a buffer zone between British and Russian interface within the locale.

The line, as somewhat adjusted by the Anglo-Afghan Settlement of 1919, was acquired by Pakistan in 1947, taking after its independence. The forced Durand Line cuts through the Pashtun tribal ranges and assist south through the Balochistan locale, politically partitioning ethnic Pashtuns, as well as the Baloch and other ethnic bunches, who live on both sides of the border. It demarcates Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan of northern and western Pakistan from the northeastern and southern areas of Afghanistan.

From a geopolitical and geostrategic viewpoint, it has been depicted as one of the foremost unsafe borders within the world. Although Pakistan recognized the Durand Line as an international border, it remains to a great extent unrecognized by Afghanistan. In 2017, in the midst of cross-border pressures, previous Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that Afghanistan will “never perceive” the Durand Line as the international border between the two countries.

The Durand line remains a bone of contention between the two nations and a primary reason why Afghanistan and Pakistan have yet failed to establish cordial relations. Afghanistan claims a chunk of the KPK and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan on the basis that it was acceded to Pakistan, though it was originally a part of Afghanistan, with people dwelling on each sides having the same culture, language and way of life etc.

What is very clear is that relations between the two states have been tinged with hostility ever since Pakistan became an independent state in 1947. There are mainly two interrelated, historical reasons for this: the problem of the “Durand Line” — the shared but disputed border of the two countries; and Afghan support for the “Pakhtoonistan” movement in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP)

The questions is answered by both nations with a bias towards their respective national interest in mind, both Pakistan and Afghanistan claiming areas divided by the Durand line as their legitimate part.

Major accusations of Afghanistan over the Durand line are: its legitimacy period has terminated; it was in the original agreement between the British and the Afghans claimed its validity only for 100 years, which has expired. Nevertheless, neither Afghan government, nor the foremost dynamic advocates of this see have ever displayed any plain instrument demonstrating their claim. Nor do we discover, upon looking at the pertinent archives, i.e. the Durand Line assertion and the rest of the records confirmed until 1896 by the individual committees for assurance and boundary of the British-Afghan border, any arrangement confining the term of the understanding to 100 year time. It is undoubtedly a riddle how this supposition might spread over the nation without being addressed at all.

Another claim of Afghanistan in the de-legitimizing the boarded is that the assertions relating to it collapsed when the British exchanged powers to Pakistan. The agreement was done with British India and not with Pakistan. This was a main reason that Afghanistan was one of the very few countries that opposed the addition of Pakistan in the UN- since it alleged it of illegally annexing Afghanistan’s territory.

One more accusation to not accept the boarder comes as the understandings were persuasively forced upon Afghanistan-it is ethically unmerited- is certainly an issue worth encourage talk and contention. In any case, whereas one may concede the dispute to be fair and genuine, it remains deficiently to refute the status of the Durand Line as an international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Durand Line understanding of 1893 isn’t the sole point of reference in border assessment. At slightest other four assertions (of 1905, 1919, 1921 and 1930), which had the assent of both sides, must be counseled. Clearly, Afghanistan cannot claim that all of the afterward four assertions were concluded in a coercive environment, particularly the Kabul 1921 understanding for foundation of neighborly commercial relations, which not as it were marked but approved in 1922, and beneath which disobedience was traded by the agents of both states in Kabul.

The boarder is not rejected by any other party of the world except Afghanistan itself, making the Afghan case further weakened.

No matter how much Afghanistan retaliates over this matter, the Durand line is widely accepted as an international boarder and the afghan claim will likely not bear fruit. The Afghans should rather hold the British accountable for the “so said” unfair distribution and not Pakistan, since Pakistan did not decide into this matter at all but was a decision purely made between the Afghans and the British- rather battle the British towards their claim and not make this a political issue more than a legitimate claim.

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