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The Bitter Experience of Governmental Paramilitary Militias in Afghanistan

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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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South Asia

The South Asian Triangle

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photo credit: UN

Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) Jaishankar has been a particularly busy man for the last few days. Even by his own standards, the last few days have proved intense and hectic.

A passing glance at his schedule gives us a snapshot of the scope of India’s contemporary foreign policy. Tackling a whole host of multilateral, regional, trilateral and bilateral relationships in a span of ten days, he has signaled India’s dexterity to engage in diverse relationships and juggle multiple balls at the same time.

The key takeaways of the last few days have been reformed multilateralism at the UN, South-South cooperation within the CELAC, CARICOM and IBSA forum, rebalancing in the Indo-Pacific through the QUAD and regional trilaterals like the India-UAE-France, India-France-Australia and India-Australia-Indonesia.

Seen by some as an ineffective talk shop, the minister also didn’t shy away from the BRICS foreign ministers meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA and demonstrated New Delhi’s willingness to balance ostensible contradictions with a straight face.

The minister’s visit also allowed India to undertake an honest stocktaking of its bilateral partnership with Washington. The press conference with Secretary of State Blinken captures the plethora of domains which have witnessed vigorous cooperation between the two partners over the last few years.

However, like mature states covering for their own interests, some disagreements naturally surfaced between them. Primary disagreements were over New Delhi’s oil imports from Russia and Washington’s sustenance of F-16s to Pakistan for supposed counter-terrorism purposes.

At a community gathering, Minister Jaishankar, referring to restarting of the maintenance of the F-16S for counter-terrorism, nippily quipped that the US was “not fooling anybody by saying these things” and questioned the merits of the US-Pakistan relationship. When the Americans were asked about it, the US tried to give New Delhi a taste of its own medicine.

Experts believe that if New Delhi wishes to demonstrate “strategic autonomy” by engaging multiple sides and maintain friends in all camps by engaging the QUAD, SCO and Russia at the same time, others might also seek to do the same. After all, whether one likes it or not, interests trump values.

It is no coincidence that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto also happens to be visiting Washington at the same time as his Indian counterpart. An urgent change in US-Pakistan ties is an important prospect from Rawalpindi’s point of view. In the short-medium term, Pakistan urgently seeks western assistance for rehabilitation due to the havoc caused by the recent floods. It also seeks to mend its crumbling economy when usual creditors like Beijing seem wary of lending.

Washington, perhaps, still feels that Pakistan’s geography doesn’t allow it to remain immaterial in its own strategic calculus. Pakistan shares close geographical proximity, and land borders in some cases, with Afghanistan, Iran, China and India. Washington also thinks that Pakistan could provide help in stabilizing Afghanistan while it remains preoccupied with Ukraine and China.

Coming back to US-India relations, some analysts believe that the bilateral relationship, despite all its progress over the last two decades, was witnessing signs of stress. They see minister Jaishankar’s visit as primarily aimed for damage control and corrective dialogue.

All said and done, the India-US partnership still remains one of the most consequential relationships of the century and holds immense potential in ensuring stability at a time when the global order is under a tumultuous flux.

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BJP’s ‘Akhand Bharat’ Dream is Not Only Problematic, Fascist Also

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Image source: burningcompass.com

On 7th September, Assam Chief Minister (CM) Himanta Biswa Sarma made a very controversial remark about ‘integrating Bangladesh and Pakistan’. Minister Sarma tried to counter Congress’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ and remarked that “India is united. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Silchar to Saurashtra, we are one. Congress partitioned the country into India and Pakistan. Then Bangladesh was created. If Rahul Gandhi feels apologetic that my maternal grandfather [Jawaharlal Nehru] made mistakes, if he regrets it, then no point of ‘Bharat Jodo’ in Indian territory. Try to integrate Pakistan, Bangladesh and strive to create Akhand Bharat.” Minister Sarma made the remark at a time when the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina was officially visiting India, hence present in India.

Though it may seem that the BJP leader was trying to ‘tease’ Congress, his rhetoric is a part of BJP’s controversial ‘Akhand Bharat’ concept- a concept of unified India that covers whole South Asia and Myanmar. The concept is therefore quite alarming for the sovereignty of all other South Asian states.

‘Akhand Bharat’ is a concept associated with Hindutva ideology. The concept cherishes for a mythological India that dates back to state formation and pre-partition era. The concept takes ‘Hindu hegemony’ as granted. Hence, the majoritarian concept is supported by right-wing Hindu nationalist parties of India such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Shiv Sena, and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) etc.

In the contemporary world, Akhand Bharat has a contrasting relation with Westphalian order. It tries to override the concept of sovereignty based on ‘so-called’ historical claim and calls for physical expansion- a fascist method to increase land boundary. Even though the concept was considered as radical in its early days, the prolonging BJP rule in the last decade has made it mainstream through like-minded media coverages.

While many cherishes this united India dream, the concept also faces ‘backlash’ from the progressive quarter of India. Unfortunately, the growing majoritarian trend since last decade in ‘World Largest Democracy’ is resulting in wider acceptance of the concept within India as BJP’s public support is skyrocketing. The promoters Hindutva is using India’s democratic culture and manipulating large population to achieve their dream. Assam CM’s latest remark mentioned in the beginning of the article while the PM of the particular country is present, also shows how mainstream the concept has become.

However, this fascist concept and Hindutva ideology is bringing adverse impact for India both internally and externally.  Internally, it is contributing in the growth of right-wing politics in India. The radical interpretation of Hindu Supremacy is also dividing the population of India creating a ‘Us vs. Them’ narrative which is detrimental to India’s federation also. For instance, when the BJP government scrapped Article 370 for Kashmir revoking its semi-autonomy, the right-wing parties were quick to acknowledge it as a part of building Akhand Bharat. In the same way, when former Pakistani Cricketer Danish Keneria expressed his desire to visit ‘controversial’ Ram Mandir(Temple) in Ayoddhya, the temple trust’s chief also used the concept saying that “Pakistan is a part of Akhand Bharat and Hindus living there are our brothers. If he (Kaneria) wants to visit Ram Mandir and offer prayers, then he is most welcome,”

As India is a federal union among total 36 states and union entities, the Hindu Majoritarianism poses threat to its social harmony and makes other religions minority. It also poses a threat to its social harmony by fueling hate-speech, Islamophobia and misinformation- popularly known as ‘WhatsApp University’.

Externally, the concept creates fear over sovereignty for other states included in Akhand Bharat map. There is always a fear in the back of the mind that India may have a ‘Kautilya-like’ long-term strategy to annex them. The annexation of Sikkim serves as an example for their fear, even if the case may be different. It is also a disrespect to the idea of sovereignty and self-determination for most small South Asian states. The Spillover effect of growing hate-speech and Islamophobia in India also adversely affects South Asia’s communal harmonies.

Again, this fascist concept also keeps a fear of physical expansion alive in South Asia- an overall peaceful region. The concept is also problematic for small South Asian states who tries to maintain a warm and balancing relation with India for their strategic calculation.

However, the fear is also not irrational considering BJP leaders’ so-called master-plan. Last year, Tripura’s CM and BJP leader Biplab Deb created a controversy by revealing that BJP has plan to expand its footprint by establishing government in Nepal and Sri-Lanka.  Such ‘expansionist dream’ is also contradicting to existing wisdom of international relations and law.

In conclusion, India is not only the world’s largest democracy but also has the role of ‘Powerhouse’ in South Asia. It’s ruling party’s such expansionist dream is a symptom of fascism and is only comparable to Mussolini’s great Roman empire and Hitler’s Lebensraum. Hence, the growing fear of physical expansion is rational. Therefore, Akhand Bharat and related speeches by top right-wing leaders are not only problematic, fascist also.

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Floods; A Challenge to Comprehensive National Security of Pakistan

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Starting mid-June 2022, flooding and landslides caused by heavy monsoon rainfall have brought widespread destruction across Pakistan. © WFP/Saiyna Bashir

Pakistan is encountering one of the major catastrophic occurrence in the present day history. The colossal floods, along with the glacier melt, have prompted 33% of the nation to submerge underwater with more than a million individuals being displaced along with a loss of above 43 billion.  The rising recurrence of floods, outrageous rainfall, and heatwaves have moved environmental change from a hypothetical conversation to an intense burden on the country and its people. Looking at the human perspective, the losses are too grave to quantify. However, in political terms, they address the missing area of climate security in the state’s national security paradigm, which could present existential difficulties for Pakistan.

Pakistan’s comprehensive national security is under stress by the adverse consequences of outrageous weather events across different areas. It isn’t just about financial security versus traditional security any longer. Comprehensive National Security can never be comprehensively achieved because national power comprises of all components and assets that facilitate the state to pursue interests. Hence, all these components, resources, and areas form the crux of what we call comprehensive security. Subsequently, to address the existence of multiple threats, an extensive perspective on national security is expected with an equivalent focus on all areas, while prioritizing climate security because of its seriousness and immediacy. The grave economic losses may be quantified in the long run but societal and political impacts also cannot be ignored. Pakistan’s representative of UNICEF, Abdullah Fadil reposts that “At least 18000 schools have been damaged in the flood, which have affected an estimated 16 million children. Many children are now at heightened risk, without a home, school or even safe drinking water. There is therefore a risk of many more child deaths.” International experts, humanitarians and Social workers visiting Pakistan have termed it as one of the largest catastrophe of the modern history. South Asian expert Michael Kugelman states “that the only hope within the flood victims is the International aid but it is slow to come”. The international world needs to respond to the aid appeals as a collective responsibility rather than a favor to Pakistan because the climate change crisis is largely driven by the world’s most industrialized countries.

The 2022 floods in the country have uprooted entire communities, finished occupations and revenue generation sources, and have drastically expanded migrations inside the country and levels of urbanization. Assume relief projects are not comprehensive and the impacted population feels that they have not been accommodated Post-catastrophe which they themselves didn’t create.  Considering all this, their confidence in the legitimacy or administering authority of the state could be antagonistically affected, creating threats of mass unrest. Destroyed homes, displacement within the country, and temporary camp-like arrangements have a potential of posing critical identity challenges and meanwhile create financial instabilities among impacted communities. Such aftereffects severely hurt the societal and political segments of security, undermining comprehensive national security. Such extreme climatic disasters account for short term reliefs along with long-term impacts on the resources of state. Increased displacement within the country, increased poverty with unemployment rate on the surge creates huge risks which directly impact the comprehensive national security. Violence against women tend to rise, Children drop out of school as there exists no infrastructure, food security is challenged, health security is badly endangered and quality of human life declines in a worst possible way. Extremists, Proxies and non-state actors may capitalize on resentment felt by the displaced. In short, human security is challenged in all basic forms.  So when human security is challenged, how can a state achieve comprehensive national security which itself places human as a center point.

Another challenge which is indirectly affiliated with the climate change is directed towards military. Pakistan’s military has played a crucial and a comprehensive role in flood through its rescue efforts, humanitarian relief and rehabilitation process. Military has rendered sacrifices in these flood operations especially when a Corps Commander along with senior officers embraced martyrdom in the Lasbela district in Balochistan while overlooking relief activities. The IPCC report itself states that Pakistan’s Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) will only increase over time. Military resources being expended to HADR will obviously take away military’s attention away from hardline security issues and put it under increased management stress in times to come.

It can be asserted that the comprehensive national security is under stress by the negative impacts of horrific weather incidents across the various sectors of the society. It isn’t only about economic security versus the traditional security anymore, because today what constitutes the national power and comprehensive national security isn’t only the traditional and economic security but all societal elements form a collective part of this comprehensive framework. Thus, a comprehensive outlook of national security is required with equivalent focus on all sectors, with a priority on climate and food security due to its immediacy.

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