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The Killid Group

Changes in army make way for peace

Written by Killid
Saturday, 10 July 2010 10:55


Changes in the Ministry of Defence have been expected for some time, especially since there has been concern expressed over the under-representation of Pashtuns in the army. Though Pashtuns make up 50% of the country's population, they have only less than 3% representation in the Afghan National Army, U.S. General William Caldwell, responsible for increasing the size of the Afghan army and police underlined last March. The force's ethnic makeup is a "very sensitive issue," Army Maj. Gen. David Hogg, deputy commander of the NATO Training Mission, told reporters already last year, a concern shared by former top commander, General Stanley McChrystal.

The issue becomes particularly important considering the fact that Afghanistan's conflict is most intense in the Pashtun-dominated areas of southern Afghanistan. In fact Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak has been speaking repeatedly of the lack of enrolment of locals from the southern provinces. Unless there is greater ethnic balance in the national army, the ongoing war effort against the insurgency could, in public perception, take on the character of a civil war pitting the North of the country- dominated by non-Pashtun ethnic groups - against the South.

Until now Bismillah Khan Mohammadi was the General Chief of Staff of the Army and the Defence Minister Wardak was unable to exercise full control or exert his independent authority on the army or even challenge the plans and performance of Khan.

Khan, a key member of Shura-e-Nazar, the military coalition under the guerrilla commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, had the backing of key members of the grouping including former Vice-President Ahmad Zia Massoud,  the powerful speaker of the Afghan parliament Younus Qanooni and, to some extent, by Marshall Fahim, the current Vice-President. He managed to take advantage of such powerful support to have his way on decisions on promotions within the army.

Though Karzai was looking for a way to remove Khan, he needed an opportunity that would be convincing to his U.S. friends. Circumstances came together to make that possible and the removal of Hanif Atmar from the Ministry of Interior provided an opening. Under pressure on various fronts, Khan had no option but to accept the post of Minister of Interior. This position is not without its importance especially at the time of the forthcoming parliamentary elections during which the Ministry of Interior will play an important role.

Following the changes at the top of the army ladder there have been some consequent changes in the Ministry of Defence. Anayatullah Nazari, former minister of refugees, has been appointed as the first deputy to the Minister of Defence and Sher Mohammad Karimi as the Chief of Army Staff. This will enhance the chances for Pashtuns to join the army and also increase the influence of Karzai as the commander in chief of the armed forces. Khan had stood as an obstacle to both of these.

The changes in the army followed the reshuffle in the National Directorate of Security and the removal of its chief, Amrullah Saleh, also a member of the Shura-e-Nazar. The removal of Saleh has allowed Karzai to begin negotiations with the Taliban.  This is what Pakistan was waiting for and with the removal of the two key officials Pakistan can breathe easier. However it can be considered now that both were removed with the concurrence of the U.S., which made no objection to these key changes. In fact the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke said that the U.S. had no doubt that they would be replaced by competent individuals. The coordinated efforts of Karzai to reconcile with the Taliban, with support from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan could not have been fruitful without these changes.

The four groups - Al-Qaida, Taliban, the Haqqani Group and Hizb-e-Islami, who are currently at war with NATO and the Afghan government, are linked to the countries in the region in one way or another. However it is the Haqqani, supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia which has recently been the focus of the media and the peace process. Even though Karzai's spokesman and the spokesman of the Haqqani group denied the reports of a meeting between Sirajuddin Haqqani and President Karzai, many experts who closely watch the developments in Afghanistan, believe that there have been initial talks between Karzai and three relevant Haqqani members: Ashfaq Kayani, Shuja Pasha and Sirajuddin. This is something that would have been difficult with the presence of Saleh in the NDS and Khan in the army.

Anayatullah Nazari, who used to work with the Islamic Union, founded by Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, is one of Karzai's allies. Anayatullah's presence will also be helpful in paving the way for Pashtuns in the army as well as for talks with the Haqqani group.

Pakistan has a positive attitude towards these developments, but India which has spent $ 1.5 billion in Afghanistan so far with more than four thousand Indians work in various reconstruction projects throughout Afghanistan, views these efforts by Pakistan as dangerous for India in the future and therefore opposes such efforts.

It is up to Karzai and his international allies to decide how far to move in this direction. The recent changes in the appointments may give Karzai greater manoeuvrability but may alienate him from the Northern Alliance. However that does not matter so much. The Northern Alliance is divided and Karzai has taken advantage of the situation.


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