The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Karzai faces army test

New Delhi, Dec. 28: Hamid Karzai, the interim head of the Afghan Transitional Authority, has managed to hold together a tattered country after surviving two attempts on his life and the loss of his vice-president.

His real test, both as an able administrator and accomplished diplomat, however, will come in the days ahead. One of Karzai’s biggest challenges is developing an Afghan National Army.

He also has to redefine Kabul’s role in the provinces and put in place a Constitution, which will fend for and accommodate the aspirations of all ethnic groups.

In a way, all these problems are interconnected. An effective solution for one may well help him in overcoming the others.

On the downside, if the rot sets in in one of the three, it may spread to the others and consequently weaken the ATA and Karzai’s rule. It would also aggravate the situation in Afghanistan, a country trying hard to join the international mainstream after years of war.

Karzai’s biggest weakness is the lack of an army. Even his personal security is taken care of by the US. According to proposals, the Afghan National Army will be a small and effective force, not exceeding 70,000 soldiers, officials and bureaucrats.

The US and its western allies want the proposed army to be loyal to Karzai. This raises questions about the fate of current defence minister Mohammad Fahim and his band of loyal soldiers put together from the days of the Northern Alliance.

To build the army, Karzai will have to demobilise various militias commanded by independent warlords such as Abdul Rashid Dostum, Ismael Khan, Gul Agha Sherzai, Atta Khan and others.

These militias would have to be integrated into the national army and be persuaded to surrender their arsenal of AK-47 assault rifles, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery, field guns, multiple rocket launchers and towed-air defence weapons.

Putting in place a federal structure will be another challenging task. At the moment, Karzai’s writ does not run much beyond Kabul. The provinces are virtually run by independent warlords.

As some provinces share their borders with other countries, many warlords earn huge money in customs duty. Ismael is estimated to earn over $20 million a year this way. But he gives only $2 million from this booty to Kabul. Dostum and the leaders of other regions, too, are reportedly doing the same.

A new Loya Jirga, scheduled for next year, will decide on the future Constitution of the country and on a presidential government or a parliamentary democracy.

The Loya Jirga will also have to decide on the relationship between the state and Islam, and any likely need for Shia jurisprudence if the country decides on Islamic law. Shias are a sizeable minority in Afghanistan. One of their holy shrines is located in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Though Karzai and other Afghan leaders would have to ponder over these crucial issues, for the moment, the focus is on ways to expedite the reconstruction in the war-ravaged country.

Of the $4.5 billion pledged by the international community, nearly $1.8 million — as promised — has already been released in the first year. But most of this money is routed through NGOs and not the interim government.

There is a realisation that a large portion of the funds is being siphoned off to pay for the personnel and administrative costs of NGOs. So not only will the donors have to be persuaded to channel the funds through the government in Kabul, Karzai will also want projects to come up in the country that will not only rebuild infrastructure but help generate jobs for millions of his people.

All these factors are crucial for Afghanistan’s stability. If Karzai manages to meet these challenges effectively, it may perhaps usher in peace and normality in the country and help it in rejoining the international mainstream.

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