What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Shedding some light on the category 'ex-Taliban': Part two

Part two of an MStFB (Majaristanica) backgrounder mini-series (explanation regarding the term Majaristanica, and a message to C, below this post)
A bit more than a week ago I started a mini-series on people who may be called 'ex-Taliban', based on having played some minor or major role in the Taliban era. Today, the second part of this mini-series of mine will also be a new addition to my Uruzgan Series, because I'm going to write here about Uruzgan's current governor, Maulavi Abdul Hakim Munib. Do check out, for any contrast there is, the previous part of this mini-series on ex-Taliban, if you have the time. To people who have read that: I have also added a photo to that previous post on Abdul Salaam Rocketi, a photo that was made in 2006 by Péter Wagner, whose Afghanistan-focused blog I'm quite often referring to over here, and whose interview with Rocketi I had the chance to share with you.
Okay, getting down to today's post then, with a bit of a teaser beginning.
Have you ever had nightmares about people on the street looking at you weirdly because of there being a Wikipedia article out there, on you, which says there are rumours you have killed one of your wives, something that you can't read yourself because you are illiterate? (Try to put yourself beyond the absurdity of the question...) Well, Uruzgan's previous governor (from January 2002 to March 2006), Jan Mohammed Khan has had/is having that experience.
A respected figure from the time of the anti-Soviet jihad, said to have been imprisoned under the Taliban, JMK was accused both by the U.S. military, some local players, and the in-coming Dutch of corruption, mishandling of public funds, ties to opium-runners etc., at the time of his removal. He was also, however, a respected elderly member of the Populzai tribe that makes up a significant part of the Zirak Durrani Pashtun part of Uruzgan's population (about 40-45% of the provincial total), which in turn makes up a significant part of the Durrani Pashtun part of Uruzgan's population (the latter constituting 70-75% of the provincial total). He was one of them Tarin Kowt people, a factor (the factor of being a local) which tends to matter in every corner of the world, and so Dutch papers have by now come to write articles on how nice it would be to see him back in action. The Wikipedia article that I've cited above adds to the intrigue by claiming that JMK did use his political ties after his removal to undermine his successor's, Munib's, authority in Uruzgan. JMK is said to be a friend of Karzai's after all, all the more so given that the latter started his march on Kabul in 2001 from Tarin Kowt actually (see a description of the 'battle of Tarin Kowt' via the link), with his Populzai tribal relatives and allies being thus quite important in helping him get to Kabul in the first place. JMK was even given a ministry position in 2006 (at the Ministry of Tribal and Border Affairs), so he does seem to have remained a player even officially, after his removal.
As to Munib, well, what did he do when he got to office basically at JMK's expense? He had a major disadvantage to overcome: he is a Ghilzai Pashtun, from the Ali Khel tribe, from Paktia province. He came as an outsider. So he started saying things like this: "I’m not from here. Therefore, I have no tribal ties and can – and will – treat everyone with respect, dignity and equality." That's a good line, certainly, I mean if it's not good with the locals, it might have still been quite useful with his U.S. and Dutch backers. Here's a modern politician who will have to step beyond the terribly-terribly neopatrimonialist local context because that is in his individual interest (isn't that logical?). He also had political support becuase of his administrational skills (he speaks not just Pashto, but also Dari, and some English, has some experience, and is literate), which he might have tried especially hard to demonstrate after his appointment, by managing a number of projects quite well apparently (he "personally coordinated for thousands of pounds of needed supplies", as it is claimed here). He was also backed specifically because of being a former Taliban figure - he used to be deputy minister for border affairs, communication and transport. As the most critical take would suggest, "The Dutch explicitly wanted a former Taliban figure as governor in Uruzgan, says Uruzgan Senator Khairojan. They wanted to feel better protected against the Taliban."
Picture: Governor Munib (source: UW)
That of course was also a source of complications. Letting Munib handle any funds or get even a car or a mobile phone may be contrary to the sanctions ordered by the UN Security Council against persons on either the Taliban or the al-Qaida section of a list assembled by the Security Council's Resolution 1267 Committee (a body established on the basis of Para. 6 of Res. 1267). The U.S. and the Netherlands have jointly pushed for getting his name off the sanctions list, but Russia always stood in the way (Russia at the moment is not very happy with being called on to look at ex-Taliban politicians as sympathetic Afghan figures, apparently, perhaps since it might feel it is against its interests in the old geopolitical game focused on Afghanistan). What all the lobbying managed to achieve so far is that a remark on "Monib" was added to the sanctions list that says (quoting from the July 27, 2007 version of the list): "Renounced the Taliban and joined the government representing the Zurmat district in the Loya Jirga. Governor of Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, as of May 2007." His address is also given in a fresh format: "a) Hazarkhel village, Zormat district, Paktia province, Afghanistan b) Uruzgan province." (Never mind that his home district's name is written inconsistently.)
Munib can also count on Karzai's support. Even if it must have been somewhat uncomfortable for Karzai to remove JMK from the post of governor, Munib himself also has good ties to Karzai's circles. In December, 2001, when a convoy with Munib and others was headed to Kabul, they had to take a detour on a more dangerous road to the capital, having been sent that way by a local Paktia political opponent of Munib's (as his theory goes), and then a U.S. air strike killed some 60 people in his convoy. Already at the time when they were forced to take the detour, Munib and his men were frantically making phone calls to Kabul, suspecting the worst - which did come of course. But afterwards they were able to let their voice be heard relatively loudly in Kabul. They made the point that air strikes like the one they sufferred should perhaps be stopped (Munib even met Karzai personally over this). It was, I think, one of the most ironic moments of post-Taliban Afghanistan, when Munib casually told people at a press conference that not only was he an ex-Taliban but the rest of those present giving the press conference, too. For some, this was a revelation and a sensation.
His career in Uruzgan of course is a different story. Munib, after more than a year in office, doesn't seem like a popular figure there. The Populzai tribe must have regarded JMK's removal as a loss, and Munib, probably seeing how bad his situation could be, decided to bring in a new police chief for the province, General Qasim, a fellow traveller from Paktia province. He also immediately started demanding, together with Kandahar's governor, at least 200 police officers per district (instead of the 40 he had at the time, with about 20 of any such unit of 40 usually playing the role of body guard for the district police chiefs actually).
By now he is blamed for a worsening of the security situation. Some predictably suggest he's still working with the Taliban. Others say he had his political opponents attacked by ISAF, feeding them faulty intel (a charge that has a bit of a history from post-2001 years in the Uruzgan context, totally independently of Munib, and even ISAF). It is claimed he travels around only by helicopter, and therefore he is not a legitimate governor. And it is also claimed that the worsening of the poppy situation in Uruzgan has to do with him. The notable pattern here is that he is under constant attack from all sorts of Uruzgan-related sources: his most vocal critics are a pair of Wolesi Jirga members from Uruzgan, Sona Niloofar (she's a she) and Hashim Watanwal, as well as Senator Khairo Jan, as mentioned before. Arguably just like you could expect in the case of an outsider like Munib (regardless of what he actually does).
This New Yorker article on poppy eradication in Uruzgan claims that this year Populzai lands seem to have been left out of eradication attempts altogether, so Munib might be trying to score points with the Populzai on the poppy issue, again, just like an outsider is expected to do. (His job is not made easier by DynCorp eradication assistants, one of whom says in the New Yorker article that it's good "he's not an idealist", because otherwise he would want to hang local obstructors of eradication work, starting with Munib.)
For Munib, this situation may still not be that bad. He, together with other ex-Taliban who worked together with the Karzai leadership after 2001 (in the Loya Jirga or in any other way), is one of those whom Mullah Omar, on behalf of the Taliban, declared wajeb-ul-qatl (men to be killed). While there was relative peace in Uruzgan, he might have even scored some points with his late comrades by seeming to be a personal guarantor of favourable policy on the part of ISAF. He never claimed to have changed his thinking that much by the way, he said more than once that he's still essentially a talib, since he represents Islamic values, even if, and he claims consistency regarding this, he has always been a supporter of the view that women should be treated more equally, and not "as animals." Before he became governor, he used to have hopes of making it into the Afghan parliament even, but unlike for Abdul Salaam Rocketi, this didn't work out for him, so being governor of Uruzgan may be a good position to end up with, provided he can manage survival in a somewhat hostile climate.
Finishing this post with a remark by a poppy-grower who cultivates poppy in Tarin Kowt, the town itself, a certain Nazeer, "the governor simply has no power to do anything against (poppy cultivation - P.M.). Jan Mohammed was a much more powerful and respected figure here, who owns all kinds of property in Uruzgan." Apparently Nazeer is your ultimate political analyst. A smart local who, luckily for us, was ready to speak honestly (as all the indications are he was) when asked about all this that I have tried to chew through, digesting a lot of open-source stuff in this post.
* I worked quite hard on this btw, because C over at Afghanistanica has written such good things about this blog of mine that I felt it came with a huge amount of responsibility. Still I would add that I can only even try to undertake making up for C's lack of time to write these days if I do this together with all the others who are writing excellent commentary, in English, on (not only) Afghan affairs. I'll mention Joshua Foust and Bonnie Boyd here specifically, but of course not in order to diminish the value of the work done by others out there. (Check out this list of Afghanistan-related blogs C has assembled, here.) But still, it felt mighty good to see my blog getting the honourary title of Majaristanica, thanks! ;-)
Update: Safrang is back!

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