Rivalry of warlords 'hindering democracy'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 March, 2004, 12:00am

Afghanistan's democratic development is being hampered by conflicting interests in President Hamid Karzai's government, a Kabul-based analyst said yesterday.

Those differences were behind the fighting in Herat at the weekend, Helana Malikyar, who is working on the United Nations Development Programme's first National Human Development Report, said.

'A lot of people are talking about the provinces not being orderly, but the origin of the problem is in the Kabul government,' Ms Malikyar said. 'There are forces within the cabinet with different agendas and since each has its own militia force, it's not a coherent, central government.'

She blamed the splits on the international conference that put together the interim government in Bonn in November 2001. Intense wrangling over who should be represented - especially among warlords who helped overthrow the Taleban regime - had meant the creation of deeply-connected alliances. One such group, the US-backed Northern Alliance, had an upper hand in politics as a result.

Ms Malikyar said Herat's governor, Ismail Khan, had long been involved in a dispute with Mr Karzai, who had tried to remove him from his post last year.

But she said the move was not backed by Defence Minister Mohammad Qadim Fahim, a staunch supporter of the warlord.

Observers in Kabul believed the weekend unrest resulted from Mr Khan again being summoned to Kabul by Mr Karzai.

They said he was rumoured to have been told he had to give up his governorship in return for a post in the central government. He had rejected the order and returned to Herat to eliminate growing opposition to his rule.

Ms Malikyar said Mr Khan had enjoyed the backing of sectors of the Iranian government and, until recently, the US.

'There are quite different and opposing forces at work here. There is a lot of talk of democracy ... but the country is still very much in the hands of local warlords and commanders,' she said.

Mr Karzai's government had not been able to extend its influence much beyond the capital. Mr Khan, as the most powerful warlord, was one of the biggest impediments to democracy, she suggested.

'He told me quite frankly last year that Afghanistan needs a federal system of government whereby he can rule his own region free from the central government's influence,' Ms Malikyar said.

Elections to put in place a democratically-elected government were to have taken place in June, but have been postponed. Analysts now believe they will take place in September, to boost US President George W. Bush's re-election chances in November.