Afghanistan and the Democratic Process
History tells us that Catherine the Great of Russia, who had added some 520,000 sq. km to Russian territory, mainly take away from the Ottoman Empire and the Polish Commonwealth, had dreamed as soon as 1791 that Russia was to have access to the warm waters of the Arabian Ocean, via Afghanistan.
When Shah Shuja, the last ruler of the weakened Durrani Dynasty came to power in 1803, the Persians attacked twice to take Herat from him; Alexander II of Russia and Napoleon of France had planned a joint invasion of India via Afghanistan; the Sikhs had taken away Kashmir and Peshawar from him; the Moghuls were too weak to give a protection; and the British were ever eager to expand northwards. Shuja was encircled and he signed a defense pact with the British.
Dost Muhammad, who ousted Shah Shuja in 1834, putting the founding stone of the Barakzai dynasty. At this the Persians laid siege on Herat for full three years, the Russians gave money, men and munitions to the Persians. The British fearful of Russian advance over Afghanistan made an alliance with Dost Muhammad, but when Alexander Burnes, in 1837, could not give him the help he asked for, over Peshawar, Dost Mohammad began negotiations with Captain P.Vitkevich, the Russian agent. The British were infuriated; they invaded Afghanistan and brought Shah Shuja with them to put him back to power – in the First Anglo-Afghan War. Thoughout the war period (1839-42) Shah Shuja remained on the throne, but at the end of the war, the whole British Army, short of Dr. Brydon, was massacred while retreating and the British made treaty with Dost Muhammad, reinstating him. The British kept on supporting Dost Muhammad against the Russians in the battlefields of the Uzbeks, the Turkmen, the Tajiks and the Persians; and he was also able to extract a handsome subsidy from the British. Later the British not only drew the Durand line as borders between Afghanistan and the British India in 1893, but lines were drawn between China/Afghanistan and Russia /Afghanistan too, under different treaties, because none wanted the other to enter Afghanistan.
Long story cut short, the Afghans have been a pivot between powerful imperialist contenders for centuries at a stretch, and every Afghan ruler had to ally with either the Russians or the British in order to survive in the Great Game of power that was merely sweeping the brave Afghan in its merciless tide. Before the British left in 1947, the Russians had tried to invade Afghanistan twice in 1925 and 1929; but after they had left, apparently it would seem that they had left Afghanistan open to the Russians, which it did invade in 1979, but had to retreat.
Perhaps if Afghanistan was so hard to concur from the outside it would have been a useful idea to try to change it from the inside! In fact the British and the Russians had tried to insert Soft Power in Afghanistan from the very beginning. When the British first made a defense treaty against Napoleon’s plans on Afghanistan with Dost Muhamad in 1835, they made the it part of the treaty to have a British resident stationed at the court of the Shah; in 1837 a similar Russian mission was stationed in the Shah’s court. When the weak Yaʿqūb Khan, grandson of Dost Muhammad came to power; he signed the humiliating Treaty of Gandamak (1979), with the British, this treaty also required that an English resident be stationed in the court of Kabul. When the British restored Shah Shuja’s rule for a short four years ousting Dost Muhammad in the 1st Anglo-Afghan War, William Macnaghten was appointed in the Court of Shah Shuja, who literally governed the country at the behest of the English. The sword-hardened Kings ofAfghanistan did not make such allowances in their courts in vain; they took gracious subsidies in return.
The possibility of directly influencing the Court was strengthened by the fact that each time one king of Afghanistan would oust the other, the renegade king would sought refuge in Russia, Persia or India, wherefrom he would return to regain his throne with new understandings between the protégé and the protectors. Ameer Abdul Rehman, grandson of Dost Muhammad, had fled to Tashkent, Russia and remained exiled there for 11 years before coming to power. His son Habibullah who succeeded him was particularly influenced by the idea of modernization, and he called back Mahmud Tarzi, a proponent of modernism and secularism, from Istanbul after an exile of about 23 years, Habibullah married Tarzi’s daughter to his son Ammanullah. Tarzi, who had formed the Young Afghan Movement, which introduced Jamal uddin Afghani style modernization to Afghanistan, was pro-Turkish and anti-British.
This was the time when the world was being set for the great human catastrophe of World War 1 - in the wake of the war the British made the Triple Entente with Russia and Francefearing Germany’s imperialistic intentions. Germany was in a Triple Alliance with Austro-Hungary and Italy, and Turkey was their ally. The Anglo-Russian Convention was signed in 1907, with the understanding that Russia will not interfere in Afghanistan which will be considered a British Protectorate. Perhaps between this complexity, the German Soft Power got a chance to enter the Afghans via Istanbul at this time, in the form of idealists like Tarzi. In 1919, with the 3rd Anglo-Afghan War and the Treaty of Rawalpindi, finally the British protectorate over Afghanistan ended. This gave Ammanullah the leisure to allow mass arrival of foreign diplomats and experts to the country, the opening of French and German schools in Kabul, and the signing of several bilateral treaties with Turkey, Persia, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. The Soviets aided Ammanullah with weapons and money, and helped him quash the Khost Rebellion.
It is interesting to note that when Bacha Saqa overthrew Ammanullah with a small band of Kuhestani fighters, it was Italy were Amannullah sought exile, a part of the Triple Alliance. And the next king, Nadir Shah, a Muhamadzai, and son of the Governor of Herat, was in France as an ambassador, at the time of this event, and he returned to claim the throne of Afghanistan via British India, wherefrom he collected military and financial support for the purpose of his concur, thus shifting the Afghan tilt from the Soviets to the British again. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan to have Ammanullah reinstated but had to retreat.
When the British left India, Zahir Shah, Ammanllah’s son was the enthroned of Afghanistan, his rule spanned 40 years. Educated in France, it was ensured that he would pursue British policies under his rule. He even provided aid, weapons and men to rebels who had founded the First East Turkestan Republic in the Uighur region of China, at the behest of the British. When Daud Khan ousted Zahir Shah in a coup d’état, again Zahir Shah exiled to Italy,part of the EU now, where he resided for over 30 years before he stepped back in Afghanistan in 2002.
Daud Khan had been brought to power by the efforts of the PDPA. PDPA, the socialist party of Afghanistan was established in 1965 by Nor Muhamad Taraki and Babrak Karmal, which later broke into the Khalq and Parcham factions; both men were die hard Leninist and Marxist, and Soviet favorites. Najibullah Ahmadzai was also a PDPA Parchamist; during Karmal’s rule following the Saur revolution,Najibullah was made head of KHAD, the Afghan equivalent to the Soviet KGB and a Major General. He reported directly to the Soviet KGB, and KHAD’s budget came from the Soviet Union itself; several thousands were arrested, tortured and executed under him to eliminate all anti-socialist elements. His ruthless efficiency made him hot favourite of the Russians, in 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev expressed support for Najib to replace Karmal as General Secretary of PDPA, thus letting him reign in power from 1987 to 1992.
On the other side, Zahir Shah had established the ‘King of Afghanistan’s Secretariat’ in Rome. When the Mujahedeen toppled Najib’s rule in 1992, the US/NATO had plans to use him as their proxy leader in Afghanistan. In 2001, Zahir Shah, issued a statement saying, ‘Taliban opponents have created a Supreme Council for the Salvation of Afghanistan. They have also created a “military structure with the participation of various resistance commanders and tribal elders (of the Northern Alliance) and some professional army officers… (that) will promptly begin its activities inside Afghanistan” and will “lay the foundation for a national security force”.
Almost a year earlier, the Loya Jirga Organizing Committee had gathered in Rome, Dr. ZalmaiRassoul, presently contesting the Afghan Elections,was head of Zahir Shah’s Secretariat in Rome, Dr. Zalmai Khalilzad of the Rand Corporation was present as an observer. In the meetings a ‘peace initiative’ was proclaimed that would result in the ‘convening of a Loya Jirga in Afghanistan’, and would require ‘drawing support for it from the international community’, especially Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany, France, UK, US and some others – and in October 2001 the US invaded Afghanistan.
In December 2001, the Bonn Agreement was signed under the auspice of the UN, wherein the members of the Secretariat in Rome and prominents of the Northern Alliance assigned Hamid Karazi, of the Popalzai clan, as chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority (AIA) and acting head of state of Afghanistan. Hamid Karazai’s family had held key posts in Zahir Shah’s government; he was completing his Masters from Simla, India, when USSR invaded Afghanistan. He returned to Pakistan and was hired a contractor by the CIA, as a link between CIA Director William Casey and his ISI counterpart.He was also hired by UNOCAL Corporation to negotiate with the Taliban on the construction of a Central Asia Gas (CentGas) pipeline from Turkmenistan through western Afghanistan to Pakistan. In the 1990s, Karzai had worked withZalmay Khalilzad, on the CentGas project, Khalilzad was President Bush’s Special National Security Assistant and member of the Rand Corporation.In 2000 and 2001, Karazai made travels to Europe and the United States collecting ground for a full out US invasion of Afghanistan. In an interview to BBC he said ‘“These Arabs (al Qaeda), together with their foreign supporters and the Taliban, destroyed miles and miles of homes and orchards and vineyards… They have killed Afghans. They have trained their guns on Afghan lives… We want them out.”
All this does not mean to malign the Northern Alliance;the truth is that the North had been the gateway for culture and civilization to Afghanistan. Most of the conquests were made from Persia or further north from into the North of Afghanistan. Bactria (Balkh) had been the seat of culture since the time of Alexander’s conquest;when Emperor Babur visited Herat (in ~1500) he wrote, “The whole habitable world had not such a town as Herat”.
Since the start of the 18th century, it was the tribes of the North that strived one after another to rid Afghanistan of the yoke of the rulers from Persia, and at the same time stood abreast to the imperialist designs of the Russians. The Abdalians– Durrani, Popalzai and Sodazay - were indeed the crown of the Afghans –they brought the passion for independence and the valor to fight for their freedom to the Afghans; but the crown is befit of the kings forehead only when all its diamonds and rubies are studded and neither one of them has fallen – the crown needs to be inclusive not divisive.
Perhaps this is where the Popalzai have done wrong, for centuries they have, being king of the land, kept enmity with the Pashtuns of the south, and tied up with the real enemies who had imperial designs over them. They have not considered the land of Afghanistan a sacred trust and a homeland for them and their brethren; rather they have used the land as a tradable commodity to extract subsidies from foreign masters. Today, after a decade of Russian invasion and another decade of the US invasion, the North is still ready to vie in an elections with all its candidates tied to different foreign strings.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a leading contestant in the elections, is a former World Bank employee, an expert of structural adjustment programs, and a former Johns Hopkins professor. In 2002, he was made Special Advisor to the United Nations and assisted Lakhdar Brahimi, the Special Representative of the Secretary General to Afghanistan, to prepare the Bonn Agreement. He was an ardent vocalist in support of the US invasion in foreign media.He favors the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States, which ensures an enduring imperial mastery of the US over Afghan soil, and a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) which will ensue a $2 billion a year(subsidy) for Kabul.
Mohammad Daud Sultanzoy, another contester, a former pilot of United Airlines USA, and a talk-show host there, was a strong opponent of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but supported the US invasion, and favors the idea of enduring presence of the US on the Afghan soil. Hewas an elected member of the emergency Loya Jirga (grand council) convened in Kabul in 2002.In an interviewin 2013, he said, ‘…the West is confused. They are looking for a very speedy exit. I’m afraid they will do whatever is possible and convenient to put up a very tenuous formula and a very temporary fix and then leave. Then things will go back to where it started. That’s the problem. The region has to realize that we have to find sustainable fixes for this problem, not temporary face-saving things for NATO to go away and leave a big problem for Afghanistan and its neighbors’.
Disappointingly, most contesters of this election will be seen talking in the same tone, as ‘not interested in the sovereignty of their country’, or in an ‘independent foreign policy’ or ‘a courage to build their country on their own’; they want foreign protection, they want to control their people and resources, but they want their interest tied abroad. Stationed in the middle of the country, they are so secluded from the spirit of the nation that the notion of ‘one united Afghan people’ has been completely expunged; they can but think of alternate masters if the US leaves them; will they be the Russians again, or the Indians or some other rich option – who can pay them the subsidies they crave for.
The Afghanistan Analyst has published a long list of international organizations and NGOs having offices in Afghanistan, they include IOM, WHO, World Bank, World Food, UNHCR, UN Habitat, UN Environment, EU-Afghanistan, UNESCO, United Nations Human Rights, United Nations Development Fund for Women, UN Development, UNDP Elect, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, along with several other UN projects and hundreds of foreign and local NGOs and their Western organizing bodies based in Britain, US, Italy and other countries, many specifically targeting women or children. What prosperity have all these brought to the common people of Afghanistan in ten years?None! Except for more chaos, as Afghanistan finds itself to choose between the pan and the fire; a completely secular, exploitative mindset and a completely Taliban-style Islamic Emirate!
Today when Afghanistan once again stands the trial of ‘free choice’, the question is what are the choices the Afghan is free to choose from, are his choices a set of already-chosen’s or is he expected to choose what his heart and mind desires. Does he desire to fly a flight in the open sky or is he happy in a cage of gold.