Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Central Authority Breaking Down?

The unity of Afghanistan is threatened by government infighting and the growing power of regional leaders.
By Wali Jan

A stroll through the centre of Kabul might leave the observer wondering who is really running Afghanistan.


The black, white and green flag of the Mujahedin flutters over the ministry of foreign affairs, while 50m down the road, the ministry of tribal affairs flies the flag of the former King Zahir Shah. It's a graphic illustration of how power in the country has yet to be centralised under the interim authority.


Constituted in Bonn following September 11, the new Afghan authority is dominated by members of Burhanuddin Rabbani's Jamiat-e-Islami faction, which governed Afghanistan before being ousted by the Taleban in 1996. Composed mainly of ethnic Tajiks, the movement formed the only armed resistance to the student militia.


Since it took over the running of the country on December 22, 2001, the interim administration has been racked by divisions and has failed to establish a single, centralised authority.


This can be explained in part by the Jamiat-e-Islami's previous record in government, when it proved hostile to other ethnic groups, from the Pashtun majority to the Uzbek and Hazara minorities. The movement now blames its unwillingness to form a broad-based government in the early 1990s on interference from the Pakistani inter-service-intelligence, ISI.


The murder of the minister of aviation and tourism, Dr Abdul Rahman, early February threw the factionalism which dogs the administration into sharp relief. Rahman had previously belonged to Jamiat-e-Islami, but left following an internal dispute. Some believe it was the product of a high-level rift between members of the movement and monarchists. Others think it reflected a tension between those Northern Alliance members who remained in Afghanistan during Taleban rule and those, such as the interim administration leader Hamid Karzai, who formed exile movements abroad.


Another sign of government rivalry came last week. The authorities' claim that they had foiled a coup attempt was seen by some as merely muscle-flexing by the Jamiat-e-Islami dominated defence and interior ministries and a new attempt to cow majority Pashtun political forces ahead of June's Loya Jirga, convened to select a new government.


In the provinces, many warlords who fought with the Northern Alliance have resumed power since the Taleban fell, and are using their private armies to extend their influence. Central government had to intervene in early January when the governor of the Paktya province, Pacha Khan Zadran, was driven out by forces belonging to a tribal leader known as Saifullah.


Numerous lives were lost in the conflict. In the north, tense relations between commander Atta of Jamiat-e-Islami and the leader of the mainly Uzbek Islamic Movement, General Dostum, are complicated by the fact that the latter has been given the title of deputy defence minister in the interim administration.


Moreover, some regional leaders have relationships with neighbouring countries, undermining their commitment to central authority. The governor of Nangarhar, Haji Qadeer, is said to be close to Pakistan, while Herat is ruled by the warlord Ismael Khan, who has close links with Iran.


In these circumstances, revenue raised through taxes at provincial level are rarely transferred to the central exchequer. "In most parts of Afghanistan, money raised in taxes is spent by commanders and influential people for their own benefit and does not reach the central bank," says Abdul Kader Fetrat, acting central bank governor.


A recent conference in Kabul attempted to address the issue of centralism. An event in itself, it brought regional governors together for the first time after 23 years of war. Karzai gave a keynote address at the gathering, which was also addressed by Ismael Qasimyar, who is in charge of convening the Loya Jirga, scheduled to take place in June.


Delegates from the provinces drew a picture of local chaos, in the absence of strong central authority. "We don't even know who our governor is," complained Mohammad Alam Mir Khail, from Wardak province. "Government employees haven't received any salaries for months and while some district chiefs are elected by the people, they have no budget to run their day to day affairs".


In a closing address, the minister of defence, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, urged the delegates to work towards stability, despite the problems they're encountering. "Afghan people are tired of war and bloodshed. We should prevent any new conflicts," he said.


However, analysts say that the selection of members for the forthcoming Loya Jirga commission is already breeding resentments in different quarters and for now it is difficult to see how such a fragile coalition as the interim authority will be able to impose its will on warlords across the country.


Wali Jan is a pseudonym for a Kabul-based journalist