Ahmad Wali Masoud believes that investment in Afghanistan may be quite profitable
Experts admit to being baffled by what is happening today in Afghanistan. Many militias and clans are battling with each other, foreign military contingents are spread throughout the country, the economy is thoroughly crime-ridden, and other factors contribute to a very complicated scenario. Also, a powerful religious presence and the absence of a nationwide center of power have their impact on the general state of affairs. Those experts who met on the Issyk-Kul shores of Kyrgyzstan in early June did their best to sort out the mess. The forum they attended was entitled "Afghanistan, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Eurasian Security and Geopolitics". The following is an interview with Ahmad Wali Masoud, one of the organizers of the conference and the brother of the legendary Ahmad Shah Masoud, who led the Northern Alliance troops against the Talibs (Source: Ekspert Kazakhstan. Translated by Ferghana.Ru).
Ahmad Wali Masoud. Photo by Grigoriy Mikhailov
INVESTMENTS IN SECURITY
Question: The Ahmad Shah Masoud Trust and you have organized the conference. What assistance do you expect to receive from experts?
Ahmad Wali Masoud: What do I expect? I expect that you people will get down to the development of ties and contacts - economic, social, cultural, whatever - in all spheres of interaction. It is wrong to assume that you do not have anything to pursue in Afghanistan since NATO and countries of the West are already there. To put it simply, Afghanistan is part of Central Asia and not of NATO. It behooves neighbors to assist one another. We all are facing common enemies after all - terrorism, trafficking, and extremism.
Question: Has the conference lived up to your expectations? Would you say the level of the discourse was up to the magnitude of the task at hand?
Ahmad Wali Masoud: The impression I received was that many speakers at the conference were talking of the past. All the evaluations of the situation that I heard were based upon the past. What I'm trying to say is that it is wrong to paint everything in a monochrome. There is more to the world than black and the white, there are lots of hues and colors in it. Afghanistan is a vivid example. It's wrong to be saying that we are here and you are over there, we belong to one bloc and you to another. The Cold War is over, and so is the period when we could afford this logic. Afghanistan has entered a new era. It exists within a wholly different framework these days, such as its political situation, economic, social, and cultural sectors. It is our duty, therefore, to suggest a new definition of Afghanistan, one differing from the definition we used a decade or two decades ago.
Forget the past as the basis for current appraisals and evaluations! I know for a fact that people in your countries do not think that this is their affair anymore. Wrong! It is your affair! Whenever I meet people from Russia and Central Asia, I always urge them to go to Afghanistan and invest in it. Unfortunately, it is recollections of the past that makes them hesitate. Hence, I am confident that we must present a true picture of what is happening in Afghanistan.
Question: Business circles and even governments of our countries hesitate to launch economic projects in Afghanistan because they are completely in the dark concerning who among the locals may be considered a partner. Hamid Karzai's government, the Northern Alliance, tribal chieftains...
Ahmad Wali Masoud: The choice is yours. We have private businesses in Afghanistan. You are welcome to come and work anywhere, be it the northern or southern provinces. The more the investments, the more stable the situation will be. Spread investments evenly, in all provinces, and it will be a structure neither Taliban nor Al-Qaeda will ever destroy. Because you will give the people strength, you will stabilize the situation and win the people's trust. Moreover, you will win the confidence that people have something to fight for. It will make your own future secure. You will, therefore, construct a wall between Al-Qaeda and Taliban on the one hand and Kazakhstan on the other. Come and invest. Build a single school or a single factory, and it will add to the people's strength. And, of course, the people will be weak if nobody from our own government, the Western community or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization wants to tackle economic matters.
Question: When speaking of security, you apparently mean Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. What about trafficking?
Ahmad Wali Masoud: When speaking of security, I mean all of the above. Do not forget that trafficking is inseparable from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Question: Are you saying the Taliban is responsible for the production of drugs and their export?
Ahmad Wali Masoud: Sure. They train bombers who are ready to cast away their own lives (along with those of many others) which is an affront in the eyes of Islam. They are responsible for drugs, too. The end justifies the means, you know.
Question: How would you appraise the efficiency of military operations as an instrument in the prevention of trafficking?
Ahmad Wali Masoud: Well, fighting the Taliban and fighting trafficking are wholly different, of course. Yes, the Taliban should be fought, that much is clear. What is also clear, however, is the necessity to bag several major drug dealers. Bag them and prosecute. After all, their identities are not exactly a secret. Unfortunately, it does not happen. Burning out poppy plantations is another way... As a matter of fact, there are lots of things that may be tried.
As for military operations, they are necessary, too, but only when people are offered some economic alternative to the cultivation of poppies.
Where the Taliban is concerned, it is not to be defeated by arms alone. Why? Because it is not some well-structured group whose organized manner boosts its efficiency. I'd call the Taliban a bunch of ideas. What are these ideas centered around? We are true Moslems and true believers, and therefore fighting the infidels is our sacred duty. There were 28 officially registered medreses in Pakistan in the 1980s. These days, they number 36,000! How come this rapid growth over a relatively short period? Proliferation of Islamic ideas is the answer. This proliferation, in its turn, was fomented and encouraged by the mistakes made by the Americans, British, and others... It does not matter who these others were. What matters is that all these mistakes have bred a threat to global security.
I repeat, therefore, that the Taliban cannot be defeated by sheer strength of arms. The United States and the Western community, in general, should concentrate on the advancement of a dialogue with Moslems and with the Islamic world. Ninety-nine percent of Moslems are not extremists at all. If you want a dialogue, however, you'd better make sure that this dialogue is strategic and not tactical. The West, however, has been doing precisely that until now... I mean applying a tactical approach. What it comes down is this: the West elevates a convenient man, proclaims him a moderate, his enemies extremists, and that is that.
Question: What, in general, is your opinion of the US policy in Afghanistan and in Central Asia?
Ahmad Wali Masoud: It is wholly erroneous. On the one hand, the US Administration has only a very dim understanding of the actual state of affairs in the region because it lacks experts. On the other, it counts on cooperation with Pakistan, which never hesitates to promise assistance in dealing with the Afghani problem, but which always promotes its own interests. Islamabad is telling lies to Washington and the rest of the world. Its strategy with regard to Afghanistan has changed only at the level of its official rhetoric. Islamabad's actual policy, carried out by its secret services and first and foremost by ISI, never changes. ISI supports Taliban, it supports terrorism. ISI, itself, is part of the military regime backed by the Americans who are convinced that only the military may keep Pakistan in hand.
Behind the friendly bayonets
Question: What do you think of the ability of Karzai's government to rally the people and help different strata of society to overcome the discord?
Ahmad Wali Masoud: First, let us recall how this regime came to exist in the first place. A conference was convened in Bonn in 2001. There were two large Afghani delegations there and it was decided that this country needed a king as the head of state and that the Northern Alliance would nominate the premier. The king declined the offer, claiming that he was too old, and told his delegation, the so-called Roman Group, to elect the head of state among themselves. This Roman Group numbered 12 men. Sirad polled 9 votes and Karzai only 2. Sirad was to become the head of the provisional government, but the Americans stepped in and said, in no uncertain terms, that Karzai should become the head of the future administration. That's the level of trust Karzai had and the level of confidence he inspired in others. Well, we decided to put up with him for the time being. But what do you expect from people when they see above them someone they refuse to regard as their leader? They go over to the Talibs and become extremists. Fancy what was done to us happening somewhere in Germany! Germans would be extremists, too, but Christian or Jewish instead of Islamic. That goes without saying.
Question: So, what you are leading to probably comes down to the insufficient legitimacy of the political authorities of Afghanistan. On the other hand, Karzai's support by the West breeds extremism.
Ahmad Wali Masoud: I keep telling the Americans that if it is the presidency that they have in mind for Karzai again, then they had better be ready for serious problems in the northern part of Afghanistan. Karzai, the president, elevated to the office again with the Americans' help, will find the whole country rallied against him.
Legitimacy is not provided by the fact, itself, of elections. Legitimacy is something that has to be proven again and again. Karzai has lost the people's trust, his government is patently incompetent. Ask anyone in the street if he trusts Karzai. Show me but two people out of 100 who claim to have no objections to Karzai and I'll hail him for president myself. According to Radio Kabul, Karzai's popularity was 63% last year and barely 40% this year. That was a government-controlled broadcaster! Consider the results of his presidency: the production of drugs had enormously increased and, ditto, terrorism. The government is corrupt.
Question: And the nation is divided.
Ahmad Wali Masoud: Right. The head of the presidential administration I met with three weeks ago said Karzai wanted a dialogue. I said that not even my consent to it would change anything. Sure, I could agree to meet with Karzai but it would have been a dirty trick. People distrust the president. My support would have availed him nothing, but cost me the people's trust, too.
That's how things stand at this point: whoever decides to support Karzai these days will be sticking his neck out. Should the United Front, that replaced the Northern Alliance, say it wants a dialogue with the president, it will cost it the people's trust, too.
In a word, I declined this collaboration offer but said that if Karzai really wanted to accomplish something, he should establish a government of national unity comprising representatives of all social groups.
Question: Something like the Loya Jirga?
Ahmad Wali Masoud: Not exactly. Representatives of all social groups, all people who command respect, should meet, talk things over, and form a government that will have the people's trust and that will shoulder responsibility for the country. It will remedy the situation and allow for the organization of a free and fair election. Without it, the election will be accompanied with violence.
As a matter of fact, it is what all countries do in a crisis. Lebanon did so a short while ago. That's what we should do, too, establish a government of national unity to run the country until the election.
After the election, however, Afghanistan will need a different political system. Presidential rule does not work in Afghanistan and cannot work. All right, should someone replace Karzai as the president and should this someone turn out to be marginally better then the predecessor, even that will change nothing. Why? Because it will be the same system with the only individual on top of the pyramid of state power, the individual wielding a great deal of power, in theory, but actually unable to control the country. That is why I suggest amending the constitution and creating a parliamentary system. Let the president remain, as long as he is not the only center of power in Afghanistan.
Yes, most European countries had patrimonial systems in the 18th and 19th centuries. The king wielded all power then, and whoever wanted his slice of the pie had to be as close to the monarch as possible. By and large, that's what we have in Afghanistan these days. All state power is concentrated in one pair of hands and that's what makes it inefficient and unable to cope with the tasks the country and its society are facing.
Let us now consider the problem from a different angle. An attempt on the president's life was made not long ago. Let's assume the assassins succeeded. What would have it been like in Afghanistan then? Chaos and nothing else. Again, because everything comes down to a single individual who wields all power.
So, the system should be rearranged. First, it is necessary to make governance much more effective. Second, Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic country, and a parliamentary structure is therefore better for it from the standpoint of the promotion of everyone's interests. Interests of all ethnic groups, that is. No wonder 90% of the countries of the world are run by parliaments.
Question: And what is your opinion of the Lebanese model?
Ahmad Wali Masoud: There are lots of models and each and every one of them is adapted to a given country. Generally speaking, Afghanistan needs to abandon its vertical power system in favor of a horizontal system. Only then, will everyone from the Pushtu to the Khazareans to the Uzbeks clearly see their place in the overall picture.
Besides, the time has come to start advancing democracy from "downstairs". This practice of appointing governors preferred by official Kabul is vile. Let people elect their own regional administrators.
Question: But what if they elect a drug baron?
Ahmad Wali Masoud: Nothing is impossible. Consider America, a country viewed as a torchlight of democracy. Even America elects representatives of but several clans - the Bushs, the Clintons, the Kennedys... Not because they are all that great, I dare say, but because they have money for presidential campaigns. In any event, they are elected, but there is nothing to prevent the people from choosing someone else. Or to impeach and replace them, if and when already elected. Whoever will be elected to govern this or that province in Afghanistan does not matter as long as the person is elected as opposed to appointed.
And what do we see instead? Karzai promoted some protégé of his to the Baglan governorship, once. The province rejected the man and Karzai promptly made him governor of Fariab. Protests began in this province in 2007. They were crushed, and lots of people were killed when units of the regular army opened up on protesters. Guess what happened recently? Karzai made this same man governor of Paktia. If you ask me, the population, itself, should elect its own governors.
The problem is, Karzai does not need a new Afghanistan. He is doing everything he can to bring back traditional legitimacy based on three elements - the Pushtu, power, and religion. Consider how Karzai interferes with development of political parties. How he refuses to recognize the parliament as a bona fide political institution. All his staff decisions are ethnic-motivated. Karzai openly defies the parliament and prefers traditional structures like the jirga. Karzai plainly told Jean Arnault, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, that Afghanistan had been peaceful once, before ethnic minorities appeared. He spoke of the Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Khazareans who, according to Karzai, did away with stability but brought with them crimes and drugs. "You'd better help us with restoration of the previous system if you want Afghanistan stable again," he told Arnault.
American troops and the traditional set of values are all that enable Karzai to stay where he is. Remove the Americans, give democracy, freedom of expression, and human rights a chance - and Karzai will have to go. He lacks support even in his native Kandahar. Karzai does not even go there anymore for fear of assassination.
Question: The United States and NATO stand for reinforcement of military contingents in Afghanistan. They will probably be happy to see Kazakh servicemen there. What do you say to that?
Ahmad Wali Masoud: I've been saying to the Europeans and Americans, again and again, that if they want, in Afghanistan, a contingent capable of dealing with Taliban, they will never find anyone better than the old mujahedin. These people fought the Soviet Army, Taliban, and Al-Qaeda. They have the necessary experience and they have a motive. They can give the international community the victory it needs. Why not enlist their services, indeed? Alas, the Americans and Karzai are afraid. They fear that these people, the people the Afghanis perceive as heroes, may decide that they do not need the Americans and Karzai with them, after all.
As for the Kazakhs... we already have contingents from a score of foreign countries in Afghanistan. Well, bring in the Kazakhs if that's what you want. But a word of warning - their presence is not going to change anything.
TALIBAN IS NOT TO BE DEFEATED BY ARMS ALONE
Nikolai Kuzmin, Ekspert Kazakhstan, No 26, June 30, 2008.
© Translated by Ferghana.Ru