Ahmad Shayeq Qassem, “Afghanistan: Imperatives of Stability Misperceived“. Iranian Studies, 42:2, 247-274.
Similarly, while the Afghan government appeared keen to disarm the predo- minantly non-Pushtun armed groups in the north, northeast and west of the country, it actually distributed more arms to the mainly Pushtun eastern and southern provinces in an effort to institute what it calls “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police” (ANAP). Rearmament of militias in these regions was carried out even when there were genuine concerns that the Taliban and drug lords were benefiting from it.
Whatever the Afghan government’s justification for the institution of the ANAP, the reality is that such tribal militias were also formed by previous Afghan governments including the last Afghan monarchy (1930s – 60s), Daoud’s Republic (1973–78), and the communist regime (1978–92). Past experience does not generate much optimism about their effectiveness as agents of stability. Pushtun tribal militias (Lashkars) were used by King Mohammad Nadir Shah in the early 1930s to suppress the non-Pushtuns in northern Afghanistan, thereby leaving a long trail of interethnic tensions that continue to haunt the col- lective memory of the northern communities to this day. Tribal Lashkars were also used by Daoud to destabilize Pakistan, the legacy of which poisoned the two countries’ relations. Similarly the communist regime used the Uzbek (Dostum) and Pushtun (Esmat Muslim and Jabar Qahraman) ethnic militias to suppress its opponents in various parts of Afghanistan during the 1980s. The institution of tribal militias under the euphemism ANAP has been criticized not only because it undermines the reconstruction of legitimate security institutions, but also because it leads to more interethnic tensions in the country. Certainly it has not been helpful in creating trust in the government, which is a necessary requisite for successful transition to political stability in all post-conflict countries.
The process of rebuilding the Afghan state has wrongly presumed that a strong unitary state was the most likely guarantee of political stability in the future. Such a view was based on the fear of the regional power-holders outside the direct authority of the government in the wake of the Taliban regime’s collapse. However, by constraining the constitutional avenues for pol- itical participation of popular political actors at the regional level, the Afghan state has an inbuilt potential for political instability. It has to maintain expensive security forces in order to contain the regional power-holders, who may other- wise resort to unconstitutional, and therefore destabilizing, ways of translating their local popularity into political power. Even if the state were to succeed in maintaining the required level of security apparatus, containing the regional power-holders will involve the use of force, or a constant threat of the use of force, by it. A political system that relies mainly on its coercive capacity to exact compliance from its citizens is not a stable political system.
An analysis of the situation in Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taliban regime cannot ignore the evident failure of the ethno-nationalist expatriate lea- dership which, as a bloc, had been generally perceived to be the main vehicle of political stability. Although the expatriate leadership is by no means united on all issues, its reliance on the military, political and economic support of the West as the principal means of preserving political power distinguishes it from the indigenous leadership. While they have effectively reduced the power of the indigenous leadership, their eagerness to manipulate international goodwill in support of internal political rivalries has contributed to instability in the country. The Afghan government deliberately underestimated the threat of the Taliban, causing a good amount of international focus to be reoriented to a relatively smaller challenge posed by the influence of regional power-holders. This allowed the Taliban to make a strong comeback and pose a more serious challenge to the stability of the new Afghan political system as a whole.