“President Karzai has passed the first test set for him by the Western governments by cobbling together a cabinet containing acceptable figures.” So wrote Rahimullah Yusufzai, an alleged expert on Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal affairs and the Taliban and a senior editor for the Pakistani daily The News. Yusufzai continued: “Under pressure from the western nations that have invested heavily in blood and money to keep him in power, President Hamid Karzai has retained ministers favored by the U.S. and its allies in his 23-member cabinet and appointed new ones reportedly untainted by corruption. It was a tough balancing act for the beleaguered Afghan leader as he had to please not only the western capitals but also powerful Afghan warlords who had backed him in the recent presidential election.”
There was just one little detail: It is one thing for those administering the test to give a passing grade; it is another thing for the test to actually measure an ability to complete a task in the real world. In this case, over two thirds of Karzai’s nominees were rejected by the Afghan parliament.
Propped up by the US military, domestically, Karzai has ruled through fraud, intimidation, and bribery. This was also inherent in the election itself in Karzai’s choice for running mates. His primary running mate (and first vice president) was Mohammad Qasim Fahim. Fahim, a former leader of the Mujahadin during the war against the Soviets, suddenly became extremely wealthy following his entry into government after 2001. He is also considered extremely brutal, having been accused of executing many prisoners of war during the Mujahideen government of the 1990s and since then has been linked with both drug gangs and kidnap gangs.
In his nominees for his cabinet, Karzai appeared to by trying to balance between two complementary but also competing interests: Those of western capitalism and different warlords and regional powers in his home country. As Yusufzai reported: “Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said the Obama administration can work with the new Karzai government.” Unfortunately for the Obama administration as well as for Karzai, in the process, Karzai was unable to satisfy his own parliament.
Perhaps foremost amongst the latter group of Karzai appointees was Ismail Khan for the ministry of Water and Power. Khan is a local power in the Herat district and is considered a “warlord”. He is also considered both brutal and corrupt, and this made his nomination to this powerful post all the more significant. (Presumably the power of this post derives from the opportunities for graft and nepotism in it.)
In part, Karzai was playing the ethnic card with his selection of Fahim, who is from the northern area Tajiks. However, given his corruption and brutality, Fahim must not be very popular with the ordinary Tajiks. Thus, his ability to deliver votes must be based on his ability to control not how people vote, but how their votes were counted.
Karzai’s appointment of the likes of Ismail Khan shows his continued reliance on these types. “I think, unfortunately, that the criteria were either ethnicity or bribery or money,” said MP Fawzia Kufi to the Associated Press.
On the other hand, Karzai also appointed more “modern” politicians, many of whom were educated in the West, and who would be more responsive to the sensibilities of Western capitalism. One of these would have been Ms. Husn Bano Ghazanfar, nominated to head the department of Women’s Affairs. Educated partly in the old Soviet Union, Ms. Ghazanfar comes from a prominent banking family and is, herself, a major stockholder in the Ghazanfar Bank in Afghanistan. The only woman nominee, Ghazanfar, too, was rejected.
Some have claimed that the parliament rejected the candidates who represented warlordism and corruption, but many in parliament are themselves such feudal warlords. We should not forget the situation of Malalai Joya, former MP who was forced out by her own fellow MP’s in 2006, due to her open stance against corruption and war crimes as well as due to her being such an outspoken woman. In her last speech before being excluded, she had bottles thrown at her by her fellow MP’s and it was reported that one MP, Rasul Sayyaf, himself a reported warlord, had ordered a supporter to stab Malalai on her exit from the parliament. (A number of MP’s stood around her as she left, thus preventing any planned assault.)
Thus we see the quandary of US and Western imperialism in Afghanistan (and, in fact, in the entire Islamic world). They are combating a religious-nationalist force that bases itself on the most reactionary consciousness. As such, it is also based on reactionary, semi-feudal social relations. However, the imperialist powers must develop a base of support within the ruling class in this part of the world. They seek to build this base within the capitalist class there – for example the Ghazanfar family. However, this wing of the ruling class is relatively weak as well as having its own ties to the reactionary, semi-feudal war lords and other such elements. Throughout great swaths of Afghanistan, it is these war lords who really rule. The Ghazanfar’s of Afghanistan cannot overturn the warlords. This is true partly because they have direct links, both through family ties as well as economic links, with these war lords. In addition, upon whom could they call to combat the war lords? They cannot turn to the peasantry and the working class, who if aroused would then turn on the Ghazanfar’s of society also. So their economic and political interests prohibit this.
Nor can US imperialism combat these warlords, for the exact same reasons. At the same time, though, these same war lords, mullahs and the like also form the basis for the opposition to US and Western imperialism – al Qaeda, the Taliban, etc. We see this again in the case of Hammam Khalil al-Balawi, the person identified as the suicide bomber at the CIA station in the eastern Afghan province of Khost who killed eight CIA agents. Al-Balawi has now been identified as a double agent, who also worked for the Jordanian intelligence service.
US capitalism and its allies will never be able to defeat such reactionary forces as al Qaeda because they both depend on the same elements to survive. In a sense, they are their own worst enemies.