Page 1 of 2 INTERVIEW 'Now, we don't cry anymore'
By Derek Henry Flood
Lieutenant General Abdul Hadi Khalid was the Afghan first deputy minister of
the interior for security from May 2006 to late June 2008. Specializing in
counter-narcotics, border policing and internal security, he announced the
largest drug seizure in history.
He lost his post after a dispute with President Hamid Karzai's administration
last year, but remains one of Afghanistan's leading thinkers on regional
ethno-political dynamics and transnational criminal networks. Derek Henry Flood
recently sat down with Hadi Khalid at his home in Kabul and discussed a wide
range of challenges facing Afghanistan's border security as a landlocked state
with six neighbors, as well as the post-Bonn agreement
successes and failures in the creation of the Afghan National Police.
Derek Henry Flood: Can you order the level of priority beginning
with the most challenging border situations for the Ministry of Interior
amongst Afghanistan's neighbors?
Abdul Hadi Khalid: First is obviously Pakistan. Then Tajikistan,
Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and finally China.
When [General Pervez] Musharraf was in power, his government claimed that the
main cause of instability in our region was the presence of the international
community and NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] troops in Afghanistan.
DHF: The Pakistanis claimed that NATO was a bigger threat to the
region than their own furthering of the Taliban movement?
HK: They denied this in those days. But we were sure of their
support for the Taliban. This was a cause of the sour relationship between
Hamid Karzai and General Musharraf. When the civilian government came into
power in 2008, they began to make some changes in the ISI [Inter-Services
Intelligence] and the army. The civilian administration led by Asif Ali Zardari
recognized that there was a problem. They told members of the Pakistani Taliban
that if you want to be a friend of Pakistan, you must leave some of the areas
under your control, such as Swat and Bajaur. But they [the Tehrik-e-Taliban]
resisted and they were dangerously close to Islamabad.
For a time, the Taliban in FATA [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas] were
useful to the Pakistani state because their relentless assassinations of tribal maliks
[leaders] led the Pakistani government to think it could finally reach the
Durand Line. But then they realized they could not control these Talibs. The maliks
enforced a rigid structure of independence from the central government but they
could be dealt with, unlike [Baitullah] Mahsud's men.
DHF: Is the issue of the recognition of the Durand Line as a
formal border a resolvable issue with Islamabad in the near term?
HK: There is a latent fear in the Afghan government that if it
formally recognizes the Durand Line as an international border with Pakistan,
there could be a mass Pashtun revolt. Nonetheless, yes, I do think the issue
should be solved. President Karzai averts his eyes to the Durand Line problem
because he does not want to risk an internal fight that would further
destabilize Afghanistan. The thinking has always been that Pashtunistan can
never truly be divided as the British attempted to do. We need to have good
relations with Pakistan in part because of the large number of Afghan refugees
still inside their borders. Like our other neighbors, Afghanistan needs
Intelligence agencies in Pakistan thought they could use a pliant Taliban to
destroy the tribal structure of FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] so
they could better control the border with Afghanistan. This was a huge mistake.
Once the Taliban had finished their war on the tribal elders, they set their
sights further afield in places like Swat and Buner, close to Islamabad. Not
only could these agencies not control these Talibs, now they are actively at
war with them inside Pakistan. Also there are people here who are sympathetic
to the idea of the reunification of Pashtunistan because they view this entire
region as historically Afghan territory since the Ghaznavid period [975-1187].
Afghans once ruled Kashmir but it makes no sense to reiterate these types of
territorial claims today. Pakistan cannot claim any control over Afghanistan
today. They hope to gain control of Indian-occupied Kashmir but seeing as they
could not even hold onto Bangladesh, I do not think their territorial
aspirations are at all realistic.
The tribal maliks stood in the way of Pakistan's desire to control the
Durand Line because the ISI knew the maliks would never accept the
presence of the Pakistani government in this area. Since the British era, the maliks
have exercised a great degree of sovereignty in FATA and they thought that by
killing [the elders] via their Talib proxies, the Pakistani Army and
intelligence services could finally gain control of the tribes. By decimating
the system of elders, Pakistan solved one small problem but created a much
bigger one for itself. They were greatly mistaken in thinking they could
control men like Baitullah Mahsud. Mahsud and the Pakistani Taliban had their
own ideology which contained goals conflicting with the Pakistani
But the problem of the Durand Line remains a serious one. You may have read
that Pakistan forces have physically attacked our border forces in recent years
and the situation there can be very tense [see Deutsche Presse-Agentur April
20, 2007]. Pakistan wants to control the Durand Line to assert itself but
Karzai believes it is only so they can divide and dominate all of Pashtunistan.
DHF: Now let's discuss the situation of your border with
Tajikistan and the resurgence of Taliban militancy in Konduz.
HK: The situation in Tajikistan is infecting Pakistan and the
rest of Central Asia. Opium, primarily from Badakhshan province, goes north
through Tajikistan while arms come south to us from Soviet-era stockpiles that
are being exploited. Some of these weapons [of Tajik provenance] are ending up
inside Pakistan. Afghan drug dealers buy weapons from Tajik smugglers and then
resell them for a tidy profit. They often double their money on these weapons
deals. Not all of these weapons are ending up in the hands of insurgents
either. As the security environment declines, villagers in affected areas are
buying arms and ammunition to protect themselves. In Tajikistan weapons are
cheap and they are plentiful. I believe that some Tajik border forces are also
complicit in this trade.
Our border police are some of the most corrupt in the world. This brings me to
an important issue. In Afghanistan, all of our police are drawn from the local
population where they serve whether they are on our borders, along our
highways, or in our cities. I wanted to make the ANP [Afghan National Police] a
singular, centrally controlled entity with truly national border police, not
just men raised from the villages closest to the borders. This practice leads
Another issue I had to deal with was the starkly differing approaches from
within the Western military alliance on how the ANP's training should be
conducted and how an Afghan policeman's job should be carried out. The EU
[European Union] member states believed the ANP's duties should be restricted
to civilian policing like their counterparts in Europe. Some Europeans even
said the ANP men should not carry pistols! I told the Europeans that if your
police can go to Ghazni with no weapons and come back alive then we would
consider disarming our police.
The Americans, for their part, had completely the opposite idea. They saw the
ANP as the lesser-armed and prepared "step-brother" of the Afghan National Army
[ANA]. The Americans view the ANP as a fellow frontline force in our
counter-insurgency war while the Europeans strongly proposed that the ANP be
removed from the conflict altogether. The Americans are soldiers that do not
understand the fundamentals of policing communities and feel the ANP should be
proper security forces. We had Germans who were training our police [the German
Police Project Office] at the Kabul Police Academy several years ago but they
did not do a good job because they put too many limitations on their mandate.
They could train police inside the police academy but not outside of it in real
Then the ANP training was taken over by EUPOL [European Union Police Mission in
Afghanistan] which made things far too complicated. The ANP became tangled in a
web of inter-EU bureaucracy. Let's say we ask for ten police from EUPOL. EUPOL
then has to go around asking EU member states to contribute individual officers
for these missions. If one member state says no, they do not want to send their
police, what can we Afghans do? Then the Europeans tell us that our police are
civilians and must not fight against terrorism because it should not be part of
their job. They tell us the fight belongs to the ANA and NATO only. Finally we
convinced the Europeans that, while yes, the ANP's first task should be law
enforcement and civil order, our police must be able to properly defend
themselves when they come under attack from insurgents.
On the murky issue of renewed fighting in Kunduz and northern Baghlan province,
it is likely related to the American negotiations with the Russian Federation
and several of the Central Asian states for the transit of NATO supplies to
Afghanistan. Another factor has been the disenfranchisement of the northern
Pashtuns with the renewed ascendancy of ethnic Tajik Jamiat-e-Islami actors in
the then-nascent Karzai-led government succeeding the Bonn agreement. The
traditionally dominant northern Tajiks led by Marshal Mohammed Fahim and Ustad
Atta Mohammed had no sympathy for the Pashtun power base in Konduz which had
allied itself with the Taliban [Kunduz was previously an enclave for Gulbuddin
Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami] and cleaved the Tajiks' northern security belt
between Balkh and Takhar provinces.
The Tajik Jamiat members in Afghanistan's central government sought to divide
the northern Pashtuns in a bid to lessen their power. For example, in Baghlan,
the new government picked a man named Amir Gul to be a district chief. But Amir
Gul has a very bad name in the local society and by putting someone like him in
power, the local people turn back to Hekmatyar and [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar
and say "Please help us" because they know Gul to be a corrupt man with a bad
reputation among his fellow Pashtuns. Pakistan, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and
Hezb-e-Islami were waiting for that moment [to re-enter northern Afghanistan].
DHF: What would be the motivation for Pakistan's ISI and military
establishment to foment chaos in Konduz and Baghlan?
HK: Well the first reason would be that they want to prevent NATO
from entrenching these northern transit routes. These alternate routes will
cause Pakistan to lose a lot of money from the Karachi-Torkham route. Pakistan
does not want to lose this money from NATO. Pakistan and the US have
historically been allies and Pakistan is scared that if America forms a new
relationship with Uzbekistan then Pakistan will be left out of future security
equations in the region. The second reason is that Pakistan still wields an
enormous amount of influence in Afghanistan and they do not want their role to
be diminished in any way. If Uzbekistan becomes stronger in Afghanistan,
Pakistan worries that its future is dark. So the reasons for Pakistan's covert
support of northern militancy are both economic and political.
DHF: What is al-Qaeda's motivation for being in this environment?
HK: For al-Qaeda, the fighting in Kunduz is a new window of
opportunity for them to regain a foothold in Central Asia.
DHF: How did President Karzai's pre-election pacts affect
stability in northern Afghanistan?
HK: Karzai has worked to split all of the original jihadi parties
dating from the anti-Soviet war. He believes that in causing these splits, he
can both weaken all of his opponents and create allies all over Afghanistan.
The splitting of [the Tajik-based] Jamiat-e-Islami between Marshal [Muhammad]
Fahim on one side and Dr Abdullah Abdullah on the other has been another factor
in further destabilizing the north. With the Tajiks divided against one
another, this creates a security vacuum for the ISI and local militants who had
Besides the resurgence of a formal terror network, Karzai's division of the old
parties has led to a breakdown in social order that the political parties once
maintained. This breakdown opens the door for criminal groups to operate. And
along with the criminal groups are the drug producers and smugglers. Iran has
been beefing up its border police recently in a robust effort to stem the flow
of opiates into Mashad and Sistan-Balochistan. So Afghan narco-traffickers are
looking for alternate routes. Tajikistan, with its inept and corrupt government
is a viable alternative to relatively strong Iran. Instability directly south
of the Tajik border eases the flow of narcotics northward.
DHF: Describe the Afghan Interior Ministry's view of its
relationship with Uzbekistan?
HK: Uzbekistan is the most important nation in Central Asia. The
situation with Uzbekistan's border security is much better than Tajikistan
because they have a very short border with Afghanistan combined with very
strong security services. During my time in the Ministry of Interior, we had
good relations with them [the Uzbeks].
DHF: Can you talk about the border with Turkmenistan and the
relevant situation of declining security in Afghanistan's Badghis province?
HK: Our relations with the Turkmen are also good but the
circumstances there are not as good as Uzbekistan for a few reasons. They have
a much longer border with many fewer police and the region of our shared border
there is very lightly populated on both sides of the frontier. This makes the
environment conducive to smuggling and other criminal activity.