My latest at FPM is about the security handovers in Afghanistan and the enormous challenges facing the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai.
Perhaps the biggest question mark is the Afghan government itself and the performance of its mercurial president. The shock of losing his half-brother and close adviser, Ahmed Wali Karzai, last week was compounded when another close confidant, Jan Mohammed Khan, was killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul on Monday. Some in Afghanistan are questioning whether Karzai’s government can survive once the handover is complete. One member of parliament told the Guardian newspaper, “These killings show the weakness of failure of Karzai’s politics. The situation is crisis. Karzai has lost control of the country.”
In fact, Karzai is scrambling to fill the void of his half-brother’s death, casting about for someone who can fill the hole in his leadership circle in Kandahar province, the most crucial area of the country. According to the Washington Post, several candidates are being considered, including Gul Agha Shirzai, the governor of eastern Nangahar province, who would replace the current governor of Kandahar. But tribal jealousies — Shirzai is of a different tribe than Karzai — might make that choice problematic.
Regardless, the dual blow of losing two of his closest advisers has jolted Karzai’s government and knocked it off-balance at an important juncture. The security handovers in Helmand province (Lashkar Gah), Bamiyan province in central Afghanistan, and Lagham province (Mihtarlam) are being seen as a test case for the government’s ability to keep the peace and build trust with citizens in order to extend the influence of the Karzai administration into the provinces. At the handover ceremony in Mihtarlam, British General James Bucknall, deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force, said, “There will be plenty of challenges ahead, security and otherwise, as Mihtarlam progresses through transition over the coming months[.]”
And the biggest of those challenges will be finding out just how well the newly-trained Afghanistan police force performs under pressure. NATO soldiers will still be stationed nearby, but they will take their orders from the Afghanistan security services. The police force has been built from scratch, trained by NATO, but suffers from both a shortage of personnel and lack of equipment.
ABC News spent 6 days prior to the handover roaming the city of Mihtarlam talking to residents and officials. What the news outlet discovered is disturbing. There were only a “few dozen” officers patrolling a city of 100,000, which is “like asking the New Orleans Police Department to maintain security with fewer than 100 cops.”
Police officials do not patrol with armored trucks, despite the presence of IEDs, nor do they have bulletproof vests. In fact, the police do not patrol at all, according to ABC. US mentors have been urging the police to get out into the neighborhoods, but instead, the officers “would set up checkpoints and respond to emergencies, but they were not familiarizing themselves with the city they now officially protect.”
And there are troubling signs that citizens are not very accepting of their new security shield. When police officers caught a man trying to plant an IED, they chased him down only to have angry villagers confront them and drive them back. “There’s no intimidation factor,” says a special forces soldier who mentors the Afghan security forces. “They walk down the street, they have no vests, no helmets, and nobody is scared of them.” A senior aide to President Karzai told ABC that it might take 10 years before cities have functioning police departments. “The Taliban will continue to use suicide attackers and IEDs,” says the precinct captain. He added, “But if we receive the right equipment and more men, we will be ok.”
Read the rest here.