At the Center of the Storm: An Interview with Afghanistan’s Lieutenant General Hadi Khalid – Part One

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 27

Afghanistan's Lieutenant General Hadi Khalid

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 (The Scotsman, June 12, 2008; Daily Mail, June 30, 2008). He lost his post after a dispute with the Karzai administration last year but remains one of Afghanistan’s leading thinkers on regional ethno-political dynamics and transnational criminal networks. Jamestown 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.

JT: Can you order the level of priority beginning with the most challenging border situations for the Ministry of Interior amongst Afghanistan’s neighbors?

HK: 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 troops in Afghanistan.

JT: 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 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 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 Mahsud’s men.

JT: 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 Pakistan.

Intelligence agencies in Pakistan thought they could use a pliant Taliban to destroy the tribal structure of FATA 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 establishment.

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.

JT: 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 a singular, centrally controlled entity with truly national border police, not just men raised from the villages closest to the borders. This practice leads to corruption.

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 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 counterinsurgency 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 situations.

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 Konduz 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 [Konduz 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 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].

JT: 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 U.S. 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.

JT: What is al-Qaeda’s motivation for being in this environment?

HK: For al-Qaeda, the fighting in Konduz is a new window of opportunity for them to regain a foothold in Central Asia.

JT: 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 been dormant.

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-Baluchistan. 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.