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

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 28

Lieutenant General Hadi Khalid, the Afghan Deputy Minister of the Interior for Security from May 2006 to June 2008

Lieutenant General Hadi Khalid was the Afghan Deputy Minister of the Interior for Security from May 2006 to June 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 him at his home in Kabul and discussed Afghanistan’s wide range of security challenges. Last week, General Khalid discussed the relation of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies with the Taliban, the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban, the development of Afghanistan’s security agencies and the situation along Afghanistan’s borders with Tajikistan.

JT: 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].

JT: 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.

You may have heard that there is some Taliban resurgence in Badghis similar to what is going on in Konduz. I personally think the ISI [Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence] must be behind these renewed theaters of insurgency. By creating trouble near the borders with our Central Asian neighbors, Pakistanis can say “Look you see, there is instability all over Afghanistan, not just along the Durand Line. By stirring up instability in formerly stable areas, it may make the new NATO negotiations with CIS countries seem less appealing. Again, Pakistan does not want to lose the revenue from the Western military freight that transits through its territory. It also does not want to seem less of a crucial ally of the United States because Pakistan is deathly afraid of India, as we all know. So now we are having trouble near the border with Turkmenistan and this scares their leaders. Like Uzbekistan, Ashgabad does not want the Taliban to gain a renewed presence in their region.

Now when Ashgabad sees that there is trouble in Badghis Province, Pakistan can say “Look, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are your neighbors now,” enhancing Pakistan’s claims that Kabul’s writ is weak in most of the country. This furthers Pakistan’s pipe dream of regional hegemony. By making Afghanistan look weak, Pakistanis believe this makes them appear strong. They want to be the regional leaders. Pakistan can exploit the fact that Central Asian leaders fear al-Qaeda infiltration. Badghis is now becoming a new front of insecurity.

JT: The Iranian border is a long and dangerous one. How were your relations with the Iranians? Would you describe their modus operandi as one of cooperation, competition or a mix of the two?

HK: Iran does not have a singular, consistent foreign policy for Afghanistan. Though the ANP [Afghan National Police] has a good working relationship with Iran’s border and counter narcotics police, Iran has an interest in weakening America’s position inside Afghanistan and hindering the democratic process in Afghanistan. If Afghanistan could maintain a stable, emerging democracy, what message would that send to the young people in Iran who are restless for change? This is inconvenient for Iran’s government.

Iran has many institutions and these are often in competition with one another, serving Tehran at cross-purposes. Iran’s Afghan policy is fluid and changes rapidly according to interests of the day. Iran is constantly shifting its position here. Some elements of their government are conservative while others can be quite aggressive. Iran’s top police chief came to Kabul and offered to help us build some border and customs infrastructure and asked for assistance with counter narcotics operations and our meetings were very friendly. In this way Iran tries to play all sides because their strategic position is threatened both here and in Iraq. Iran made a very bad play in temporarily aiding the Talibs. They gave them ammunition to fight Western forces but this also meant that Iran now had the Taliban back along its border for the first time since 2001. Secondly, where Talibs go, NATO forces eventually follow in pursuit of their counter-insurgency goals. So I think the Iranians realized they made a major strategic mistake on this issue. They wanted to keep NATO forces occupied in southern Afghanistan so that they could pursue various foreign policy goals of theirs but the result was now both Talibs and NATO on their border and Jundullah attacking from Zabul Province and from their bases in Pakistani Baluchistan. Iran is now confronted with Sunni extremists and Western military forces on its eastern border. Iran is very nervous.

In 2006, a Taliban informant that we have close contact with told us that he had recently been to Iran on three separate occasions. He claimed that Iran was sending some munitions to the Taliban. But this temporary support of certain Taliban elements in western Afghanistan came to haunt the Iranians. Some of these weapons eventually ended up in the hands of Jundullah [ethnic-Balochi insurgents operating in the Iranian province of Sistan-Balochistan]. Jundullah and the Taliban have some friendly working relations. Then the Iranians realized Jundullah was seeking to destabilize Sistan-Balochistan. Jundullah operates freely in the triple border area of Baluchistan. When Jundullah started making some attacks against Iranian security forces, Iran realized that covert support of the Taliban was not in their interest.

JT: So during your post, you’ve said the MOI [Ministry of the Interior] was able to find some reliable Taliban informants. To your knowledge, has there been any Taliban infiltration in the ANP as an institutional issue?

HK: During my time in the MOI we had four or five incidents of the Taliban penetrating ANP facilities but these were all what I would call low-level incidents. None of these penetrations added up to much for either side. There were some incidents in Farah [Province], Zabol [Province] and the Bala Murghab district of Badghis [Province] but they were not significant. The Taliban do not have any political program that will appeal to educated people in our military and government. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan for years and our educated people understand the difference between the Taliban’s motives and their actions. Pakistanis have not had to live under Taliban rule, Afghans have had this experience. And unlike the army in Pakistan since Zia ul-Haq’s Islamization phase, our army and police have always been secular organizations, which makes it difficult for the Taliban to get much sympathy [from] them.

JT: What can you tell Jamestown about the little known border with China? Does the Afghan government even have a presence along the Afghanistan-China border?

HK: This is a good example of the weaknesses in our security policy. In that area, at the end of the Wakhan [Corridor, a narrow and sparsely populated pass connecting Afghanistan to China], we just have some Pamiri people [Wakhi and Afghan Kyrgyz] that are supportive of Kabul and they watch the border for us. But they are just local people.  The people there do not have aviation transportation and our border police have yet to reach this area. As I said we do not have centralization for our border security forces. During the time in my position, I repeatedly called for centralizing our border police.

JT: Does the central government have any representation on the Chinese frontier at all?

HK: We have sent people there weapons and supplies but it is very difficult for us to control the area. I have heard that some of the villages there are even supplied by China. Throughout history we have had this problem with controlling the Wakhan, even during the era of the king [Zahir Shah]. Only in high summer is the area accessible [due to extreme weather conditions].

JT: Is the Wakhan a drug trafficking route to China?

HK: If the Chinese do not control it, yes. The Chinese are afraid of drugs. Drugs always seem to find their routes. Central Badakhshan Province is one of the oldest centers of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Long before poppy growth in Helmand, Badakhshan was the original center of drugs in this region. In my days in the MOI, we had a plane to reach there and institute controls but [the operation] was never realized.

JT: In your tenure as the Deputy Minister of Interior for Security, did you get a chance to survey the Chinese border at the end of the Wakhan Corridor?

HK: No, I have never been to the area. The MOI was not supplied with any helicopters from the international community to reach there as there are no roads. How can we go there without helicopters? I have been told that our MOI has recently been gifted two helicopters, one from Germany and one from Russia. So now the MOI forces have a total of two helicopters to police the entire country! I had the idea to create a new ministry for internal security to solve some of these issues but it was never realized.

JT: The name Afghan National Police would lead one to believe that the ANP is a unified force under federal command.

HK: The problem with the system is that while the overall command of the ANP is centralized now, almost all the police around the country are still recruited from the local population.  All over the world, border police are national but in Afghanistan, they are local.  In a whole province you will have maybe a few commanders from outside the immediate area.  I have tried to say that Afghanistan’s most important force should be its border police.  If our international allies are right to tell us that Pakistan is the base for so much cross border terrorism, should not we be stopping militant infiltration at the border?  Border policing should be our highest priority, especially along the Pakistan border.

JT: Were your able to bring this concept to Karzai’s attention?

HK: I mentioned it to him but Karzai is a very busy man. He cannot give these issues the time they deserve. The ANP is very poorly equipped and not prepared to confront a lot of these problems.

JT: Speaking of equipment, what can you tell us about the staffing and financing of the ANP?

HK: After Bonn, it was decided that Afghanistan should have 62,000 national policemen. During my work in the MOI, our international donors wanted the number increased to 82,000 and now there is talk of raising the membership to 96,000, including local militias, which I think is a terrible idea. It is better to have a small, qualified force than a barely outfitted, cumbersome one. But the donors do not listen to us, they make these decisions without consulting us.

We cannot fund the ANP ourselves with our tiny tax base so the international community must pay for it. The ANP are funded in two ways. The first is the police trust fund that was established to pay for food and salaries and its budget is 14.5 billion Afghanis [approximately $290 million]. Then there is a separate fund controlled by donors that pays for vehicles, communications gear, building procurement and weapons. We did not know in the MOI what the precise budget is because our international partners did not tell us at the time.

JT: Your final thoughts?

HK: The United States must “Afghanize” the situation here. Afghanization is the only way forward. Afghans want to have an alliance with the United States because without such an ally, we cannot survive. Our neighbors will swallow us up and our internal problems will also swallow us. The U.S. must genuinely empower our army, police and intelligence services to make our forces the frontline in Afghanistan.

JT: Why has the U.S. not done such? Is it an issue of trust?

HK: Yes, I think so. Our armies fight together but when we need military equipment, they do not [budge]. This makes President Karzai crazy. He cries to the Americans “Why, why don’t you give our army and police equipment?” But the Americans still don’t provide [heavy armor]. There is still a lot of mistrust between Americans and Afghans after all these years. But from the Afghan side, we are not completely honest either. The Americans say we need a several hundred thousand strong army but I do not agree. We need a small, highly mobile well-equipped army.

(Nearing the end of our interview, Lt. Gen. Khalid picks up a small Nokia phone and calls a friend to check a fact for me. He learns during the course of the call that a close friend and colleague, Dr. Abdullah Laghmani, deputy head of the National Directorate for Security, has just been assassinated in a suicide attack in Laghman Province, sixty miles west of Kabul, while leaving a mosque with several prominent local officials following a Ramadan prayer service).

HK: I have lost thousands of friends over the last thirty years. Dr. Laghmani was a very good friend of mine. In the beginning, we cried a lot. Now we do not cry anymore.