Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Watching the government and waiting for the fighting season

Martine van Bijlert 6 min

While the Washington Whispers asks where the news on Afghanistan has gone (it’s not there because it is all good* in case you were wondering), and Parliament suddenly elects a speaker after weeks of intrigue, and the Special Court continues to reopen ballot boxes to see what they might find, and diplomats shake their heads wondering what to base their transition narrative on, Afghans have their own analysis and concerns.

Over the last few days conversations have been full of detailed, often frustrated stories about run-ins with government departments and judiciary institutions. There was quite a bit of speculation on what might happen to Afghanistan, now that the internationals are either preparing their exit (mainly the Europeans) or making sure they can stay on (mainly the Americans). And there were attempts to piece together confusing developments and to merge them with elaborate conspiracy theories. A handful of conversation fragments:


“Look at the situation in Afghanistan. Nobody is in control. Nobody cares about the people. The foreigners are playing their games. The government is involved in its own corruption. The people cannot tolerate this situation indefinitely, they will rise up. What they will ask for? They will not ask for democracy, like in other countries. The Afghan people have just tried democracy and it hasn’t worked. They will probably ask for a dictator [laughs]. But there are no slogans for that. What should they ask for?” –Leader of a democratic party in Kabul

“I bring a message from my people, because we are very worried. We have noticed that the international community did not come here to bring democracy; they came to bring sarmaya-salari (the rule of the investors). They want to make the big men rich. And after all these years they still don’t understand who their friends and who their enemies are. They work in the areas that are insecure; they are not working where there are people who support them. (…) In our area [the Hazarajat] people are poor. They grow crops from the water that comes down the mountain. They eat as much as they have been able to grow, making however little it is last for the whole year. In areas like that a little help goes a long way. (…) I set up a cooperative to help the farmers in my area. It is registered with the government. I am trying to contact programs that provide tractors and small loans. I have sent a petition to the Ministry of Agriculture more than three weeks ago, but as far as I know it is still waiting to be read.” – Trader from Daikondi

When the case against the kidnappers of my relative came to court, their people gave the judge $12,000 to get them released. We knew the head of the court and some of the prosecutors, so we were told about this. In the end the men were given prison sentences. But if we hadn’t had personal relations, I am sure they would have been released, even though they had confessed and the case was very well-known.” – Well-connected Kabul resident

“I had to arrange some documents and I was worried it would take weeks and cost a lot of money. So I asked a relative, who is a doctor, whether she knew anyone in that government department. Maybe she had treated someone in the past who now felt grateful. She didn’t know anyone, but a patient who overheard the conversation said that I should tell the head of the department that so-and-so had sent me. I didn’t know who so-and-so was, but I decided to try it. I went there and said that so-and-so had sent me and that I needed this document and that because my office did not have a lot of holidays I hoped to get the work done soon. The head of the department immediately treated me with a lot of respect. He wrote instructions on the forms with red pen and ordered the people to help me quickly. I got all six stamps and twelve signatures on the same day. This would have been impossible otherwise. I found out later that so-and-so works in the office of the President.” – Kabul resident working in an NGO

“I am now sitting at home. All provincial executive offices were dissolved two months ago, by Presidential decree. That’s how it goes, whoever works loses his job. They dissolve departments, while at the same time they make additional ones that are unnecessary. Anyway, life without change is death. Did you hear that. Write it down. It is a very wise (pokhta) word. Write it down with a big pen. Life without change is death. In death you don’t go forward and you don’t go backward. But unfortunately Afghanistan is only going backward nowadays.” – Former head of a provincial executive office, in the south

“A few years ago when I was still working in my district, the governor – he is now governor in the south – came to our area and told us: “You should talk to the Taleban and say that you are ready to give them food and shelter if they need it, but that they should go and fight somewhere else.” He said that he had done just that in [the provincial capital] Sharanna and that we should do the same in our district. It is happening everywhere, all the time. Why do you think the fight has moved to Kunduz? (…) It is a business war anyway and the Americans are involved. Who else do you think is giving all the dollars?” – Tribal elder from Paktika

“The Taleban leadership is not interested in compromise. They are not in a hurry like Karzai. They are looking beyond 2014, while he needs to organize himself before that time. They are not interested in compromise, but they are ready to talk to anyone. Whether he is communist or a democrat, working with the government or the police, they are willing to talk to anyone and to treat everyone with respect. The condition is that they accept the Emirate and pledge bayaat (allegiance) to the Amir ul-Mominin, Mullah Omar. They also say they don’t want to kill teachers and government workers, because they will need them in the future. Whether all of this is true or not, or whether it is a fundamental or a temporary change I don’t know, but this is what they say. Anyone who accepts the Emirate will be accepted. (…) I think all our leaders are in touch with them.” – Politician who claims to have met with the Taleban leadership late last year

“The return of fighters to Afghanistan has started, they have all been ordered back. First they will increase the number of IEDs and ambushes and suiciders, but ultimately they will focus on the areas they lost, like Marja and Sangeen, and take them back. (…) The pro-government commanders are sending emissaries to the Taleban and offering them help in Kabul. They are nervous, afraid that they will be targeted one of these days. Many in the government are contacting the Taleban and telling them: we are also against the foreigners. But the Taleban is more upset with the government people than with the foreigners. The foreigners came from outside, but the government is targeting and oppressing its own people. They are involved in zanaka-bazi and sherab-khori (womanizing and alcohol-drinking – both with quite negative connotations). The Taleban have videos and pictures of what these leaders have been involved in. They pass them around on mobile phones to make the young men angry and to make them fight. (…) I have said it many times before: the government needs to make urgent changes. It should finally appoint good people, so that the population will accept them. The foreigners are spending so much money, but the government people are just filling their pockets and saying they will leave soon.” – Tribal elder from Helmand, close to the Taleban

“I have been recruited as a district liaison officer for ASOP (Afghanistan Social Outreach Program). The people in my area were very happy when they heard it; they think I will be able to do a lot for them. But I am not sure. I think it is better for me to work in the provincial centre: I will be able to do more and at the moment there is nobody from our tribe in government. And we all know who is making the problems in my district [a local commander, linked to the US military]. I will not be able to do anything against him. I will be alone and will not be able to do anything. I don’t think I will take the job.” – Influential tribal actor from the east

“I think things will get better in Afghanistan. Look what is happening in the Arab countries. This must have an impact on Al Qaeda. I think the insurgency will get weaker and become less.” – Driver from northern Afghanistan


* See ‘No News is Good News in Afghanistan’. Am guessing it’s a joke, but am actually not quite sure.


Democratization Government


Martine van Bijlert

More from this author