Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

Response to: ‘Time to Work with Warlords? What?’

Gerard Russel 3 min

The following response to my blog ‘Time to Work with Warlords? What?’ (30 Dec. 2009) came from the author of the original op-ed, GERARD RUSSELL, who criticizes that I did not pay sufficient attention ‘to what I actually said in my article’. Here his remarks:

For one thing, I propose the same thing as you: that some of these warlords should indeed be taken to The Hague. But unless a special tribunal is set up, we are talking about the International Criminal Court (see last paragraph of my article, which you do not quote in yours; for the same of fairness and transparency, I think you should have). The ICC does not examine crimes committed prior to 2002. So warlords can only be sent there for crimes they committed after that date.
Many of your other criticisms pick out words that I have used – you dislike the use of the word ‘alleged’ – but you must remember that any writer must have half an eye on the law of libel, and even in many human rights publications what is given is testimony from others rather than direct accusation.

Some other phrases that you disliked (reference to the fight against the Soviets) are essential to the understanding of a reader who does not know Afghanistan.

But I do think the fight against the Soviets and Taliban is relevant. You may be right that in 2001/2, if the international community had been more determined, it could have helped an entirely fresh set of personalities come to power, leaving out entirely those who then led the jihadi groups. I cannot think of any parallel instance where the major rebel group, after the collapse of the government, has been successfully excluded from power. But perhaps you know of one.

In any case this is the past: my argument is only that now, in 2010, it is highly unlikely that we will achieve this. In fact I would say, impossible. What then should we do? My proposal is that some of these warlords can be made to reform themselves, if given sufficient incentive. Others who cannot, should be punished for crimes they commit. But treating the whole lot of them as one unvaried group, and adopting what I see as a confused and contradictory policy towards them as I believe the international community does at present, will not help us. For instance it is no great achievement to have more ‘technocrats’ and fewer ‘warlords’ in the Government when the Government is run by warlords behind the scenes – including some of the worst of the warlords, too.

You are entirely free to disagree with this view, and I dare say you will, but at least let us be clear what my view is and what it is not.

I would appreciate it if you would publish this clarification, in the interests of fair debate. If you wish to – since the tone of your article seems to raise an eyebrow at the fact that I work in human rights – you might at least include a reference to the fact that I resigned from the UN over the issue of elections fraud, so at least I have some principles. My views, for that same reason, do not express the position of the UN or indeed of anyone else but me.


I will just briefly comment on one point in the reply: I have never said that the mujahedin should have been excluded from power after 2001, only that their political participation should have been made conditional on fully sticking to what they had signed in Bonn, first of all disbandment (or reintegration but not in bulk as it was done) of their militias into Afghanistan’s new security forces, for the sake of a halfway level field of competition with other groups that had also opposed the Taleban. The international community should not have bought their inflated presentation as the big and only anti-Taleban fighters. It also should not have allowed the mujahedin to threaten them with going ‘back into the mountains’ if this or that did not happen (remember the almost complete monopoly of the so-called Panjshiri group over the key posts and that Karzai was their candidate in Bonn) as well as by their open threats to stage a coup d’etat, for example if the former King came back. His return was delayed several times, indeed. Finally, I just believe that sufficient incentives were given to them already. They took them but continued to behave like before, not being ready to share power and every little concession had to be yanked from between their teeth.


Warlords Taleban