Local Afghan Power Structures and the International Military Intervention
ISAF soldiers with villagers in Kunduz. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons licensed
The latest AAN report “Local Afghan Power Structures and the International Military Intervention” looks at how the presence of German and other international military in Kunduz and Badakhshan impacted local power structures. The two provinces serve as case studies to help answer the question if ISAF forces have been successful in supporting the central government to extend its authority to the periphery, in the context of international state building aims in Afghanistan.
Author Philipp Münch argues that in contrast to ISAF troops elsewhere in Afghanistan, the German military and civilians heading the provincial reconstruction teams in Kunduz and Badakhshan were generally reluctant to influence the local power structures, even though this was not the result of a clear strategy. Not wanting to meddle in Afghan affairs they generally supported local officials. In 2009, the Americans significantly reinforced their troops in Kunduz to combat a growing insurgency. They focussed on fighting the Taleban and their allies. To this end, they supported militias who belonged to local power brokers.
The approach of the mainly German forces to focus on the official and most powerful strongmen cemented the existing power distribution. The same held true for the American’s counterinsurgency approach. International military presence did, however, change the rules of the power games. It prevented open large-scale violence, which had been common since the 1990s until the time of the international intervention in 2001. The international presence forced Afghan power brokers to seek ways to achieve their aims by largely non-violent means and to transform their military power into a civilian form.
At the same time the government of President Hamid Karzai was not a united actor, but instead always consisted of several competing factions with patronage ties to the local level. To be able to exert control over the provinces the president mainly used proxies in a ‘divide and rule’ manner. However, his alignment with groups that were rivals of powerbrokers affiliated with Jamiat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan, including Hezb-e-Islami-ye Afghanistan, did not prevent the former group from being successful in obtaining key positions in both Kunduz and Badakhshan.