Generals, rebels, plots: Just another Afghan day

Haqqani can be enticed into peace deal says Genral Zardan.

Afp March 31, 2012
Generals, rebels, plots: Just another Afghan day

KABUL: The general lifted up his camouflage jacket to expose his 9mm Beretta and disprove the rumours of his arrest flying around Kabul. "Don't think I have come from prison, I am armed," he pointed out.

General Omar Zadran is in charge of security for a swathe of the Afghan capital that includes the presidential palace, the ministry of defence, the US embassy and other key facilities.

It is a role that sees him hosting visiting heads of government and other delegates. "(US Defense Secretary) Leon Panetta was my guest just the other night," he says.

But this week he was caught up amid reports of a huge suicide attack being foiled at the ministry of defence, with 11 suicide vests found and as many as 18 people arrested.

It was said that officials of Afghanistan's intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), were warning of an attack by the Haqqani Network, an insurgent group allied to the Taliban, which would also involve Afghan soldiers.

According to the rumour mill, the NDS had asked Afghanistan's defence minister to dismiss a general with longstanding "links" to the Haqqanis.

The reports triggered a frenzy of speculation that refused to die down completely, despite a series of formal defence ministry statements vehemently denying anything had happened, and the presidency threatening legal action.

It is an illustration of both the factionalism that plagues the authorities in Kabul, and the persistence of rumour in the Afghan capital.

In the internecine world of Afghanistan's politics, alliances, rivalries and relationships go back decades.

Zadran, a burly Pashtun with a penetrating stare, is now one of Kabul's top generals, with two of his battalions stationed inside President Hamid Karzai's palace.

But as a resistance fighter against Soviet troops in the 1980s he lined up alongside Jalaluddin Haqqani, who went on to found the eponymous organisation that fights alongside the Taliban against Kabul and its Western allies.

"During the jihad I joined Hezb-i Islami, the Yunus Khalis faction," Zadran told AFP at the defence ministry (there is another group also called Hezb-i Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which is part of the current insurgency).

"Haqqani was also under Khalis, I can't deny it," Zadran said. "I was commander in Khost province, I had good relations with Haqqani until the end of the jihad since we needed to fight the Soviets."

After that, though, "Haqqani chose to go and join the Taliban, I chose to go and join democracy. If I had any sort of connection with Haqqani now I could easily have entered the presidential palace and harmed anyone there."

Zadran, 52, who has six children, blamed his "enemies" for the rumours.

"I have foiled many plots by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and regional spy agencies," he said, describing himself as a "headache" for them. "Enemies are trying to destroy me so to be able to infiltrate the palace or defence ministry."

He declined to point the finger at rival organisations or individuals within the government, but both he and defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said that Pakistan and Iran -- neighbours with long histories of seeking to influence events in Afghanistan -- had agents in Kabul.

"The regional intelligence organisations are involved" in the Afghanistan conflict, said Waziri.

Such allegations are common in the Afghan capital.

Earlier this month there were reports of a stand-up row between Karzai's chief of staff and a deputy foreign minister, with each of them accusing the other of spying, one for Pakistan and the other for the United States.

The pair had to be physically separated by General John Allen, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, and US ambassador Ryan Crocker, Al-Jazeera said.

Factional divisions in Kabul can be on institutional or ethnic grounds -- the rivalries between Afghanistan's Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbeks go back well over a century -- or even sometimes on issues of policy.

It adds up to a minefield for attempts to negotiate a settlement of the conflict and begin national reconciliation.

"Any meaningful reconciliation with the insurgency would have to be premised on a consensus among elements supporting the government. That is, an agreement requires inclusiveness," said Marvin Weinbaum, of the Middle East Institute in Washington.

"When allies in the government begin to turn on one another -- if that is what is happening -- the most likely outcome is not to repeat a two-sided civil war but something more chaotic and especially likely to produce proxy warfare," he warned.

But the ties that divide could, in more optimistic scenarios, have the potential to bind.

As it happens, Zadran believes his old comrade-in-arms Haqqani can be enticed into a peace deal. "He always liked money," he said.


j. von hettlingen | 12 years ago | Reply

Karzai implored the U.S. not to abandon his country at the Afghan Summit in the German city of Bonn on 5 December 2011. Pakistan boycotted the conference in protest at an attack on 26 November in which 24 Pakistani troops were killed Nato forces. Although the British and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are keen to describe the recent operations as "Afghan-led" and to play down the problems that remain, they know the challenges of producing a professional army. Many doubt if Karzai's forces would survive NATO's departure.

The Truth | 12 years ago | Reply

And they will never win in Afghanistan Insha'Allah.

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