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Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 20:53 GMT
Warlords overshadow Afghan army
Soldiers being trained by Afghan general Haji Bari
Haji Bari's men are loyal to their commanders

I first met Haji Bari in 2001, when he was in command of part of the Northern Alliance frontline facing the Taleban near Bagram airport, about an hour's drive north of Kabul.

I caught up with him again a year on in Kabul where Haji Bari is now a general.

But the army he is part of is a long way from the national force which Afghan President Hamid Karzai identified as being a priority.

Speaking in Bonn a year after the international conference which set Afghanistan on its post-Taleban course, Mr Karzai said the new force of 70,000 should be seen as "small, effective, well-paid and in the service of the nation".

Haji Bari, Afghan general
Haji Bari, once a warlord, is now a national army general
When we met in Kabul, Haji Bari spoke like the politician he could well become. He agreed with the need for a national army.

"We want to be like brothers across the country to save Afghanistan from this darkness. The Taleban divided ethnic groups - Tajik, Pashtoon and Hazaras. We must unite them again," he said.

But like many Mujahideen commanders his experience is in a very different kind of force, where young men owe allegiance to a single commander, tied into a web of family and tribal loyalties.

This is a world where commanders become locked into loyalties with wider groupings, taking and owing favours to neighbours, and where influence and power follow each other.

Commanders are desperate to keep their forces intact, so will do deals rather than fight if they can and will change sides to follow power as it shifts.

This system, which can be called "warlordism", has developed in a refined form over the last 25 years of war but follows more ancient tribal codes.

It means a man like Haji Bari, who has been fighting since the Russians invaded, is locked into a system outside the professional army.

In good times he can pay his men far better than the national army.

Fighting continues

Haji Bari is loyal to the government in Kabul, but elsewhere far bigger warlords are back in power after defeating the Taleban, and some are still fighting in the north and west.

Meanwhile, former Taleban elements in the south could re-equip quickly if the opportunity arose.

Mr Karzai has received tentative offers of small forces of international military advisers to assist in the provinces, but for now his power does not extend much beyond Kabul.

The international force which has assisted since the fall of the Taleban is comparatively far smaller than equivalent forces sent into Bosnia or Kosovo after the conflicts there, and cannot guarantee security.

Forming an Afghan national army will be a daunting task, requiring more funds than the community has committed to Afghanistan so far.

Pashtoons excluded

Despite optimism about the end of inter-tribal conflict, there are rumours of discrimination against Pashtoon soldiers who emerge from the training camps set up for former Mujahideen and find they fail to be recruited into the national army.

I went with Haji Bari to the anniversary commemoration of a famous soldier who died fighting the Russians.

I was with him for the same event last year and there did not seem to be much difference in the atmosphere this time round.

Individual fighters still owe allegiance to their commanders - not to the nation.

Mr Karzai's call for a national army might follow other speeches of his, such as his declaration against drugs, in being a hopeful statement - an intention rather than a fact that he can deliver.


Political uncertainty






See also:

02 Dec 02 | South Asia
01 Dec 02 | South Asia
05 Nov 02 | South Asia
15 Aug 02 | South Asia
03 Dec 02 | South Asia
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