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Last Updated: Friday, 24 October, 2003, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Analysis: Disarming Afghan militias
By Crispin Thorold
BBC correspondent in Kunduz

Defence Minister Marshal Mohammad Fahim (L) and General Abdul Rashid Dostum
Will faction heads like Fahim (L) and Dostum sidestep the DDR?
The launch of the UN-sponsored Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme (DDR) is an important step in international efforts to gradually reduce the military power and political influence of Afghanistan's warlords.

Nearly two years after the fall of the Taleban, armed militias and mujahideen factions are the most powerful political players in Afghanistan.

Warlords have key roles in the central and provincial governments.

The Defence Minister, Marshal Mohammad Fahim, who maintains a militia, is a critical figure.

A senior commander in the Shurya-yi Nazar faction of the Northern Alliance, Marshal Fahim says his men are not part of a private army but are loyal to the administration.

Those assurances have been little consolation to other warlords, who are considering whether to encourage their men to disarm.

Long list

The DDR process was held up for several months until the ministry of defence, dominated by Panjshiri Tajiks, was reformed.

There are reports that the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul is lined with spotless Russian tanks and rocket launchers

Changes have brought more non-Tajiks into the higher echelons of the ministry although members of Shurya-yi Nazar still fill two of the three most senior positions.

Observers doubt other factions will be very enthusiastic about a disarmament programme run under the auspices of Marshal Fahim's ministry.

But the marshal is not the only faction leader in the Afghan administration.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and Education Minister Yunis Qanooni are also key figures of the Northern Alliance.

Afghan national troops graduating in April 2003
Hamid Karzai's plan is for a central army to replace the militias

The alliance is a loose collection of political parties and ethnic groups, predominantly Tajik, which spearheaded the military campaign against the Taleban.

Then there is General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad, two men whose militias clashed in northern Afghanistan this month. Both are nominally loyal to the government of President Hamid Karzai.

At the provincial level, the list gets ever longer.

Many diplomats view the accommodation of warlords as a "necessary evil" to ensure the stability of Afghanistan - the last thing needed now is another civil war.

The US-led coalition forces use militiamen in their war against terrorism, fighting Taleban and al-Qaeda elements in the south and east of the country.

Analysts say the security vacuum in Afghanistan, created since the fall of the Taleban, has increased the power of the factions.

Warlords have become entrenched. There are reports that the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul is lined with spotless Russian tanks and rocket launchers.

Disarming Kabul

However, in the run-up to elections scheduled for next June, a number of measures are being introduced to erode the power of the factions.

Mr Karzai recently unveiled the Law on Political Parties.

One clause states that parties shall not have military organisations or affiliations with armed forces.

Northern Alliance tanks and boy on donkey, northern Afghanistan
Collecting tanks and artillery under DDR will be harder than small arms

At face value, a leap forward for democratic principles, but will it be adhered to?

One Kabul-based analyst says political figures may conveniently disassociate themselves from their militias or argue their factions are part of the national military set-up rather than private armies.

The optimists believe the DDR will be a move in the right direction - if the links between the militiamen and their local commanders can be broken, the power of the warlords will dissolve.

But one key question will be what happens to the disarmed militiamen.

Under the DDR they will receive some money, clothes and vouchers for food. They will be interviewed and employed if jobs are available.

Many militiamen have not been paid in months, and the DDR optimists say if they can be given a paid job and shown a life away from the gun, the faction leaders will become irrelevant.

That may be true in the long run but for now there are more pressing issues.

At a recent press conference, the commander of the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, Isaf, called for the demilitarisation of Kabul, which was part of the post-war Bonn Agreement.

Faction leaders have tanks and heavy artillery in Kabul, surely far more of a threat to Afghanistan's uneasy peace than the small arms being collected under the DDR programme?

As the first 1,000 weapons collected under the scheme were removed on Friday, Afghanistan took a symbolic step away from the rule of the gun.

But it will take many more years and much hard work to completely remove the gun from Afghan politics.


SEE ALSO:
Afghan disarming begins
24 Oct 03  |  South Asia
Afghan factions clash in north
08 Oct 03  |  South Asia
Profile: Hamid Karzai
24 Sep 03  |  South Asia
Afghanistan 'out of control'
10 Aug 03  |  South Asia
Karzai shuffles defence ministry
21 Sep 03  |  South Asia


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