Haqqani and the Good Zadran

Since the Haqqani network’s recent attack on the American embassy in Kabul, the Pakistan-based group is getting more and more attention. Before that, Western news agencies did not seem to care much about Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Siraj. Yet, Jalaluddin has been around for three decades, fought in the Soviet-Afghan war and held a Minister position in the Taliban government.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently admitted that American diplomats tried to reach out to the network, to find a solution to what has become a major hindrance to a peaceful resolution of the Afghan conflict. The US is currently pushing forward a twofold strategy. The idea is to have Pakistan “squeeze” the Haqqani network while the US tries to reach out to the group. Although some might view this kind of “good cop bad cop” strategy schizophrenic and counterproductive, Clinton does not see it as contradictory. I do not necessarily disagree with her (on Clinton, Pakistan and the Haqqani network, see the following articles: US Boosts Pressure on Pakistan over Terrorism, Pakistani General Warns U.S. on Haqqani Network, and Clinton Holds ‘Frank’ Talks in Pakistan).

What is maybe even more interesting in my opinion is how the “Haqqani problem” (and the American response to it) might play out on the local level. The US quest for “good Zadrans” who could counterbalance the network’s influence among the Zadran tribe of Loya Paktia is very likely to impact the state-building process.

Back in 2001, a powerful militia leader named Pacha Khan Zadran worked with the American forces to drive the Taliban out of the region. He subsequently participated in the Bonn conference and the Loya Jirga process and was even appointed governor of Paktia province by President Karzai. He then engaged in a conflict with a coalition of rival commanders and Karzai started to publicly depict him as an outlaw and a ruthless warlord. Long story short, Pacha Khan’s relationship with the central government in general, and the President in particular, has been rocky to say the least, marked with tumultuous episodes. Because of this unfortunate relationship, his attempt to establish himself as an important political player in the 2001 environment has been fairly unsuccessful so far. With the Haqqani issue heating up, he is now trying to redeem himself to convince the United States to give him a leading role in local police forces, posing a tricking dilemma for counterinsurgents.

Pacha Khan Zadran perfectly symbolizes the quandary as to what to do about the deficiencies in Karzai government. While American policy-makers recognize that the regional strongmen and whatnots are part of the legitimacy problem of the regime in Kabul, there is a lot of debate, particularly in the US army, concerning “tribal engagement” (as they call it). In other words, they are trying to figure out if there are any local and legitimate authority structures that they can co-opt and build upon so that someday the international forces can leave and the Afghans take care of their own security. US efforts really might empower these sub-state actors like Pacha Khan Zadran to conduct their own international relations of a sort and reassert their authority. Is this the kind of activity that one wants to promote if the ultimate aim is to help build a capable and conventional state?  Or is the US project doing something else through empowering these actors in this way?

About Afghanopoly

I am an Assistant Professor of peace and conflict studies at Radboud University's Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (CICAM). I completed my PhD in Political Science at Northwestern University and Sciences Po under the supervision of Will Reno and Bertrand Badie. Among other things, I teach students about the politics of international intervention in Afghanistan and elsewhere. My research focuses on the political strategies that Afghan strongmen use to consolidate and legitimize their authority. I am particularly interested in how these actors manage to conduct their own forms of international relations. My field research brings me in contact with Afghan community leaders, politicians, diplomats and foreign military officers.
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6 Responses to Haqqani and the Good Zadran

  1. patriotpaul says:

    The ultimate aim of the International Community in Afghanistan is to support the objectives of the Afghan state. Some of those objectives have been articulated in the preamble to the Afghan constitution. Such as “acknowledging the sacrifices and the historic struggles, rightful Jihad and just resistance of all people of Afghanistan, and respecting the high position of the martyrs for the freedom of Afghanistan,” and “For establishing a government based on people’s will and democracy” while “strengthening of political, social, economic, and defensive institutions of the country.” http://www.afghan-web.com/politics/current_constitution.html
    Afghanistan is a land of paradoxes. And just as is seen in the preamble, those paradoxes are embedded in their national character. “Acknowledging the sacrifices and the historic struggles, rightful Jihad and just resistance… and respecting the high position of the martyrs for the freedom of Afghanistan” can easily be seen as counterintuitive to the principles underlying the “political, social, economic, and defensive institutions of the country.” Also paradoxical is the relationship between the people’s will and democracy as there are certainly deep feelings of nostalgia for a day when an old fashioned strong man would provide unabashed security. But then you run into all those problems of human rights and the like.
    The fact is that Afghanistan will never have a government that looks and smells like what the West has come to expect. The natural inclination of the Afghan people to remain loyal to their tribal affiliation before their nation will forever present an impediment to the development of institutions that democracy demands. The example of Pacha Khan Zadran provides several examples of the complexities of the Afghan experience.
    After the early experience between Pacha Khan and the Karzai government, when after two months as provincial governor of Paktia Province, President Karzai replaced the embattled warlord under pressure from the local shura in Paktia, Pacha Khan waged a local war against government and tribal forces in the province. Yet even after all that, including exile in Pakistan, arrest and extradition back to Afghanistan, Pacha Khan won a seat in the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the bicameral National Assemble of Afghanistan in 2004. In the same year, again under pressure from the local tribes, President Karzai was forced to recall the governors who replaced Pacha Khan. “Observers described the incident as an illustration of the limits of the Afghan central government, pointing out that stability in Afghanistan is an anomaly. Ethnic and clan rivalries abound, and a loose confederation of local and regional rulers is the traditional mode of order.” http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/afghanistan/zadran.htm
    Nevertheless, the traditional mode of order is reshaping to the current political environment and the warlords, past and present, are conforming to this new reality. And in this new reality, the old guard of warlords acting in the political arena can be key to combating other non-state regional actors such as in the case of Pacha Khan and Jalaluddin Haqqani, while the new cast of powerbrokers emerging in the post 2001 Afghanistan are focusing on the internal type of state building that is going to be necessary for sustaining stability and prosperity.
    Last year Afghanistan held parlementary elections in which Pacha Khan ran as the incumbent. Amid controversy, he lost the election and proceeded to assert his power as only a warlord can – by taking over the roads with his militia in protest. Meanwhile, as pointed out in an article in the Christian Science Monitor in Oct of 2010, ” Many of the apparent winners (election results have not yet been certified) belong to a new generation of Afghan warlords that has risen since 2001 and attained wealth and power through NATO security contracts and lucrative reconstruction deals.” Maybe the will of the people is ultimately grounded in who can best deliver the seemingly unending stream of U.S. dollars into the local community. This new breed of warlord who prefer to be referred to as powerbrokers has risen to power by assimilating the lessons of their predecessors with the requirements of operating under the new norms. What you are left with is a new leadership class that ”provide social services in their areas of influence by supporting the poor, providing gifts to newly married couples, and often intervene in legal disputes. They also maintain private armies that are known for violent conduct and many of whose members are believed to be involved in smuggling drugs and running protection rackets.” http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2010/1027/A-changing-of-the-guard-for-Afghanistan-s-warlords

    I don’t buy into the idea that the Afghan state must be conventional in order to be capable. The real question is can the state develop in such a way that it is perceived as the legitimate governing body for all Afghans. Legitimacy in Afghanistan may not be a mirror image of what the West would consider conventional, but in the face of a strengthening insurgency, being legitimate in the eyes of Brussels and Washington D.C. is immediately less important than being seen as legitimate in the Pashtun dominated rural east and south. And in Afghanistan that requires a deep understanding of the actual will of the people. Security is a prerequisite for stability and development. And legitimacy in the eyes of average Afghans will come with the establishment of law and order so that the development and reconstruction of the country can be sustained. That will only happen when the warlords and powerbrokers are fully co-opted into a power sharing arraignment that can provide security with acceptable levels of corruption.
    As it stands today, there is both the levels of security and corruption are unacceptable. There remain more questions than answers, and the following are a few questions that must be asked and answered in order to accurately articulate a way forward. Are the levels of insecurity and corruption more a result of an incapable national government that lacks capacity or that of an overpowering warlord class that is the actual source of instability in the contested areas? If the government was stronger and had a greater level of both legitimacy as well as credibility, would they be able to circumvent the power of the warlords or find itself in the throes of a perpetual power struggle? What would be necessary for the warlords and newly established powerbrokers to be fully assimilated into the established order of the sub-national government, and would that assimilation lead to an increased level of security and decreased corruption?

  2. El Diablo says:

    Article discusses US urging Pakistan to pressure insurgents toward peace. Interesting because it suggests that the US are ceding position to Pakistan on a diplomatic level, with the hope that this will lead to a stabilization of the situation there. It also represents a more realistic approach to te events as they involved.

  3. rexrigby says:

    I agree with patriotpaul about Afghanistan not being a conventional state; that is, if a conventional state is an American model of a state. More definition may be required for that term. Capable is more what the US may be hoping for and how to get there is loaded with conflicting approaches. I do not know what else the US may be looking for in the approach to empower shady non-state actors except some sort of way to figure out the situation and leave the country. There may not be any choice but engage people like Zadran in negotiations, as well as members of the Taliban. However, my question is can the strongmen and the Taliban negotiate some sort of peace between them? Won’t they have to somehow figure out a powersharing agreement in the end? Then where does that leave Karzai? It is all very confusing. I cannot help but think that the US may want to do the best they can in any negotiations and then leave the rest up to the Afghans. And/or utilize the relationship Pakistan has with the Taliban and other groups to find a solution. Everyone seems to know Pakistan is harboring these groups even though they do not admit it, so talk directly to Pakistan and find out what can be done to keep the extremists from attacking the United States. Going to the root of the problem which seems to me to be the insurgents on one hand and the villages on the other. Protect the people and tame the insurgents. That is what all involved are trying to do; it is just figuring out how to do it. A daunting task to say the least.

  4. afghanclass says:

    President Karzai appionted Pacha Khan Zadran the governer of Paktia province after Zadran worked with the American forces to drive the Taliban out of the region and participated in the Bonn conference and the Loya Jirga process. Karzai didn’t have a problem with Zadran until Zadran was involved in conflict with a coalition of rival commanders. Karzai then began to depict Zadran as a outlaw and ruthless warlord. perhaps Karzai characterized Zadran, in that way, because Zadran supported America’s agenda.Whatever the case,it is my view that America supports the “Good Zadran” so that the goal of building a capable and conventional state could be realized. Zadran is a local tribal leader who has already established a “good” working relationship with American forces. In other words, Zadran has already passed the litmus test of whether or not he could be trusted to facilitate Americas agenda. The U.S could and should build upon it.

  5. bjorikified says:

    Can America support an ‘outlaw’ that Karzai does not approve of? I don’t understand whether this is some type of conflict of interest. It appears that Afghanistan is run by many at a more provincial or tribal level, so wouldn’t it make sense for Karzai to support this tactical approach? Is that better or worse for the Afghan people who seem to already understand the pecking order within their own borders…

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