After years, why suddenly President Karzai is being worried about the political influence in Afghan Army? While addressing a a gathering of Army officers last week, the President said that Afghan Army should be a political free institution, adding that during 90s it was the political rifts and influences that destroyed the army. The transition deadline 2014, when the NATO and US combat role would reduce to a great extend, and their gradual withdrawal of more than half of the current number of ISAF troops will start, there are increasing concerns about the strength and ability of Afghan Army to maintain the security and be able to fight with insurgents.
Karzai said “The destruction of Afghan Army started from the time of Khalq and Parcham factions. After our Jihad was successful against the Soviet Union and our Mujahideen came to Kabul, they made it worst. Our soldiers, weapons, tanks and missiles were all distributed among Jihadi factions. Every group had their flag on the tanks and other weaponry they usurped. It was the destruction of Afghanistan’s national army. I saw myself tanks with flags of different factions. At a time when the country was faced with danger, over 5000 tanks were destroyed. If we do not keep the Defense Ministry free from political factional influences, and the political interference in our defense system, we will not have a capable National Army.”
Talking some more aspects of what can happen if seeds of factional influences take roots in the Army, which has already taken place, Mr. Karzai had a four-point solution for a strong and political free National Army, “first, the officers’ corps of Afghan Army should have the national pride, which Alhamdullilah (with the grace of God), they have. Secondly, very important, is professionalism. Thirdly, they should be non-political. You don’t need affiliations to political factions. Those need political affiliations who are poor and deprived, trying to find some job through political parties. Fourth and the most important is that our defense minister, deputies, Chief of Staff and officers’ corps should train the soldiers train with national pride and professional.”
The President also talked about the military strength of the country saying
“we have the commitment, but not the technical skills. We can fight them on ground, though can’t compete their fighter jets, as we couldn’t fight the jets of Soviet Union. If the F-16 or Miraj of our neighbors come, we are not capable to confront, but we can compete them on ground, face to face. We had the bravery and dedication, but not the technical skills, even today we don’t have. We don’t have the scientific advancement. The international partners of Afghanistan should equip the Afghan Army with ground and air weapons and modern equipment.”
It is the first time during last many years that President Karzai has spoken about Afghan Army with their officers’ corps emphasizing on political influences and professionalism. This speech and sudden attention of the President towards professional and capable Afghan Army free of political influences shows the concerns of Karzai about the security transition which will start in 2014, when the US and NATO troops will start a drawdown and control of operations would be transferred to Afghan forces.
The US and NATO while training the Afghan Army have been all about numbers during last nine years. Their target has always been to increase the number of Afghan troops to a level, with less focus on the real strength and capability of the Army.
President’s concerns about the political influences in Defense Ministry comes very late. All the appointments in Defense Ministry during the previous and current term of President Karzai have been entirely on political basis, factionalism and favoritism. We started that way. The first defense minister, Qasim Fahim—First Vice President now—from 2001 to 2004, was the period when appointments and promotions were all made on political basis.
The current Defense Minister Rahim Wardak serving in office since 2004 has political affiliation with Pir Sayed Gilani. When President Karzai speaks of a political free Army, it sounds like fooling himself. Most of the appointments in the Ministry of Defense as well as the promotion and recruitment on high command of the Army take place under political influences. Whenever there is a single change in the Ministry, or someone is removed from post, they speak of political affiliations and ethnic discrimination. Many appointments, even now, are not on professional basis. Many people with no military training or study are serving on high positions in the Ministry of Defense, as well as ranks of the Army. Appointments on officers’ corps level are victim of the favoritism and factionalism.
Commitment and dedication to sacrifice for the country and nation is the prime persuading force for a soldier to fight. But for that, he needs a clear understanding of the definition of enemy, and those he is supposed to fight. Our threat is from within Afghanistan and we don’t need to build the mindset of heavy expenditure on Army, rather better training, not a future ambitions of modern weaponry for competition. But when President Karzai calls Taliban “our brothers” and ‘requests’ them to join the political process. It does not make a damn sense for a common soldier. If the President himself calls Taliban, who are the eminent threat for Afghanistan’s security and our soldiers are trained to fight them, as “our brothers” then how a soldier can get ready mentally to fight when there is no clear understanding of enemy. It is the reason many soldiers end up escaping from service, as well as the unsatisfactory performance of Afghan Army on battle ground.
The three words for slogan of the Afghan National Army are “Khuda, Watan, Wazifa” (God, Country and Service). It is a good ideological combination despite being an extremely religious country, the training and symbols of our Army is not based on all religious slogans, as of our two neighbors. That must be the most important aspect of ideological path of our Army for long-term, otherwise Afghanistan can also become a military-state like the two neighbors.
Currently the size of Afghan National Army is around 140,000 troops, with efforts to increase it. The political decision makers should take the 2014 a serious deadline and pay great attention to avoid and clean political influences in Army. President Karzai must stop the political appointments in Defense Ministry, and a non-political professional soldier should lead the Ministry. There are many problems regarding the ethnic balance, and merit-based recruitment on officers’ corps, which are greater challenges.