This interview is over a month old, but those of us who have not read it may still find it interesting in the light of recent events. Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 27 September 10, 2009 04:10 PM (Jamestown Foundation) At the Center of the Storm: An Interview with Afghanistanâs Lieutenant General Hadi Khalid By: Derek Henry Flood Lieutenant General Abdul Hadi Khalid was the Afghan First Deputy Minister of the Interior for Security from May 2006 to late June 2008. Specializing in counter-narcotics, border policing and internal security, he announced the largest drug seizure in history (The Scotsman, June 12, 2008; Daily Mail, June 30, 200. He lost his post after a dispute with the Karzai administration last year but remains one of Afghanistan's leading thinkers on regional ethno-political dynamics and transnational criminal networks. Jamestown sat down with Hadi Khalid at his home in Kabul and discussed a wide range of challenges facing Afghanistanâs border security as a landlocked state with six neighbors, as well as the post-Bonn agreement successes and failures in the creation of the Afghan National Police. JT: Can you order the level of priority beginning with the most challenging border situations for the Ministry of Interior amongst Afghanistanâs neighbors? HK: First is obviously Pakistan. Then Tajikistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and finally China. When [General Pervez] Musharraf was in power, his government claimed that the main cause of instability in our region was the presence of the international community and NATO troops in Afghanistan. JT: The Pakistanis claimed that NATO was a bigger threat to the region than their own furthering of the Taliban movement? HK: They denied this in those days. But we were sure of their support for the Taliban. This was a cause of the sour relationship between Hamid Karzai and General Musharraf. When the civilian government came into power in 2008, they began to make some changes in the ISI and the army. The civilian administration led by Asif Ali Zardari recognized that there was a problem. They told members of the Pakistani Taliban that if you want to be a friend of Pakistan, you must leave some of the areas under your control, such as Swat and Bajaur. But they [the Tehrik-e-Taliban] resisted and they were dangerously close to Islamabad. For a time, the Taliban in FATA [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas] were useful to the Pakistani state because their relentless assassinations of tribal maliks led the Pakistani government to think it could finally reach the Durand Line. But then they realized they could not control these Talibs. The maliks enforced a rigid structure of independence from the central government but they could be dealt with, unlike Mahsudâs men. JT: Is the issue of the recognition of the Durand Line as a formal border a resolvable issue with Islamabad in the near term? HK: There is a latent fear in the Afghan government that if it formally recognizes the Durand Line as an international border with Pakistan, there could be a mass Pashtun revolt. Nonetheless, yes, I do think the issue should be solved. President Karzai averts his eyes to the Durand Line problem because he does not want to risk an internal fight that would further destabilize Afghanistan. The thinking has always been that Pashtunistan can never truly be divided as the British attempted to do. We need to have good relations with Pakistan in part because of the large number of Afghan refugees still inside their borders. Like our other neighbors, Afghanistan needs Pakistan. Intelligence agencies in Pakistan thought they could use a pliant Taliban to destroy the tribal structure of FATA so they could better control the border with Afghanistan. This was a huge mistake. Once the Taliban had finished their war on the tribal elders, they set their sights further afield in places like Swat and Buner, close to Islamabad. Not only could these agencies not control these Talibs, now they are actively at war with them inside Pakistan. Also there are people here who are sympathetic to the idea of the reunification of Pashtunistan because they view this entire region as historically Afghan territory since the Ghaznavid period [975-1187]. Afghans once ruled Kashmir but it makes no sense to reiterate these types of territorial claims today. Pakistan cannot claim any control over Afghanistan today. They hope to gain control of Indian-occupied Kashmir but seeing as they could not even hold onto Bangladesh, I do not think their territorial aspirations are at all realistic. The tribal maliks stood in the way of Pakistanâs desire to control the Durand Line because the ISI knew the maliks would never accept the presence of the Pakistani government in this area. Since the British era, the maliks have exercised a great degree of sovereignty in FATA and they thought that by killing [the elders] via their Talib proxies, the Pakistani Army and intelligence services could finally gain control of the tribes. By decimating the system of elders, Pakistan solved one small problem but created a much bigger one for itself. They were greatly mistaken in thinking they could control men like Baitullah Mahsud. Mahsud and the Pakistani Taliban had their own ideology which contained goals conflicting with the Pakistani establishment. But the problem of the Durand Line remains a serious one. You may have read that Pakistan forces have physically attacked our border forces in recent years and the situation there can be very tense [see Deutsche Presse-Agentur April 20, 2007]. Pakistan wants to control the Durand Line to assert itself but Karzai believes it is only so they can divide and dominate all of Pashtunistan. JT: Now letâs discuss the situation of your border with Tajikistan and the resurgence of Taliban militancy in Konduz. HK: The situation in Tajikistan is infecting Pakistan and the rest of Central Asia. Opium, primarily from Badakhshan Province, goes north through Tajikistan while arms come south to us from Soviet-era stockpiles that are being exploited. Some of these weapons [of Tajik provenance] are ending up inside Pakistan. Afghan drug dealers buy weapons from Tajik smugglers and then resell them for a tidy profit. They often double their money on these weapons deals. Not all of these weapons are ending up in the hands of insurgents either. As the security environment declines, villagers in affected areas are buying arms and ammunition to protect themselves. In Tajikistan weapons are cheap and they are plentiful. I believe that some Tajik border forces are also complicit in this trade. Our border police are some of the most corrupt in the world. This brings me to an important issue. In Afghanistan, all of our police are drawn from the local population where they serve whether they are on our borders, along our highways, or in our cities. I wanted to make the ANP a singular, centrally controlled entity with truly national border police, not just men raised from the villages closest to the borders. This practice leads to corruption. Another issue I had to deal with was the starkly differing approaches from within the Western military alliance on how the ANPâs training should be conducted and how an Afghan policemanâs job should be carried out. The EU member states believed the ANPâs duties should be restricted to civilian policing like their counterparts in Europe. Some Europeans even said the ANP men should not carry pistols! I told the Europeans that if your police can go to Ghazni with no weapons and come back alive then we would consider disarming our police. The Americans, for their part, had completely the opposite idea. They saw the ANP as the lesser-armed and prepared âstep-brotherâ of the Afghan National Army (ANA). The Americans view the ANP as a fellow frontline force in our counterinsurgency war while the Europeans strongly proposed that the ANP be removed from the conflict altogether. The Americans are soldiers that do not understand the fundamentals of policing communities and feel the ANP should be proper security forces. We had Germans who were training our police (the German Police Project Office) at the Kabul Police Academy several years ago but they did not do a good job because they put too many limitations on their mandate. They could train police inside the police academy but not outside of it in real situations. Then the ANP training was taken over by EUPOL (European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan) which made things far too complicated. The ANP became tangled in a web of inter-EU bureaucracy. Letâs say we ask for ten police from EUPOL. EUPOL then has to go around asking EU member states to contribute individual officers for these missions. If one member state says no, they do not want to send their police, what can we Afghans do? Then the Europeans tell us that our police are civilians and must not fight against terrorism because it should not be part of their job. They tell us the fight belongs to the ANA and NATO only. Finally we convinced the Europeans that, while yes, the ANPâs first task should be law enforcement and civil order, our police must be able to properly defend themselves when they come under attack from insurgents. On the murky issue of renewed fighting in Konduz and northern Baghlan Province, it is likely related to the American negotiations with the Russian Federation and several of the Central Asian states for the transit of NATO supplies to Afghanistan. Another factor has been the disenfranchisement of the northern Pashtuns with the renewed ascendancy of ethnic Tajik Jamiat-e-Islami actors in the then-nascent Karzai-led government succeeding the Bonn Agreement. The traditionally dominant northern Tajiks led by Marshal Mohammed Fahim and Ustad Atta Mohammed had no sympathy for the Pashtun power base in Konduz which had allied itself with the Taliban [Konduz was previously an enclave for Gulbuddin Hekmatyarâs Hezb-e-Islami] and cleaved the Tajiksâ northern security belt between Balkh and Takhar Provinces. The Tajik Jamiat members in Afghanistanâs central government sought to divide the northern Pashtuns in a bid to lessen their power. For example, in Baghlan, the new government picked a man named Amir Gul to be a district chief. But Amir Gul has a very bad name in the local society and by putting someone like him in power, the local people turn back to Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar and say âPlease help usâ because they know Gul to be a corrupt man with a bad reputation among his fellow Pashtuns. Pakistan, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami were waiting for that moment [to re-enter northern Afghanistan]. JT: What would be the motivation for Pakistanâs ISI and military establishment to foment chaos in Konduz and Baghlan? HK: Well the first reason would be that they want to prevent NATO from entrenching these northern transit routes. These alternate routes will cause Pakistan to lose a lot of money from the Karachi-Torkham route. Pakistan does not want to lose this money from NATO. Pakistan and the U.S. have historically been allies and Pakistan is scared that if America forms a new relationship with Uzbekistan then Pakistan will be left out of future security equations in the region. The second reason is that Pakistan still wields an enormous amount of influence in Afghanistan and they do not want their role to be diminished in any way. If Uzbekistan becomes stronger in Afghanistan, Pakistan worries that its future is dark. So the reasons for Pakistanâs covert support of northern militancy are both economic and political. JT: What is al-Qaedaâs motivation for being in this environment? HK: For al-Qaeda, the fighting in Konduz is a new window of opportunity for them to regain a foothold in Central Asia. JT: How did President Karzaiâs pre-election pacts affect stability in northern Afghanistan? HK: Karzai has worked to split all of the original jihadi parties dating from the anti-Soviet war. He believes that in causing these splits, he can both weaken all of his opponents and create allies all over Afghanistan. The splitting of [the Tajik-based] Jamiat-e-Islami between Marshal [Muhammad] Fahim on one side and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah on the other has been another factor in further destabilizing the north. With the Tajiks divided against one another, this creates a security vacuum for the ISI and local militants who had been dormant. Besides the resurgence of a formal terror network, Karzaiâs division of the old parties has led to a breakdown in social order that the political parties once maintained. This breakdown opens the door for criminal groups to operate. And along with the criminal groups are the drug producers and smugglers. Iran has been beefing up its border police recently in a robust effort to stem the flow of opiates into Mashad and Sistan-Baluchistan. So Afghan narco-traffickers are looking for alternate routes. Tajikistan, with its inept and corrupt government is a viable alternative to relatively strong Iran. Instability directly south of the Tajik border eases the flow of narcotics northward. JT: Describe the Afghan Interior Ministryâs view of its relationship with Uzbekistan? HK: Uzbekistan is the most important nation in Central Asia. The situation with Uzbekistanâs border security is much better than Tajikistan because they have a very short border with Afghanistan combined with very strong security services. During my time in the Ministry of Interior, we had good relations with them [the Uzbeks]. JT: Can you talk about the border with Turkmenistan and the relevant situation of declining security in Afghanistanâs Badghis Province? HK: Our relations with the Turkmen are also good but the circumstances there are not as good as Uzbekistan for a few reasons. They have a much longer border with many fewer police and the region of our shared border there is very lightly populated on both sides of the frontier. This makes the environment conducive to smuggling and other criminal activity. You may have heard that there is some Taliban resurgence in Badghis similar to what is going on in Konduz. I personally think the ISI [Pakistanâs Inter-Services Intelligence] must be behind these renewed theaters of insurgency. By creating trouble near the borders with our Central Asian neighbors, Pakistanis can say âLook you see, there is instability all over Afghanistan, not just along the Durand Line. By stirring up instability in formerly stable areas, it may make the new NATO negotiations with CIS countries seem less appealing. Again, Pakistan does not want to lose the revenue from the Western military freight that transits through its territory. It also does not want to seem less of a crucial ally of the United States because Pakistan is deathly afraid of India, as we all know. So now we are having trouble near the border with Turkmenistan and this scares their leaders. Like Uzbekistan, Ashgabad does not want the Taliban to gain a renewed presence in their region. Now when Ashgabad sees that there is trouble in Badghis Province, Pakistan can say âLook, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are your neighbors now,â enhancing Pakistanâs claims that Kabulâs writ is weak in most of the country. This furthers Pakistanâs pipe dream of regional hegemony. By making Afghanistan look weak, Pakistanis believe this makes them appear strong. They want to be the regional leaders. Pakistan can exploit the fact that Central Asian leaders fear al-Qaeda infiltration. Badghis is now becoming a new front of insecurity. JT: The Iranian border is a long and dangerous one. How were your relations with the Iranians? Would you describe their modus operandi as one of cooperation, competition or a mix of the two? HK: Iran does not have a singular, consistent foreign policy for Afghanistan. Though the ANP [Afghan National Police] has a good working relationship with Iranâs border and counter narcotics police, Iran has an interest in weakening Americaâs position inside Afghanistan and hindering the democratic process in Afghanistan. If Afghanistan could maintain a stable, emerging democracy, what message would that send to the young people in Iran who are restless for change? This is inconvenient for Iranâs government. Iran has many institutions and these are often in competition with one another, serving Tehran at cross-purposes. Iranâs Afghan policy is fluid and changes rapidly according to interests of the day. Iran is constantly shifting its position here. Some elements of their government are conservative while others can be quite aggressive. Iranâs top police chief came to Kabul and offered to help us build some border and customs infrastructure and asked for assistance with counter narcotics operations and our meetings were very friendly. In this way Iran tries to play all sides because their strategic position is threatened both here and in Iraq. Iran made a very bad play in temporarily aiding the Talibs. They gave them ammunition to fight Western forces but this also meant that Iran now had the Taliban back along its border for the first time since 2001. Secondly, where Talibs go, NATO forces eventually follow in pursuit of their counter-insurgency goals. So I think the Iranians realized they made a major strategic mistake on this issue. They wanted to keep NATO forces occupied in southern Afghanistan so that they could pursue various foreign policy goals of theirs but the result was now both Talibs and NATO on their border and Jundullah attacking from Zabul Province and from their bases in Pakistani Baluchistan. Iran is now confronted with Sunni extremists and Western military forces on its eastern border. Iran is very nervous. In 2006, a Taliban informant that we have close contact with told us that he had recently been to Iran on three separate occasions. He claimed that Iran was sending some munitions to the Taliban. But this temporary support of certain Taliban elements in western Afghanistan came to haunt the Iranians. Some of these weapons eventually ended up in the hands of Jundullah [ethnic-Balochi insurgents operating in the Iranian province of Sistan-Balochistan]. Jundullah and the Taliban have some friendly working relations. Then the Iranians realized Jundullah was seeking to destabilize Sistan-Balochistan. Jundullah operates freely in the triple border area of Baluchistan. When Jundullah started making some attacks against Iranian security forces, Iran realized that covert support of the Taliban was not in their interest. JT: So during your post, youâve said the MOI [Ministry of the Interior] was able to find some reliable Taliban informants. To your knowledge, has there been any Taliban infiltration in the ANP as an institutional issue? HK: During my time in the MOI we had four or five incidents of the Taliban penetrating ANP facilities but these were all what I would call low-level incidents. None of these penetrations added up to much for either side. There were some incidents in Farah [Province], Zabol [Province] and the Bala Murghab district of Badghis [Province] but they were not significant. The Taliban do not have any political program that will appeal to educated people in our military and government. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan for years and our educated people understand the difference between the Talibanâs motives and their actions. Pakistanis have not had to live under Taliban rule, Afghans have had this experience. And unlike the army in Pakistan since Zia ul-Haqâs Islamization phase, our army and police have always been secular organizations, which makes it difficult for the Taliban to get much sympathy [from] them. JT: What can you tell Jamestown about the little known border with China? Does the Afghan government even have a presence along the Afghanistan-China border? HK: This is a good example of the weaknesses in our security policy. In that area, at the end of the Wakhan [Corridor, a narrow and sparsely populated pass connecting Afghanistan to China], we just have some Pamiri people [Wakhi and Afghan Kyrgyz] that are supportive of Kabul and they watch the border for us. But they are just local people. The people there do not have aviation transportation and our border police have yet to reach this area. As I said we do not have centralization for our border security forces. During the time in my position, I repeatedly called for centralizing our border police. JT: Does the central government have any representation on the Chinese frontier at all? HK: We have sent people there weapons and supplies but it is very difficult for us to control the area. I have heard that some of the villages there are even supplied by China. Throughout history we have had this problem with controlling the Wakhan, even during the era of the king [Zahir Shah]. Only in high summer is the area accessible [due to extreme weather conditions]. JT: Is the Wakhan a drug trafficking route to China? HK: If the Chinese do not control it, yes. The Chinese are afraid of drugs. Drugs always seem to find their routes. Central Badakhshan Province is one of the oldest centers of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Long before poppy growth in Helmand, Badakhshan was the original center of drugs in this region. In my days in the MOI, we had a plane to reach there and institute controls but [the operation] was never realized. JT: In your tenure as the Deputy Minister of Interior for Security, did you get a chance to survey the Chinese border at the end of the Wakhan Corridor? HK: No, I have never been to the area. The MOI was not supplied with any helicopters from the international community to reach there as there are no roads. How can we go there without helicopters? I have been told that our MOI has recently been gifted two helicopters, one from Germany and one from Russia. So now the MOI forces have a total of two helicopters to police the entire country! I had the idea to create a new ministry for internal security to solve some of these issues but it was never realized. JT: The name Afghan National Police would lead one to believe that the ANP is a unified force under federal command. HK: The problem with the system is that while the overall command of the ANP is centralized now, almost all the police around the country are still recruited from the local population. All over the world, border police are national but in Afghanistan, they are local. In a whole province you will have maybe a few commanders from outside the immediate area. I have tried to say that Afghanistanâs most important force should be its border police. If our international allies are right to tell us that Pakistan is the base for so much cross border terrorism, should not we be stopping militant infiltration at the border? Border policing should be our highest priority, especially along the Pakistan border. JT: Were your able to bring this concept to Karzaiâs attention? HK: I mentioned it to him but Karzai is a very busy man. He cannot give these issues the time they deserve. The ANP is very poorly equipped and not prepared to confront a lot of these problems. JT: Speaking of equipment, what can you tell us about the staffing and financing of the ANP? HK: After Bonn, it was decided that Afghanistan should have 62,000 national policemen. During my work in the MOI, our international donors wanted the number increased to 82,000 and now there is talk of raising the membership to 96,000, including local militias, which I think is a terrible idea. It is better to have a small, qualified force than a barely outfitted, cumbersome one. But the donors do not listen to us, they make these decisions without consulting us. We cannot fund the ANP ourselves with our tiny tax base so the international community must pay for it. The ANP are funded in two ways. The first is the police trust fund that was established to pay for food and salaries and its budget is 14.5 billion Afghanis [approximately $290 million]. Then there is a separate fund controlled by donors that pays for vehicles, communications gear, building procurement and weapons. We did not know in the MOI what the precise budget is because our international partners did not tell us at the time. JT: Your final thoughts? HK: The United States must âAfghanizeâ the situation here. Afghanization is the only way forward. Afghans want to have an alliance with the United States because without such an ally, we cannot survive. Our neighbors will swallow us up and our internal problems will also swallow us. The U.S. must genuinely empower our army, police and intelligence services to make our forces the frontline in Afghanistan. JT: Why has the U.S. not done such? Is it an issue of trust? HK: Yes, I think so. Our armies fight together but when we need military equipment, they do not [budge]. This makes President Karzai crazy. He cries to the Americans âWhy, why donât you give our army and police equipment?â But the Americans still donât provide [heavy armor]. There is still a lot of mistrust between Americans and Afghans after all these years. But from the Afghan side, we are not completely honest either. The Americans say we need a several hundred thousand strong army but I do not agree. We need a small, highly mobile well-equipped army. (Nearing the end of our interview, Lt. Gen. Khalid picks up a small Nokia phone and calls a friend to check a fact for me. He learns during the course of the call that a close friend and colleague, Dr. Abdullah Laghmani, deputy head of the National Directorate for Security, has just been assassinated in a suicide attack in Laghman Province, sixty miles west of Kabul, while leaving a mosque with several prominent local officials following a Ramadan prayer service). HK: I have lost thousands of friends over the last thirty years. Dr. Laghmani was a very good friend of mine. In the beginning, we cried a lot. Now we do not cry anymore.