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Afghanistan: Karzai Signs Decree Against Uncooperative Warlords

Hamid Karzai (file photo) Afghan leader Hamid Karzai has signed a decree that threatens tough measures against warlords who resist a nationwide disarmament drive. The decree says militia commanders who do not take part in disarmament will be regarded as renegades and rebels and will be harshly punished. RFE/RL takes a closer look at an issue that is seen as critical to security in Afghanistan ahead of a presidential election scheduled for October.

Prague, 15 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The decree signed by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai in Kabul yesterday is the toughest legislation to date from the Afghan central government in regard to renegade warlords who control their own private militia forces.

It follows a pledge made by Karzai last week to crack down on warlords and militia commanders who resist the internationally backed process of Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program, also known as DDR.

Karzai's spokesman Javid Ludin told RFE/RL that the goal of the decree is to get full cooperation from militia commanders on DDR. "This decree is aimed at those who are opposed to the DDR program, or who are not cooperating, and to bring more fairness to the justice system of Afghanistan," he said. "Those who are not cooperating, those who are actively working against DDR, they will be brought to justice. This is the aim."

Earlier this week, Karzai told "The New York Times" that renegade militias in Afghanistan pose a bigger threat to elections than the remnants of the Taliban regime. Those comments followed an announcement by the government last week that parliamentary elections will be delayed by six months until April 2005 because potential voters continue to be intimidated by warlords and their militia fighters.

Some private militias in Afghanistan -- particularly those within the Jamiat-e Islami political group of Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim -- are officially recognized by the central government and are nominally attached to the Defense Ministry. But Ludin said the decree will strip that official status from militias with uncooperative commanders.

"It is written in the decree that those people who have activities against the DDR process and bring security problems to the country will be considered disloyal and rebellious and, in accordance with the law of the country, actions will be taken against them. They will face the severest of punishments," Ludin said.

The decree also says that a fundamental condition for peace and economic recovery in Afghanistan is the collection of weapons and the integration militia fighters into the fledgling Afghan National Army through the Defense Ministry. A United Nations-sponsored disarmament program has stalled on several occasions since it began last October because militia commanders have refused to give up their weapons.
"The big question is whether there is any capacity on the part of the Afghan judiciary and law enforcement institutions to actually arrest and initiate prosecutions of commanders who maintain militias in violation of the law." -- Parekh

Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based expert of the International Crisis Group who specializes on Afghanistan's DDR process, spoke to RFE/RL today about the significance of Karzai's decree. "It actually [is a natural consequence of] the DDR process, which ultimately aims to shut down militias," he said. "But in a sense, the decree concedes that formally shutting down militias -- stripping them of any official status -- does not necessarily mean that they will cease to exist. This decree opens up the prospect of criminal prosecution of those commanders who continue to maintain militias as well as those commanders whose militias have never been recognized by the state."

Parekh said the challenge for Karzai's administration is to enforce the tough rules of the decree. "The big question is whether there is any capacity on the part of the Afghan judiciary and law enforcement institutions to actually arrest and initiate prosecutions of commanders who maintain militias in violation of the law," he said.

Parekh noted that with Karzai depending upon the backing of some militia commanders who are members of his Transitional Authority, there could be concerns in the future about whether or not yesterday's decree is implemented uniformly across the country.

"The real test is going to be the pace of de-officialization of militias. If you see a pattern emerging where those militia leaders who formally or informally support Karzai are exempted from giving up any official post as militia commanders, or if that process unfolds much more gradually in their cases -- if concessions are made to them when they resist the removal of official status for their militias -- then you might have a case that this is being used politically to empower some commanders but not others," Parekh said.

Parekh concluded that commanders within the Jamiat-e Islami faction are in a position to gain the most from the process of integrating militia fighters into the Afghan National Army. "Right now, the main beneficiary still stands to be General Fahim, the defense minister, because -- at least as long as he remains defense minister or one of his allies is the defense minister -- he will have control over the Afghan National Army that is being U.S.-trained and for which they have been installing some of their own allies -- mostly Jamiat commanders -- as brigade commanders [in the Afghan National Army]," he said.

Karzai has pledged to disarm about 60,000 of an estimated 100,000 militia fighters in Afghanistan before presidential elections scheduled for 9 October. So far, about 10,000 militia fighters reportedly have been disarmed.