Why Afghanistan's intelligence agency has a major blind spot
Afghanistan's intelligence service is dominated by men from one small province of the country. Has this hampered the Afghan government's ability to infiltrate the insurgency?
Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) has been sharply criticized for failing to thwart last week’s series of coordinated attacks in the capital and given the Taliban an effective talking point.Skip to next paragraph
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Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has placed the most weight for the attack intelligence failures on NATO but hasn’t absolved NDS of fault, “I'm not blaming NATO for this. I'm simply asking a question as to the efficiency of our intelligence gathering systems, whether these systems are working all right,” he said in an interview with CNN.
The president’s question is one shared by many Afghans. Though the NDS is relatively well-regarded as an intelligence gathering body, many complain that nepotism and ethnic favoritism – issues that affect most Afghan government offices – could dangerously hobble the capability of the Afghan intelligence agency.
“I would say that there are a lot of people who came into the NDS through political ties. I would also say that there are people not just from one tribe, but from many tribes related to one group,” says Gen. Nazifa Zaki, a member of parliament from Kabul who sits on the internal security commission. “There are professional people who have worked for many years in intelligence, but they are now sidelined.”
In a nation that is a patchwork of ethnic groups, many with their own languages, about 70 percent of those at NDS hail from Panjshir or have ties with the Northern Alliance, a group that once opposed the Taliban, say NDS officials.
Additionally, in a recent editorial for the BBC’s Persian language service Amrullah Saleh, a former NDS director wrote that 90 percent of the leadership for Afghanistan’s security forces, which includes NDS, attained their positions through political appointments.
The problem of having an ethnically homogenous spy organization comes into sharp relief against insurgent groups like the Taliban or Haqqani Network, which are almost exclusively Pashtun organizations and have only a handful of supporters from different ethnic groups. Prior to the most recent conflict, Pashtuns have been historic rivals of Panjshiris and the other ethnic groups that make up the Northern Alliance.