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Afghan governance: more Judge Dredd than Jefferson

More than a decade into the US-led war in Afghanistan, local strongmen still undermine US and NATO efforts to establish a strong democratic culture in Kandahar.

By Correspondent / July 31, 2012



Kandahar, Afghanistan

Nearly 11 years into the American-led war, local strongmen often still have more influence than government institutions in Afghanistan, undermining US and NATO efforts to establish a strong democratic culture here.

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Rather than seek the help of their local parliamentarian or governor, many Afghans turn instead to individual figures acting alone and outside the framework of the law. In Afghanistan's south, this paradigm has traditionally created problems. There, provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq has managed to become one of the most influential figures in Kandahar Province, despite credible rumors of involvement with extrajudicial killings, torture, and drug smuggling.

For Western observers who hoped to see Afghanistan adopt a more democratic and transparent government that would move away from strongmen and their parallel governments, the rise of a figure like General Raziq is concerning. Still, many Afghans see him as necessary to bring peace in the short term and an unavoidable stepping stone to a new class of leaders who live by the law, not by the gun.

“Given the current situation and the people who are fighting against Afghanistan and our people, I think Raziq should be aggressive,” says Haji Fazal Mohammad, district governor of Kandahar’s Panjwayi district, a former Taliban stronghold that has seen substantial improvements over the past year.

“If the Taliban were thinking about human values, then it would not be good to be aggressive with them, but they are against all human values, and they are trying to destroy our country and our security institutions, and they are against reforms in our country,” 

The need for an effective police command became clear in April of last year when a suicide bomber managed to infiltrate police headquarters in Kandahar and killed then police chief Gen. Khan Mohammad Mujahid. Raziq, who was commander of the border police in Kandahar’s Spin Boldak district at the time and a close ally of the US, was brought in to replace him.

About three months later, Ahmad Wali Karzai, half-brother to the president, was gunned down by someone from his inner circle.

Enter Judge Dredd

Having overshadowed most government institutions, Mr. Karzai's death created a power vacuum that many feared could cause Kandahar to fall into a downward spiral. Some Kandaharis hoped that his death might pave the way for the government, rather than another strongman, to regain control of political life in the south. 

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