By Samim Arif
As Afghanistan’s national security adviser continues to show his influence in the upper echelon of politics, feudal warlords are attempting to undercut that power, leveling false accusations against the politician.
Hanif Atmar has been in the center of Afghan politics and decision-making at the highest level in post-Taliban era. He served as the Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (2002-2006), Minister of Education (2006-2008) and Interior Minister (2008-2010) during the Karzai administration. He was regarded as “the most competent” anti-corruption cabinet member in Afghanistan by western nations.
Atmar is one of the few technocrats at the highest level who rose to prominence solely through his leadership, management and effective strategy mindedness, while a majority of the rest of his fellow cabinet members were former warlords and had military power. Born in 1968, Atmar was also the youngest cabinet member in the period of 2002-2010.
Days after taking office as president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani appointed Atmar as his national security adviser. This was one of the initial political appointments made by President Ghani. Even though technically an adviser has no executive authority, Atmar has made his presence felt by leading National Security Council meeting sessions. He is now President Ghani’s go-to person because of his understanding of the domestic, regional and international politics.
In his very first days as national security adviser, Atmar was tasked to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States on behalf of Afghan government. That showed the elevated trust and reliance of President Ghani on him. His endeavors and opinions matter more than other National Security Council members, even the ones with much more executive authorities.
That has created animosity among other Afghan politicians, especially former warlords and former president Karzai’s loyals, against Atmar. For example, last year when Islamic State’s hostility emerged in Nangarhar besides that of Taliban, they killed many civilians and seized several areas. Zaher Qadeer, deputy speaker of Afghan parliament blamed Atmar for stirring those particular events of violence in eastern Nangarhar.
The reason behind Qadeer’s allegations was Atmar’s opposition to his use of force by his militias against ISIS on his own and beyond Afghan government’s subjection. Qadeer received financial support from Iran in order to thwart ISIS in Nangarhar. Atmar opposed Qadeer’s militia making, rightly so because further inclusion of Iran in Afghan conflict will elevate sectarian tension.
Atmar suggested that all anti-terrorism military operations be taken under the Afghan Security Forces’ supervision. He knew if being let loose, Qadeer could well create a strong militia group of his own besides the existing ones. Militias have historically posed threat to democracy and rule of law to all nations in the phase of post-conflict rehabilitation. Qadeer later reportedly apologized to Atmar during his visit to Nangarhar.
Jamiat-e-Islami, Dr. Abdullah’s political party, too finds it hard to get along with Atmar. Time and again they blamed Atmar for political upheavals and the expansion of havoc to northern Afghanistan. Recently, Jamiat criticized President Ghani and Atmar for gravitating and centralizing power into their own hands. Jamiat also said that Atmar is seeking support from Afghanistan’s international partners to create a presidential guard of 10,000 forces. Even though that is not officially confirmed and still remains a rumor, the presidential guard could well diminish Afghan warlords’ threat to the government and play a force vis-à-vis their militias. After the collapse of Taliban, Afghan warlords and militiamen have constantly challenged rule of law and effective governance. That guard, if formed, could be used to daunt warlords and refrain them from using military force beyond government subjugation.
Last month first vice-president, General Abdul Rashid Dostum’s convoy was attacked in Ghormach district of Faryab province. After narrowly surviving the attack, Dostum held a press conference and accused Atmar for plotting the attack. He also criticized Atmar for usurping authority he is not entitled to. Seeking common ground, Jamiat members took advantage of the opportunity and started supporting Dostum’s stance.
Hoping to decrease President Ghani’s faith in Atmar, a Northern Alliance loyal, Razaq Mamoon wrote an article theorizing a conspiracy that Atmar was recently planning a coup against President Ghani. That theory and other media propaganda were bogus and futile attempts to distance Atmar from the president.
First, this is technically impossible given Atmar’s professional background, he is a firm believer in democracy and institutionalization, and also he does not have any militia or military power that would support disobedience of that sort.
Second, President Ghani has never opposed with him over any national issue. Atmar has shown great temperament towards media and has never showed any angry or sentimental reaction toward the accusations and allegations, he never succumbed to any pressure. After all the media allegations, President Ghani conferred the highest state medal upon Atmar in return for his services to Afghanistan.
Atmar has not only been involved in domestic security policies, he has also proved his effectiveness in the expansion of Afghanistan’s regional and international diplomatic horizon. He was the main actor who helped President Ghani restore NATO’s trust in Afghanistan, after which consequently NATO in Warsaw summit in July of 2016 pledged $4 billion to Afghanistan until 2020. He has also been the major actor behind the peace deal with Gulbudin Hekmatyar, which was signed in September by President Ghani and Hekmatyar.
One thing Atmar’s foes have in common, is their bleak background of warlordism. They know that Atmar is Ghani’s top ally and strategist, and is in pursuit of creating an institution driven government and military, rather than individual driven system. This is the sole reason a majority of former warlords envy Atmar’s proposed policies and actions. They know there is no space for them in an institutionalized government.
*Samim Arif is a Fulbright scholar & studied Master in Journalism and Public Relations at Indiana University Bloomington. He can be reached at [email protected]
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