Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Herat Analysis

Discussions of the situation in Herat are now up at RFE-RL and the Pak Tribune. Zahir Nayebzadeh is a commander loyal so Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The formal issue in the conflict between Nayebzadeh and Herat Governor Ismail Khan is the extent to which Khan should be under the control of the central government in Kabul. (This does not, of course, rule out the probability that Nayebzadeh just wants to be the new Ismail Khan.) Karzai is now sending troops from the Afghan National Army to impose a cease-fire, and if that fails, he will seek aid from NATO forces in Afghanistan.

All of this bears watching. For one thing, it is a test of Karzai's ability to impact the province of the most powerful regional governor. Ismail Khan is also the main warlord backed by Iran, and crucial to Iranian interests in the country. As far as the NATO role goes, it is not clear to me if NATO has the troops to both continue the current campaign against al-Qaeda/Taliban and stabilize Herat if necessary. Yet a conflagaration in Herat would almost certainly bode ill for the future stability of the country as a whole, far more than the continual security problems in Zabul and Waziristan. I also worry about NATO and the U.S. getting sucked into a local dispute we don't fully understand. Part of the problem the U.S. had in Lebanon was in not recognizing the realities of local politics and focusing too much on extending the power of state institutions. Where state institutions are weak, however, politics works through other loyalties. If we believe Nayebzadeh is representing the central government when in reality he is claiming to do so while merely playing everyone for support, and NATO falls for that and offers some sort of support, it will have sacrificed credibility in a meaningless dispute between rival warlords bent on factional aggrandizement.


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