Posted by: Christian | January 20, 2009

Afghanistan’s New President?

Or rather, Afghanistan’s next president? We’ll see. Take a very good look at this man. (photo credit)

Mohammed Haneef Atmar

His name is Mohammad Hanif Atmar. You can read the Wikipedia entry on him for some nice abbreviated hagiography that leaves out a rather important fact. When I first heard his name (I dunno, 6 months ago?), he was being framed as a new-found rising star in the eyes of “the Americans” (which I take to be those non-military American power-brokers who make their way in and out of Kabul and the US embassy).

If you want some totally unsubstantiated rumors, check this Dick Cheneyesque visit out:

The streets of Kabul were filled with rumors about the implications of Biden’s visit there on January 10, including talk of another “regime change”…

Speculation in the wake of Biden’s visit was fueled in part by critics who hold senior posts in Karzai’s own administration. Among the comments that circulated in the Afghan capital were that Biden flatly told Karzai he was on his way out, and that the incoming U.S. vice president’s visit to the Afghan Interior Ministry during his stopover was really an effort to find a suitable replacement.

Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar is tipped by some to be a possible presidential candidate, and Biden’s visit with him was seen by some observers as a significant gesture.

Well, more definitive news out of Kabul [sarcasm].

To be honest, I have no way of knowing “who” and “how many” of “the Americans” are pushing his name (and perhaps his name was just being pushed to Interior Minister…for now).  And like in the US, names are thrown around in the long-term lead-up to the presidential elections (which leads to Clinton-Giuliani predictions). So it would do no harm for some speculation in the “palace intrigue” tradition. Afghan Citizen has put out a list which is pretty good summary of the rumor mill. Always nice to see those Khalilzad rumors. I would add to it Ramazan Bashardost, Ehsan BayatAbdul Jabar Sabet, Gul Agha Sherzai and drmirakiforpresident.com might be trying to say that Mohammad Daoud Miraki is making a run. And there should be others, plus plenty of time to declare.

Now, I’m not writing this to come up with a comprehensive list and description of candidates. What I want to do is discuss Atmar in particular, not because I think he’s great and should be the next president, but because this says something about a person’s past in Afghanistan. It is quite common to bring up old affiliations in the Afghan political discourse. Some call: Dostum a warlord and a communist, Massoud a warlord, Karzai a former Talib, Sabet a ethnic fascist, Khalilzad an American, and on that last note, returning Afghans from overseas often can be referred to derisively as “dog washers” (i.e., for Americans), as opposed to the people who stayed behind during the years of conflict. And if you want to get a taste for the mud-slinging, read this old article about cabinet nominees, where there are accusations of bad Muslims, secret Jews, illiteracy, thievery, communism, dual-loyalties, etc…

How about Atmar? Well, he will not escape the Communist label easily. The NY Times reported last October:

Under pressure from the United States and its coalition partners to shake up his government and curb high-level corruption, President Karzai named as his interior minister on Saturday a former official of Afghanistan’s Communist-era secret police. […]

Mr. Atmar is regarded in Western embassies as well prepared for the challenge. He is a Pashtun, the ethnic group from which the Taliban draw most of their fighters. His background during his youth as a member of the Khad secret police — a bulwark of the Kabul government during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s — gives him ties to a period under President Najibullah, the last Afghan ruler of that era, which is regarded by many Afghans as a time of relative security in cities like Kabul.

In 1988, Mr. Atmar lost one of his legs fighting with a Khad special-operations unit against mujahedeen fighters besieging the eastern city of Jalalabad. When the mujahedeen captured Kabul, he joined an exodus of Communist-era officials and went to Britain, where he gained a college degree in postwar recovery.

Khad secret police? That doesn’t sound too good. But it should be noted that he was 20 years old in 1988, so he wouldn’t have been around for the worst of the massacres and executions that the communist Afghan government carried out (and by this time the mujahideen were no longer as popular as they had previously been). Plus, the post-Communist era dirtied pretty much everybody else. And its not like former Communists are chased out of town like French collaborators the day after liberation from the Nazis. There were many people who served in the communist bureaucracy who now serve in the Afghan government and (I think) the officer corps. Getting rid of former Communists would mean getting rid of a lot of competent, educated technocrats. Pragmatism prevails. Even the Taliban accepted known-Communists into its ranks (who tossed their uniforms and grew a beard).

As for the rumors that he will run for president, what does he himself have to say?

Atmar, the British-educated interior minister, is widely considered one of the most effective managers in Karzai’s administration, but he downplayed rumors that Biden’s visit to his ministry represented a wink or nod regarding a possible presidential bid. Atmar told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that Biden’s visit simply reflected protocol for visiting foreign lawmakers.

“Usually when senators [and other lawmakers] from the U.S. and other countries visit us, we meet them in our offices — perhaps one can speculate that he was thinking that he is not yet the vice president and was here as a senator; so he chose this protocol for himself and came to my office,” Atmar said. “But the most important thing is that Biden promised us strongly that he will help the Afghan police forces.”

I actually believe the guy. My guess is that “the Americans” supported him for Minister of the Interior, but that the presidential election rumors are just that: rumors.

As for all this “Obama-Biden want Karzai gone” stuff, that’s no certainty. Karzai may just be the best (or least worst) candidate come later this year (if elections aren’t delayed).

It could be that the new administration just wants to let Karzai know that he can’t take American support for him for granted, and that he needs to get done a list of US-approved tasks. That’s Marvin Weinbaum’s take on the issue:

Currently a scholar-in-residence at a Washington-based think tank, the Middle East Institute, Weinbaum maintains that in an Afghan election year, the Obama administration should make it clear to Karzai that they are not “four-square behind him.”

He says the success of planned changes in the military strategy and a renewed focus on Afghanistan’s reconstruction requires that the Karzai administration restore the confidence of Afghans in its ability to serve them.

“The improvement in the functioning of the Karzai administration is critical to the success of the other policy changes, including military and development assistance changes,” Weinbaum says, “and that, without those changes, it will undermine the success of those other initiatives.”

As for Atmar, he may be no presidential candidate in the near-term, but he is definitely someone to take note of. Of course, I may just be surprised and Atmar may jump in the ring.

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Responses

  1. no amount of change of strategy would restore confidence in afghanistan.while the leftist government of afghanistan came on its own steam after the april coup ,the present afghan regime came with force of US military power.already the south of afghanistan is irrevocably lost.you cannot travel from kabul to kandahar.the US options are either to withdraw to the line kabul shindand peiwar kotal and consolidate the north which is not anti US or carry on an endless guerrilla war against taliban in the south.as a contractor of LBGI and USAID in helmand ,ghazni and kandahar i have seen US forces closely.the way they are behaving is not the way a war is fought .they are there for hole punching and improving their lives .

  2. one has to see what are the future US options in afghanistan in eal terms.men like atmar have no major following .for that matter all present government figures are seen as collaborators par excellence by the majority.the USA’s only hope is consolidate in the north.beause it appears that the future US strategic objectives are chinese singkiang etc etc:–

    http://low-intensity-conflict-review.blogspot.com/2009/01/usas-future-strategic-options-in.html

  3. AFGHANISTAN IN AN EX SOLDIERS EYES
    DETACHED FROM NATIONAL,RELIGIOUS,ETHNIC,IDEOLOGICAL AND ANY BIASES BELOW IS MY ASSESSMENT OF US SOLDIERS AS AN EX SOLDIER WHO SAW THE AMERICANS CLOSELY IN AFGHANISTAN IN 2004-2009:–

    1-PRIVATE US COMPANIES MAKING MONEY LIKE THE BIG TEN .THIS INCLUDES LBGI , FLUOR,BLACK AND VEACH,KBR/HALLIBURTON,PERINI,SHAW,AEAI,BEARING POINT ETC.ALSO ATTACHED ARE SECURITY CONTRACTORS LIKE USPI,DYNCORPS,GLOBAL,SSSI,BLACK WATER.ALL A PART OF THE CORRUPT TENS CAMP FOLLOWERS.

    2-MILITARY CONTRACTING SPECIALISTS , BASICALLY CIVILIANS IN UNIFORM DOING ALL SORTS OF SHADY DEALS.

    3-SMALL TURKISH ,LEBANESE,INDIAN AND SOUTH KOREAN COMPANIES MAKING MONEY AS SUB CONTRACTORS OF MAJOR US COMPANIES.MAJOR RACKETS AND BRIBES IN THESE SUB CONTRACTS.

    4-THE US SOLDIER MOSTLY FROM LESS PRIVILEGED GROUPS LIKE LATINOS AND AFRO AMERICANS HOLED UP IN SMALL CAMPS OR OUT ON PATROLLING.OPERATING IN AN ENVIRONMENT WITH LOW FORCE RATIO AND NO CHANCE OF EVER PACIFYING AFGHANISTAN.

    5-US DIPLOMATS AND EMBASSY OFFICIALS HOLED UP IN THE COMPOUNDS ,HAVING A GOOD TIME HOLE PUNCHING AND NOT INTERESTED IN WHATS GOING AROUND.NOT INTERESTED IF USA IS WINNING THE WAR OR LOSING IT.WELL SUMMED UP BY DOUG SCHERER SECOND SECRETARY US EMBASSY KABUL AS WET PUSSIES HIDING BEHIND E MAILS.

    6-THE TASK OF THE US SOLDIER IS THANKLESS AND HIS COMMANDERS DONT HAVE ANY STRATEGY OR EVEN OPERATIONAL STRATEGY.ALL HE DOES IS JUST OVERPAID SENTRY DUTY.

    I MADE MANY FROENDS AND MOST FELT THAT THEY WERE NOT DOING THE REAL JOB OF SOLDIERING AND THEIR SERVICES WERE NOT GIVEN DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT.

    THIS INCLUDES USA AND NATO FORCES.

  4. Excellent post Christian. Well reasoned.

  5. Karzai Warns Obama .
    see more : http://afghancitizen.blogspot.com/

  6. Who will be the next president of Afghanistan?
    see more :

    http://afghancitizen.blogspot.com/2009/01/who-will-be-next-president-of.html

  7. […] UPDATE: Andrew, a.k.a. Abu Muqawama passes along this informative post about presidential possibilities in Afghanistan. […]

  8. What is all this talk about what President Obama/Americans prefer? The coalition keeps insisting that they’ve restored democracy to Afghanistan. If so, then it’s THE AFGHAN PUBLIC who decides to either stick with Karzai, or go with Atmar or somebody else, instead of any U.S. annoiting….

  9. Christian – leaving aside my ongoing concerns that this still seems – as Inkan1969 points out – to be all about US powerplays – they decide who will be the next Afghan President and not even discretely – I have had Atmar down as “one to watch” since the end of ’02. I’ve seen him speak a few times now and he has transformed two Afghan ministries. This is what I said in my blog (http://blogs.sipri.org/) – apologies for shameless plug:

    “Hanif Atmar – at last some good news for Afghanistan…?

    Hanif Atmar’s performance in Karzai’s government since 2002 has consistently been a genuine piece of good news. He has already transformed two other ministries – Rural Rehabilitation and Development (02 – 06) and Education (06 – 08). He now looks set to do the same with an even more crucial part of the Afghan government – the Interior Ministry.

    The reform of the Afghan National Police has proceeded at a woeful pace, hampered every step of the way by poor coordination, corruption, incompetence and fragmented efforts. Even now, in 2008, the ANP are arguably still more of the problem than the solution – low morale, poor salary and numerous casualties from insurgent attacks mean that posts are frequently deserted, fraternisation with the Taliban takes place at the local level and police “checkpoints” are still the only solid guarantee of an income that some police forces have.

    Hanif Atmar’s move to the Ministry of Interior can mean only good. He has a reputation for efficiency, effectiveness and, crucially, appears to be free from corruption. He has done good work in his previous two ministries and Karzai’s move of Atmar to the Interior Ministry looks well thought out and forward looking. The Interior Ministry has long been in desperate need of a thorough going over: slow progress, corruption and lack of capacity have undermined a vital aspect of governance. Atmar is unlikely to be tolerant of corruption and inefficiency. He is likely to shake things up and, as a result, will be certain to meet institutional fear, suspicion and a lack of co-operation both within Kabul and in the provinces. He will therefore increase the risks to himself personally as recipients of nepotism, poor quality officials and the corrupt now stand to lose position, money and influence. He will not be popular.

    A much needed step in the right direction…”

    Working against him is that he is relatively young and unknown – maybe this Presidential race is not the one for him, and your point about the Khad is interesting! But I guess, as a 20 year old, who knows what reasons may have brought him into the organisation (if indeed the info is correct)…?

    Cheers

    Tim

  10. […] also Joshua Foust and Christian Bleuer on Karzai’s potential competitors, who aren’t exactly first-rate alternatives either. […]

  11. […] Atmar is now the head of the Ministry of the Interior (and a rumored presidential candidate). […]

  12. Please elect this man visit the below sit. Seems like he is very educated.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashraf_Ghani

  13. of all the candidates, Dr Miraki is the only choice from my perspective, especially he does not have foreign sponsors, he traveled and campaignerd in areas where US soldiers can not travel. I belive he is very sincere. Visit his webpage:
    http://www.drmirakiforpresident.com

  14. By the way, Dr Miraki annouced his candidacy in Jalalabad about 10 days ago

  15. Not Dr Miraki but Dr Mirani .

  16. Dr Mohammed Daud Miraki has announced his candidacy in Jalalabad. The news of his candidacy appeared on Lemar and Tolo TV and Shamshad TV. Not Dr Mirani, I know his is the member of parliament, not a candide


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