0

What's New About the New All-Afghan Army?

The murder of Afghanistan's Minister of Aviation by a mob (perhaps incited by members of Afghanistan's own interim administration) shows that Afghan society remains deeply fissured. The first reforms to Afghanistan's army will only make these divisions worse.

The Minister of Defense in Hamid Karzai's temporary administration in Kabul has already named the top officers of this new army. The Minister, General Mohammed Fahim, is a Tajik from the Panjshir district in the North, who rose three months ago to command the Northern Alliance forces that captured Kabul after American bombers cleared the way for them. As a group, his appointments pose a direct challenge to Mr. Karzai's goal of reunifying the country.

Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic nation, the largest group being Pashtuns, with two-fifths of the total. Hazaras and Tajiks constitute about a fifth each of the population. Of thirty-eight officers elevated to general's rank by Mr. Fahim, thirty-seven are Tajiks, the other being Uzbek. If any of the country's fifteen to seventeen million Pashtuns are recruited as soldiers, they will serve under a command structure made up almost entirely of Tajiks. The Pashtuns' language, however, is as different from Tajik as Spanish is from English and millions of Pashtuns of military age know only a smattering of Tajik, at best.

The geographical profile of the new military leadership is as narrow as its ethnic makeup. Thirty-five of the thirty-eight senior officers hail from one small area north of Kabul consisting of Parwan province (where the Bagram airport is located) and the nearby Panjshir valley, long the Northern Alliance's stronghold. Stated differently, potential leaders from twenty-seven of Afghanistan's twenty-nine provinces were excluded from their country's new military elite.