An AFGHAN cabinet minister and one-time warlord has called on former anti-Soviet guerrillas to regroup and rearm to prevent a slide into civil war once most foreign forces leave the country by the end of 2014.
Ismail Khan, the energy and water minister and an influential former mujahideen commander, made the call to arms yesterday during a parliamentary session, infuriating Afghan officials and leading some MPs to try to impeach him.
But Mr Khan emerged unscathed with the support of 140 of the 172 members present, dealing a blow to efforts by president Hamid Karzai to assuage public fears about the effectiveness of Afghanistan’s security forces after their foreign backers leave.
Brought into Mr Karzai’s government as a symbol of national unity, Mr Khan was chided last month for urging people in his power base, western Herat province, to “step forward, take arms and defend the country” in areas where police and troops were unable to operate.
Mr Khan insisted he was committed to Afghanistan’s stable future, having played a role in the creation of the current political structure.
“I’m not making my speech here as a minister but as a person who has fought for more than 21 years for the independence of Afghanistan,” he said during a 90-minute rebuttal, broadcast live on state television.
“I call … all mujahideen in Afghanistan, the saviour soldiers of this country – don’t let it go back to insecurity.”
The government is concerned that “irresponsible armed groups” could heed Mr Khan’s request and undermine government efforts to win public confidence in the 350,000 foreign-trained Afghan security forces.
The regrouping of militias could also destabilise the country by renewing tribal and ethnic conflicts and turf wars over wealth, resources and power.
During the debate, Mohammad Naeem Lalai Hamidzai, an MP for Kandahar province, accused Mr Khan of distributing weapons and trying to consolidate his political power in Herat.
Mr Hamidzai asked Mr Khan: “Do you think that this is the time to have a parallel security structure, against our strong national security forces?
“You are the cabinet minister … Why don’t you call on our mujahideen to support Afghan security forces?”
Violence is intensifying across Afghanistan ahead of the withdrawal of the bulk of foreign troops and an election in April 2014, which will bring an end to Mr Karzai’s final term in office and has led to concerns about poll fraud and power struggles.
The Afghan defence ministry yesterday issued figures showing that on average 110 Afghan soldiers and 200 policemen have been killed in action each month of this year.
Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said deaths have risen in the past year as the army and police have taken over the lead role for security in areas covering 75 per cent of the country’s population.
The hope for peace after Nato forces withdraw is currently looking slim. Talks facilitated by US diplomats involving the Afghan government and Taleban representatives broke down in March and efforts to revive them appear to be stumbling.
In the past two weeks, suicide attacks claimed by the Taleban have targeted symbols of the West’s presence in Afghanistan, including a Nato base in Kabul’s diplomatic enclave and two US military installations, killing more than a dozen Afghan police and soldiers and wounding scores of civilians.
Five people were killed in a suicide attack at a US airfield in Jalalabad on Sunday. Two bombers and seven insurgents armed with rifles and rockets also died.