Nasyr Shansab, an Afghan of average build and amiable disposition, was working at his desk at his home in Kabul when three strangers burst in. They demanded $20,000 or else. Anticipating attack, Mr. Shansab moved first, striking one who toppled on another. He pushed the third out the door only to have him draw a revolver. Fortunately, a friend had just arrived and grabbed the assailant. All three intruders then fled their failed mission.
Mr. Shansab describes the aftermath: "We threw them out of the house and after that, when it was reported to the police, nobody claimed that they knew them or who they were. I don’t think anything happened, and the expectation is that nothing will happen because sometimes at least part of the police might be working together with those people."
Mr. Shansab, a leading Afghan businessman, says he now has a guard and a gun.
As this incident suggests, security remains uncertain in Kabul, even more so in the rest of the country. And security is the key, adds Mr. Shansab’s son, Horace, who is making a film about a family living in Afghanistan under Taleban rule. Without personal safety assured, he says, businesses will not come to the country. It cannot be rebuilt if people fear for their lives.
Rule of law must take over Afghanistan, says Horace Shansab. "People must respect the law and fear the consequences of being unlawful," he says. "There must be an enforcer. There has to be an army that the central government can call up to enforce the law. Otherwise, 99 per cent of Afghanistan will be a lawless land, the wild east, and there will be a small bastion of security in Kabul."
But establishing this security is problematic, says Nasyr Shansab. Power still rests largely with the so-called warlords and they are not inclined to surrender it, despite the pleas of the central government.
"Nothing has changed in the internal power structure in Afghanistan," he says. "The warlords - the people who had power after Communism fell in Afghanistan - are still in power. Their word is still the law."
A law that is hard to break, says Edmund McWilliams, former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan. "At the moment warlords are still largely in control of most of the countryside," he notes. "That means they are not going to respond to President Karzai’s direction, but rather to their own financial interests and power interests."
One of the most powerful warlords sits undisturbed in Kabul. He is Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, who controls what is considered the largest private militia in Afghanistan. It would be a major task to disarm him, says Nasyr Shansab. "As far as I can judge, the police, the secret police and most of the military units in Kabul and around Kabul are under his command and belong to his organizations and the Northern Alliance. From that point of view, he is the most powerful man in Kabul and the surroundings."
The Karzai Government made a determined effort to remove one important warlord, Ismael Khan, in the province of Herat, which has close ties to Iran. The government claims success, but that is disputed by others who say Mr. Khan remains largely in control, enjoying the proceeds from cross-border trade with Iran.
Mr. McWilliams says Khan is more than a man with a gun. "He is a very significant warlord and something more of a political figure as well as a warlord because he does have some local backing in the Herat area. He has long roots there," he says.
Part of the warlords’ power rests on the flourishing drug trade. Afghanistan is now said to supply 80% of the world’s opium - the nation’s biggest industry and a source of livelihood for its farmers. U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad says Afghanistan has the potential of becoming a narco-state.
Edmund McWilliams thinks U.S. and NATO forces, with control of the roads, could reduce the drug traffic. But the will may be lacking. The West has other distractions, say analysts, and nation building in Afghanistan is not a top priority.