What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Terrorism hits Baghlan: Dots to be connected?

I mentioned yesterday former Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar's theory of a "Hizb-i-Islami (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar faction) assisted/directed by ISI" sort of scenario to explain the November 6 attack in Baghlan.
Well, I have to start a lengthy train of thought regarding that.
Prime sources on Afghanistan, such as Afghanistanica or Afgha.com have paid more attention than the rest out there to a series of deaths earlier this year - deaths of former or active Hizb-i-Islami commanders. Not taking into account those killed or captured by coalition forces, there are basically two assassinations and a heart attack to consider, first of all.
  • May 2, 2007. Wolesi Jirga member Ustad Haji Abdul Sabir Farid (alternatively just Ustad Farid) was gunned down in front of his Kabul apartment when he was returning from a nearby mosque where he had just offered Maghrib prayers. (That was the second assassination of a Wolesi Jirga member at that time; in the first one Maulavi Muhammad Islam from Samangan was killed, also in Kabul, gunned down in 2006 on his way to a mosque to offer Friday prayers.) Ustad Farid was a member of the United National Front (having joined the Northern Alliance already back in 2001) as a former senior Hizb-i-Islami commander, so that immediately raised speculation if Hekmatyar might have been behind the assassination (a claim the latter denied).
  • April 28, 2007. Ustad Farid's death came just four days after news of the death of another Hizbi commander, Agha Mir, surfaced, in Logar province. "Loyal to the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA), commander Agha Mir was killed after being kidnapped by a dozen gunmen, said local tribal elder Haji Ayub Khan," one news report says. But then his body was left behind with a tag that said: "Anyone spying for the government will meet this fate."
  • Perhaps not on the same day as Agha Mir, but over the night from April 27 to 28, another Hizb-i-Islami commander, Bashir Baghlani died in Baghlan, of a heart attack.
Three Hizb-i-Islami commanders dead in one week raised some eyebrows, especially with Baghlani's heart attack coming in that conspiratorial part of the day called night. A cousin of his was quick to say that Baghlani didn't have previously known heart problems. (Baghlani cooperated with Karzai's government, and was appointed governor of Baghdis and then of Farah, before in 2006 he went back to Baghlan.)
So much for the assassinations and the heart attack part. Meanwhile two Hizb-i-Islami commanders were killed in coalition raids in 2007 (Gul Haqparast and Haji Amanullah). It's always interesting when the coalition has timely intel, although that of course could always be put down to efficient operating by coalition units active in the given area as well.
The point is that Hizb-i-Islami was further weakened in a sense (after many of its members gave up the fight, and others were arrested over the years), while some of those who left the organisation more or less became targets of assassinations or died a mysterious death. We're talking about five people for the period of 2007 altogether (three deserters (incl. Agha Mir, but with a question mark of course) killed/deceased; two loyals killed). So it's not easy to extrapolate anything unambiguous from this. But some more context might make a bit of a difference.
Some of Hizb-i-Islami became a political party post-2001 (even its name was registered like that officially, after a delay of two years). It has two Wolesi Jirga members (Haymayun Jarir and Khaled Farooqi). Add to this now that some question how independent they really are from the non-legal Hizb-i-Islami faction, the HIG(ulbuddin).
And there is then Amin Waqad, a Pashtun from Nangarhar (photo source):
As a former HIG jihadi veteran, he is currently a member of the UNF according to Afgha.com, and saying things very unlikely to be in the interest of the UNF as such at this very moment. He's denying that HIG's belief system would allow it to carry out an attack, including a suicide bombing, like the one on November 6. Voicing which assumption of his rests on the rather weak pillar of there not having been an HIG suicide bombing before (as opposed to the random killing of civilians of which HIG has done a lot before). And even that argument is made further more dubious by Hekmatyar's having endorsed suicide bombings in principle in the past. The obvious question that comes to one's mind is whether he's really saying what he honestly thinks of HIG.
I actually think he is.
But it would be good to know the context in which he said what he said casting doubt over HIG's involvement in the November 6 bombing. If you read first this interview with him at CEIP, you might feel like you'd have even more questions. In October 2001 Amin Waqad talked of a Jalalabad Loya Jirga supported by Pakistan as a "neutral consensus government." As one could ask: so he's now in the UNF? A person who forecast, using his words here, that "The Pashtuns will never live under the rule of the minorities"? If he's indeed gone through a big conversion, embracing northern politicians, somebody please write a novel about it. It would be interesting to hear more, wouldn't it?
But then you could read this other interview with him, from Jamestown. From that you may get the clear impression that he is now really at odds with Hekmatyar. And there you may even find interesting remarks about suicide bombings which again suggests that the media might be just playing up the significance of a UNF member saying anything controversial related to who might have been behind November 6, distorting his message somewhat. In the Jamestown interview he said: "The suicide bombings started with Hamas in Palestine and were exported to Iraq and then imported into Pakistan, in particular Quetta and Waziristan. Hekmatyar could not manage such a project of suicide bombings on his own. But he has benefited from it. (...) by using the suicide bombings of the Taliban, he once again has promoted himself as an important figure in Afghanistan."
Anyway, back to HIG. So what am I getting at, writing so much about HIG and where some of the people who used to belong to it have gone?
Well, the point is that HIG has been weakened and its membership partly dispersed into all sorts of other organisations. It has become something like a loosely organised network the coherence of which can be doubted (e.g. how much the legal HI is ready to represent HIG interests in any form on the basis of considerations other than what's instrumentally rational in domestic politics for them). Who's giving a direction to that network then, for it to have a meaningful existence at least as a network? Who's coordinating it? Who's arranging some kind of fate for it and its members, former and current? Where's the hub for all the spokes?
M.K. Bhadrakumar suggested one kind of answer to offer, as I noted yesterday, not altogether surprisingly for a former Indian diplomat.
It's certainly true that HIG is based mostly in and around the Shamshatoo refugee camp near Peshawar in Pakistan at the moment (Amin Waqad says just that, too), which always raises the question of how much assistance and from whom they would get there. But it's not so easy to connect the dots empirically.
Anyway, the point really is that the (conspiracy) theory of intra-UNF factional fighting I'm certainly not ready to take seriously at this point. Even the once quoted Shiite cleric's, Mohammad Bakir Hashimi's claim, that he saw at the blast's scene that Mustafa Kazemi's body had gunshot wounds, might be put down to the benign explanation of wounds by ball bearings flying around in the blast (about a thousand of those were mixed in with the explosives) having likely been just mistaken for gunshot wounds. Afgha.com says Baghlan medical sources denied there having been gunshot wounds on Mustafa Kazemi anyway, so this is important to note just in order to point out that the Shiite cleric probably wasn't looking to spread misinformation malevolently.

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