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

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nir Rosen maps the human terrain in Ghazni

Everything surely wasn't perfect about Nir Rosen's article. His conclusions regarding the inevitability of sitting down with the Taliban at the negotiating table are a self-contradiction. He himself knows quite well that there are many different "Taliban." And he himself was a guest of different "Taliban," visiting houses where he certainly didn't sit down at a "table." The value of his article lays in the bravery, the observation skills and the understanding of a lot of little nuances he shows.
Effectively, he maps the human terrain of the commanding ranks of the insurgency for two districts of Ghazni province.
Read the entire article for it's more than the basic information I'm going to assemble below in the form of excerpts taken out of context. My effort is something that could be interesting to, for example, Poland, as the latter country is taking on more of a role in Ghazni province nowadays, as we speak.
Too bad the names are not the real ones, however. Nir Rosen changed them, to protect his hosts (I mean, to make doing his job as a journalist sustainable).

Mullah "Ibrahim"
"Mullah Ibrahim (...) commands 500 men in the Dih Yak district of Ghazni* (see editor's note below post). Now in his 40s, Ibrahim has been fighting with the Taliban since the 1990s. He walks with a pronounced limp: He lost his right leg below the knee in the country's civil war, and he had undergone surgery only the week before to repair nerve damage he suffered in a recent firefight. At first he told me his wounds were from an American bullet, but I later learned he had been injured in a clash with a rival Taliban commander. (...) Ibrahim's recent injury, it turns out, was the result of a clash between his forces and a group of foreign fighters under the command of Dr. Khalil."
"(Mullah Ibrahim's) friend Shafiq is behind the wheel, wearing a cap embroidered with rhinestones. Afghan culture places a premium on courtesy, and Shafiq comes across as unfailingly polite. At one point, almost casually, he mentions that he has personally executed some 200 spies, usually by beheading them. "First I warn people to stop," he says, emphasizing his fair-mindedness. "If they continue, I kill them." Shafiq, who fought the Soviets with the mujahedeen, now commands Taliban fighters in the Andar district of Ghazni. Shafiq tells me that fighters from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan have come through the Andar district. Most are suicide bombers, but some fight alongside the Taliban. He is impressed with their skill, but like many Taliban, he doesn't care for their politics. (...) The village of Kharkhasha is where Shafiq lives. (...) Shafiq says he fought the Soviets in the 1980s and spent five years in jail. But following the Soviet withdrawal, as the mujahedeen turned on one another, Shafiq felt they had become robbers. He joined the Taliban in 1994, he says, because they wanted peace and Islam."
Mullah "Yusuf" (in the village of Nughi)
"Mullah Yusuf, Ibrahim's nephew (...) serves as a senior commander in Andar. A year and a half ago, Yusuf was injured in his thigh by a U.S. helicopter strike, and now walks with a limp. He joined the Taliban in 2003 after studying at a religious school in North Waziristan, the border region of Pakistan where many Afghan refugees live. He seems less motivated by religious ideals than by defending his homeland: He took up jihad, he tells me, because foreigners have come to Afghanistan and are fighting Afghans and poor people. "The Americans are not good," he says. "They go into houses and put people in jail. Fifteen days ago the Americans bombed here and killed a civilian." "
Dr Khalil, "somewhere between the villages of Gabari and Sher Kala"
"A burly man with light skin and a dark brown beard, the Doctor picks up the bent glasses and examines them somberly. His hands are thick, enormous. (...) he studied at an Islamic school in Pakistan before entering medical school in Afghanistan. He joined the Taliban early, eventually serving as a commander in a northern district. He says he is fighting to restore a government of Islamic law, but that Mullah Omar does not have to be the leader again. (...) A clash between mullah Ibrahim's forces and a group of foreign fighters under the command of Dr. Khalil, (after) the foreigners wanted to close down a girls' school, sparkling a battle. Two Arabs and 11 Pakistanis commanded by Dr. Khalil had been killed by Ibrahim's men."
So that is the picture we have. But before somebody thinks that this sort of image of the human terrain should just "enable the global kill chain," as some have put it in the past, there is in fact a lot more sophistication to ponder. Ibrahim, Shafiq, Yusuf, they belong to a group that tries less to purge Islam of its diversity than a pure Salafist would. They don't like that roads and bridges are destroyed and are not willing to imagine Afghanistan's future without peace coming at some point. They voice more moderate views regarding women, and appear to act in at least some ways in accordance with that. Of course they are no less lethal as insurgents. Are they, the "Andaris," the next Anbaris? While I'm not as pessimistic as Nir Rosen is (a lot of what is bad about the situation in Afghanistan today depends on what we do or do not do there is what I think), I don't believe you have the next group of Anbaris presented to you in this article. In Iraq, the Sunni Arab tribes that played a key role, had important things to gain and much to lose. How can we make Ibrahim and Co. gain a lot at all? And how to do that fast? How can we make them gain without betraying our own fundamental principles? They are a relatively moderate stream in the Taliban movement, but it's still the Taliban movement we are talking about.
As to Dr Khalil, yes, he is fighting with "foreigners," that is one way to view this. But the Pakistanis working under his command are most likely Pashtuns. They are not foreigners as much as Libyans or Yemenis are in the battlefield. So the analogy doesn't quite work.
Alright, that's it for today.
* If Ibrahim, who, if I understand this correctly, is a superior of Shafiq, is indeed from Dih Yak district, commanding a 500-strong guerrilla militia there, that is interesting because Dih Yak is not a Pashtun-majority district of the province. It is a Hazara-majority area, if data referenced at Wikipedia (from AIMS) is right.
So how do Pashtun guerrillas operate in Hazara areas? Do they operate there at all?


Anonymous said...

There were some minor clashes with the Hazaras in Ghazni. And of course there may be some Hazara elements that are alienated from the current power structures within Hazarajat, but it is very unlikely that the Taliban or their allies would be operating within Hazara dominated areas.

The numbers may be a bit cooked up. Rosen reports it as he hears it, but 200 executions (as one Talib claims) is a tad bit too much.

Alex Strick van Linschoten said...

AIMS data was compiled in 2002/3. A lot has happened since then, particularly in Ghazni. Don't trust the data it suggests...