AFGHANISTAN: THE CLASH OF KHANS IN TAKHAR; A BATTLE FOR POWER AND PENNY7 / August 2016 | 0 Comment
The northeastern province of Takhar was one of the strongholds of Afghan people during the Russian aggression in the 1980s. Later, the province changed to one of the vital strongholds of northern alliance resistance forces against the Taliban fighters. Ahmad Shah Masoud, the famous Afghan guerrilla fighter, spent his last days of life in the province where he was assassinated in a suicide attack in 2001.
In the past 15 years of the US-backed Afghan government, Takhar has been a safe heaven for residents of Northern provinces of Afghanistan.
But, as the insurgency re-emerged in Afghanistan, Takhar province couldn’t survive this reemerging trend in northern Afghanistan. The province has a strategic location bordering Kunduz and Baghalan in the west, Badakhshan in the east and Panjsher (Panjshir) in the south. This geostrategic location along with its fertile ground for producing poppy has put the province in the center of a long-standing political instability.
Taliban; the first player
The re-emergence of insurgency and terrorism in Takhar province after the Taliban regime toppled dates back to July 2008, when a group of Taliban insurgents led by Mullah Osman stormed a police check-point in Kalfgan district of the province. After that, the Taliban staged another attack on a security force check-point in Baharak district of Takhar on May 2009.
These incidents was soon followed by the most infamous abduction of a New York Times reporter in 2010. Investigations found later that the reporter was abducted by a Taliban field commander in the province.
But the assassination of General Dawood Dawood, a prominent anti-Taliban jihadi commander at that time, Chief in Command of northern zone police on May 28, 2011, was one of the high profile attacks of the Taliban insurgents in this province. Since the collapse of Taliban regime in 2001, the killing of General Dawood Dawood was seen as reemergence of terror by the insurgent group.
Following the end of the combat mission of US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, Taliban focused on its revival strategies and once again became active in the Northern Takhar province. The Taliban, steadily, spread its influence in parts of Takhar, particularly in Darqad district. Unsurprisingly, the group captured Darqad district on October 2015. Prior to that, Taliban succeeded in capturing Khwaja Ghar district as well.
As of mid 2016, officials in Takhar claim Taliban’s presence in four districts of the province — Ishkamish, Khwaja Ghar, Darqad and Yangi Qala – which are considered to be under high threats. “Security forces have been engaged in heavy battles against them for a while,” Noor Mohammad Hakimi, Takhar police chief, recently told Khabarnama.
Along with the four districts, another three are under Taliban’s regular threats.
“Two-three more districts of the province are under low threats of Taliban.The insurgent’s movements have been spotted on these districts.” Hakimi explained.
Out of 17 districts of Takhar, currently 7 districts of the province are either under high or low threats of Taliban. Along with remarkable influence of Taliban in Darqad district, the insurgent group has put more pressure from neighboring Baghlan and Kunduz provinces. As officials in Takhar say, “Ishkamish and Khwaja Ghar districts of Takhar are under Taliban’s threat from Baghlan province.”
Most of the Taliban in northern parts of Afghanistan are stationed close to Tajikistan borders, around Kokcha River, where there are dense forests that now have turned to safe heavens for the insurgents.
However, the residents of the province ideologically are anti-Taliban, which is why the Taliban has not been able to find lasting footholds there.
But there are other governance related issues that have paved the way for the Taliban’s reemergence in wide areas of the province.Takhar provincial council chief Arbab Rohullah believes that some people’s support to the insurgency is because of decades of weak governance system in the province. He also said, based on conversations with locals in Darqad district, that many residents there had complaints against Afghan national police behavior.
“People tell us that the police intervene in their daily life. They don’t respect our traditions and don’t hear our complaints. That’s why we joined the Taliban to defend out legitimate rights”, Arbab further added.
However, despite local grievances against the security forces’ performance, the officials in Takhar believe that the forces have been doing its best to insure rule of law, good governance and protecting the citizens.
The battle for poppy
Takhar shares border with Tajikistan. Various reports have claimed that most conflicts in the province occur for the control of transit line of narcotics.
“Most of the Taliban fighters engaging with Afghan forces in bordering areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan are trying to control the transit line of drugs. They are not ideological fighters, but fighting for lucrative drug business. One of the main reasons of on-going fights in Takhar goes back to control of the drug business.” Sunatullah Temor, Takhar provincial spokesperson, explained to Khabaranama.
Local warlords, playing second fiddle
Afghanistan has been traditionally a tribal country. In many areas it is tribal elders who are the final decision makers. Takhar province is not an exception from that tribally-structured political system.
Takhar province – as some of its civil activists and residents describe – “is a place where in most parts, the local warlords are more powerful than the local government.”
A few local reporters told Khabarnama that the number of unofficial security personnel is higher than the number of registered and official security forces inside Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police ( ANP) .
“Last year, after collapse of northern Kunduz province to the Taliban, situation of Takhar started getting worse and now the security situation is deteriorating. The central government mobilized some warlords here and now those people have turned their guns against the local residents.” Waheed Bakhtash, a poet and resident of Takhar, told Khabarnama.
Iqbal Barzgar, a local journalist based in Takhar province, stated that these warlords are involved in different crimes. “The security situation in Takhar is not good at all. After the collapse of Kunduz province the local armed commanders rejoined the game of controlling power and penny. These people have their own private jails. They are involved in loitering, thefts and target killings.” Barzgar added.
Peram Qul, potent force in Takhar
Many districts of Takhar province have vigorous tribal leaders. They are supported by or are consist of ex-parliamentarians and ex-police chiefs. Among them, Peram Qul is the most powerful and famous local commander in Takhar. His power base is in Rustaq district.
In a short interview with Khabarnama, Peram Qul said that after the collapse of Kunduz, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), which is the main Afghan intelligence agency, has supplied him with 500 AK-47s and a hundred thousand dollars in order to fight the Taliban.
But local journalists claim that the number of armed people under him is almost around 2000.
While the government’s strategy of mobilizing influential warlords to deter Taliban’s threat in Takhar was successful, local reporters like Iqbal Barzgar believes that now “these people have become one of the main sources of insecurity and instability here in Takhar.”
It’s widely believed that these warlords have their own private prisons. Alongside Peram Qul, figures like Qazi Kabir, Bashir Qant Chah Abi, Khair Mohmmad Cherek, Sobhan Qul and Peer Mohammad Khaksar are other influential power brokers in Takhar.
“Some of these warlords have annoyed Takhar residents which is problematic for the local officials.” Sunatullah Temor, Takhar provincial spokesperson, told Khabarnama.
But, when Peram Qul was asked about accusations on him, he said, “When you are a powerful man in Afghanistan, there are some people who can’t see you in power and thus stage conspiracies against you.”
But, the provincial spokesperson, Sunatullah Temor, surprisingly told Khabarnama that the “activities of these people are not concerning to them.”
“They are completely under control of local government and often fight back with Taliban.” Termor added.
Local officials, player number three
The third factor behind growing insecurity in Takhar is competition among local officials.
Peram Qul, the powerful local commander of Takhar, claimed that some security officials in the province destabilize the situation for their own interests.
“Those who are involved in destabilizing Takhar’s security are people like Takhar police chief and some other high profile security officials. They destabilize some parts of Takhar to have a safe route for their drugs smuggling. They hire some gangsters and command them to launch a level of controlled instability in order to keep their drug transit routes open.” Peram Qul told Khabarnama.
However, this is not the first time that security officials are accused of smuggling drugs in Afghanistan. In 2015, a General from Afghan military was caught red-handed in Baghlan province while smuggling drugs.
In addition, as Peram Qul claims, most of those officials that destabilize security in Takhar are backed by Afghan Chief executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.
“The father of all them is Dr. Abdullah,” he claimed.
But, Takhar police chief Noor Mohammad Hakimi dismissed the accusations made by Qul saying that “these words are personal comments of Peram Qul. A security official can never destabilize security himself. Even now, we are engaged in a battle against Taliban in Khwaja Ghar.”
At the same time, one of the spokespersons for Abdullah Abdullah rejected claims made by Peram Qul.
“Ensuring security is one of the core responsibilities of a government. The Afghan government is trying hardly to protect its citizens. Our commitment to the world is to ensure security.” Omid Miasam told Khabarnama.
Internal enemies, comes next
Takhar police chief, however, believes two types of groups are destabilizing the province: External enemies and internal enemies. Police chief Hakiami labels the Taliban insurgents the external enemies, who posses threats from outside the province. But, according to Hakimi, the local commanders are internal enemies of Takhar that “destabilize the province to control more areas, gain more power and more money.”
Due to the complicated security situation in Takhar, it’s hard to say who is responsible for the current situation there. The head of Takhar provincial council believes that alongside Taliban fighters, the local government posses another security challenge to the province, like their powerful local commanders.
“Takhar local officials somehow are involved in worsening situation here. For instance, while addressing local conflicts, the officials take sides. Just recently, I have spoken to a number of people from Darqad district, they complain that the police are not cooperating with them. That’s why they say they preferred the Taliban over the local government here.” Arbab Ruhullah explained to Khabarnama.
Fan pages of Dr Yaseen Zia, the young and social media savvy governor of Takhar who has worked with the Afghanistan’s apex intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS) published number of reports largely portraying him as anti-Taliban and anti-corruption crusader, reportedly as part of a concerted image building media campaign.
However, a number of Takhar residents believe that despite huge Facebook campaigns through the Takhar governor, wide mismanagement exists in local governance. The residents added that people are actually running away from the local government here in Takhar due to poor governance.
A local writer, Waheed Baktash, believes the governor is not really as much successful as he shows in his social media propaganda.
Iqbal Barzgar, another local journalist, confirms that the governor is less successful than it’s being shown on Facebook pages.
The Takhar provincial council chief, Arbab Rohullah, told Khabarnama that there are a number of officials inside the local administration that have close contacts with Taliban and work for the terror group secretly.
Peram Qul believes that “a bunch of local officials inside the government have ties with local drug dealers.”
Takhar is one of the few provinces in Afghanistan where three players, the local government officials, Taliban and powerful local commanders, accuse one-another of being involved in power struggles for their personal interests.
There is fear that lack of an immediate and precise strategy for change in the province could lead Takhar to face a situation as bad as Kunduz, which collapsed in to the hands of Taliban for nearly a couple of weeks in late 2015.
And, not to forget, Takhar is one of the strategic provinces nestled in north of Afghanistan, which needs a comprehensive political-security strategy to empower local governance and transform the worsening security situation.