The battle spreads in
Afghanistan By Syed Saleem
KARACHI - The bulk of the fighting in
Afghanistan in the past week, which has claimed more
than 300 lives among the Taliban, US-led forces,
the Afghan National Army (ANA) and
civilians, has taken place in the southern Pashtun
heartland of the country.
Taliban's spring offensive is fast turning into a
massive resistance against the foreign presence
all over Afghanistan, and already some influential
characters are jockeying for a post-spring role.
And the indications are that the
resistance could transcend a simple Taliban-led
insurgency to evolve into a powerful Islamic
Thousands of Taliban have
emerged in the provinces of Helmand, Ghazni,
Urgzan, Kandahar, Kunar and Zabul, and in all of them
story is the same: where allied forces have taken
on the Taliban, the ANA holds the "fort". In
places beyond the access of allied forces, the
Taliban are in control.
less-populated Farah and Nimroze provinces, where
the Taliban have a nominal presence, violent
incidents against the ANA have begun. The same is
true in western Herat province on the border with
Former acting Afghan
premier Engineer Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai commented by
telephone to Asia Times Online from Kabul, "There
are now sporadic incidents of violence in northern
Afghanistan. We are hearing news that rockets are
being fired on coalition forces in Maidan Shahr
[east of Kabul], and there have been incidents of
bomb blasts and violence in the north. As to who
is behind this, different people have different
opinions. Some allege the Taliban, some allege
Hizb-i-Islami-led [Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar and some
call them unknown groups."
With regard to
the "unknown groups", Asia Times Online spoke to a
man who knows Afghan society and most of its
characters inside out, former Pakistani army
general and director general of the Inter-Services
Intelligence Hamid Gul. Gul has for many years
been associated with the various groups of the
Afghan resistance, since the days it fought
against the Soviets in the 1980s.
"Firstly, when this sort of mass
resistance starts, it means that it is a
collective decision of Afghans. So you can see
that though the Taliban resistance is centered in
a very specific area, sporadic incidents have
erupted all over. To me, the Taliban may be one
group, the HIA [Hizb-i-Islami] of Gulbuddin is a
second and [Moulvi Yunus] Khalis' HIA would be
"But there are tribes as well who
would be digging in against allied forces in their
specific areas. This is a specific Afghan style of
rebellion in which parties fight throughout
Afghanistan under their flag, but the tribes
restrict themselves to their areas. All fight for
the same cause, but under their own disciplines.
All fighting factions develop a sort of
understanding with each other," Gul said.
This kind of "netwar" is very much the
case in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban are in
action under their commanders and the overall
field command of Jalaluddin Haqqani, while the HIA
is fighting under its commanders and various
tribes are coordinating with the resistance.
However, in northern Afghanistan the
situation is different. The main players with
influence in the north are very much known,
although most of them are sitting idle in Kabul,
including Engineer Bashir Khan Baghlani, at one
time the closest of Hekmatyar's comrades.
Khan cooperated with the Taliban (on the
instructions of Hekmatyar) after 1996 when the
Taliban seized control of Kabul. As a result, the
Taliban were able to take control of various
northern Afghanistan areas up to Takhar.
However, the Taliban refused to give Khan
an important portfolio and insisted that he live
like an "ordinary private citizen". That condition
was unacceptable to a commander of Khan's stature
and he rebelled against the Taliban, for which he
ended up in prison. After his release, he came to
an arrangement with Ahmed Shah Masoud, the leader
of the Northern Alliance that defied the Taliban
in the far north of the country.
time of writing, Khan is still in Kabul, keeping a
low profile. He is at peace with the allied
forces, though he is considered loyal to Hekmatyar
and he was prevented from contesting the last
Commented Gul: "I
have known Bashir Khan Baghlani for ages. He is
among those people who just cannot sit idle. This
is a pure Afghan style of resistance in which one
could be seen to be silent, but his aides,
relatives and tribe would be active in the
resistance. And when the resistance reaches a
certain level, the main person goes back to his
region to dig out his arms cache, which he would
have stored a long time ago, and then joins hands
with the resistance.
"This is just the tip
of the iceberg you are watching; this situation
will further escalate as the whole environment is
now conducive to resistance," said Gul. "Russia is
annoyed with the Americans, Iran is hostile to
Western interests and Pakistan is no more in a
position to adhere to American directives.
"The trade of raw opium [in Afghanistan]
has reached US$2.4 billion, and the trade of
narco-drugs has reached up to $4 billion. Where
are the drugs going? Of course, they come from
Afghanistan and go to Russia. Even if 10% of the
trade is used for arms purchases, it serves the
purpose of the resistance. And what else could
Russia do to support the anti-US resistance but
just turn a blind eye on the drug trade? And it is
doing so," said Gul.
Gul also argued that
Pakistan, although it had positioned 80,000 men
along the Durand Line that separates Afghanistan
and Pakistan, was not able to police the Taliban
in Pakistani territory.
cannot stop infiltration through the Mexican
border - how can we stop it [with Afghanistan]?
Especially as the Durand Line is just an imaginary
border, not a physical border," said Gul.
Contacts in the Pakistani tribal areas of
Bajaur and North Waziristan tell Asia Times Online
that at least seven different tribal jirgas
(councils) are meeting on a daily basis among the
And Miranshah Bazaar in
North Waziristan is once again full of posters of
Osama bin Laden and Hekmatyar, while slogans are
written in support of the Taliban.
jirgas are unanimous: there should be
all-out war in Afghanistan.