An insurgency beyond the
Taliban By Syed Saleem Shahzad
HERAT - Most insurgency-related activity
in Afghanistan over the past year, with the
Taliban at the core, has been concentrated in the
southwest and southeast of the country.
However, trouble is brewing in the
northwest, along the Iran-Afghanistan border,
although the underlying motivations for opposing
the Kabul administration and North Atlantic Treaty
Organization-led forces are markedly different
from other regions.
Into the lion's
den From Herat, our car traveled for two
hours on the state-of-the art
highway that loops across the
country to Kandahar in the southeast. We then
turned off on a minor dirt road toward the
Shindand district of Herat province.
far as the eye could see there were dusty plains
and dry mountains. The going was rough, but the
driver did not want to slow down in this
notoriously lawless district, in stark contrast to
Herat city and its surrounds.
than an hour we stopped at the half-burned
building that serves as the Kabul-anointed
district administration's headquarters. The
building was set on fire by an angry mob after a
NATO bombardment in the last week of April of
Bakht village in Shindand district in which 136
NATO claimed that the victims
were Taliban, but all subsequent reports show that
most of them were ordinary citizens, and the raid
has resulted in a surge of support for the
insurgency. Afghan officials have even confirmed
that 57 of the dead were civilians.
was the second major development in April in the
area in favor of the insurgency. The first was
Iran's deportation of tens of thousands of Afghan
refugees to the area - their resentment is driving
them into the arms of the insurgency (see Iran forces the issue in
Afghanistan, Asia Times Online, June
Haji Mohammed Alam is the
administrator of the district. Sitting in a room
in which a picture of President Hamid Karzai
hangs, Alam, a Barakzai Pashtun educated in
Russia, expressed his concern over the April
"There are no Taliban or al-Qaeda
in Shindand. People settle their old tribal feuds
by feeding wrong information to NATO. NATO then
carries out a bombing on the civilian population
without proper investigations," Alam said.
Alam then telephoned Haji Nasru, the
strongman of the Shindand district and a younger
brother of slain Pashtun warlord Amanullah Nasru.
Soon we were sitting in the
administrator's car heading toward the district of
Zair-e-Koh, which is ruled by Nasru. The
Karzai-appointed administrator was only allowed to
take one police guard - no Afghan police or army
are allowed into Nasru's domain. A checkpoint on
top of a mountain pass manned by armed men in
civilian dress marked the beginning of this
domain. Armed guards in a jeep then escorted us.
"The people in Zair-e-Koh don't trust the
Afghan legal system. In the past few months,
religious scholars have established themselves in
the villages. Each village has at least four
clerics, and they settle disputes in a simplistic
manner," Alam observed as we rode along.
To underline some of the tensions in the
area, the administrator said that while Herat
province is the only one in Afghanistan to have
uninterrupted power supply, electricity is not
available in Shindand.
The reason is that
legendary Afghan warrior against the Soviet
resistance, Ismail Khan, a Tajik, was ousted as
governor of Herat and as a token gesture made
minister of energy. He now makes sure that his
Pashtun adversary in Shindand is kept in the dark.
After driving on a difficult track for an
hour, we reached Nasru's compound. He's a thin,
tall man and warmly hugged and kissed his visitor.
"I am Haji Nasru," he said, adding with a smile,
"Nasru the oppressed."
As it happened, a
traditional tribal council was in session. It was
full of elders and with relatives of those killed
in the NATO bombardment.
"Every time our
opponents, especially Ismail Khan, spread stories
that Shindand is full of Pakistanis and Chechens -
but with no evidence - NATO carries out a
bombardment, and those who are killed are Afghans.
"The governor of neighboring Farah
province does not have control in his area and he
always blames Shindand as a hotbed of Taliban and
al-Qaeda activities. But we always question this,
'If there are al-Qaeda or Pakistani fighters in
Shindand, why do NATO troops not show their
bodies?'" Nasru said.
"The last time they
bombed villages in our district we asked for the
reason. They named Mullah Akhtar Mohammed as
Taliban and active in the area. But Mullah Akhtar
is an ordinary person and has nothing to do with
the Taliban. Of course, there were many Taliban
living in our area, but now they have left the
Taliban movement. But calling them Taliban and
bombing them will serve no purpose; instead, it
will complicate the situation," Nasru said.
Nasru's village of Kosh, about 7
kilometers from the main bombing site of Bakht
village, was also hit, including his house and a
school built by an Italian reconstruction team.
"Now the government admits that 57 among
the dead were civilians, but it refuses to
compensate their families. Only the International
Committee of the Red Cross provided some aid,"
At this point an elderly man
jumped up, brandishing two identity cards issued
by the Election Commission of Afghanistan. "They
were my relatives. They were killed in this
incident and said to be Taliban. But if they were
Taliban, they could not have been registered on
the election list, because the Taliban are
strictly forbidden from registering for voting."
Nasru continued. "You know, we are loyal
to President Hamid Karzai's government, but our
opponents settle their scores against us through
NATO. Sometimes they blame us for growing poppy,
but you can see there is none. And sometimes they
blame us for harboring Pakistani and Chechen
fighters, but they never succeed in proving their
presence here, dead or alive."
angry tribal elder picked up on the implicit
threat in Nasru's comments: "I tell you one thing,
that resentment against NATO is growing among us.
They suddenly conduct raids in our areas and do
not care about the sanctity of our homes. The next
time this happens, I will declare war against
Haji Bismal, a middle-aged
villager, continued the theme. "NATO has a bizarre
explanation for everything. Once they arrested
some people from our area and took them to Bagram
base [near Kabul]. They were asked to recite some
verses from the Koran. When they did, they were
declared as Taliban.
"I tell you, the
Soviet army was far better than the Americans. At
least they used to warn us before an attack to
withdraw our families and children. NATO does not
care about anything, and it bombs an area without
caring about women and children. You will have
seen our devastated homes; what relation do we
have with any fighting or with the Taliban?"
Administrator Alam has petitioned Kabul to
have Shindand, which is predominantly Pashtun in
an otherwise Tajik-Sunni province, declared a
separate province. Karzai agreed in principle, but
the matter is winding its way through the
During the Taliban regime
(1996-2001) many people from Shindand joined the
Taliban, but eventually moved on to exile in Iran.
Now they are being returned against their will.
And incidents like the bombing of Bakht serve as a
catalyst to increase the anti-foreign movement in
northwestern Afghanistan, even if it has nothing
to do with the Taliban movement.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia
Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be
reached at email@example.com.