Soviet-era weapons arming the Taliban
By Tahir Qadiry
MAZAR-E-SHARIF - While United States officials accuse Iran of arming a
resurgent Taliban, officials in this northern Afghan city say the weapons are
actually part of vast caches left behind by the Soviet military that fought a
nine-year war in Afghanistan before withdrawing in 1988.
Ustad Basir Arifi, secretary for the Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG)
program in northern Afghanistan, told Inter Press
Service (IPS) that weapons abandoned by the Soviet Union there are now being
moved by professional smugglers to the southern provinces where the Taliban
have their stronghold.
"Huge caches of weapons remained with the people from the Soviet Union period.
These are now being smuggled to the south of Afghanistan. These weapons are
bought in the north of Afghanistan and smuggled to the south to be used against
government and foreign forces," Arifi said.
According to Arifi, security officials have on several occasions intercepted
weapons being smuggled to the south. He said the DIAG has urged the government
to take firm measures to avoid this. Abdul Aziz Ahmad Zai, the chief of DIAG,
said his group was "very concerned over the issue. It shows that the Taliban
are being fortified."
Zai did not rule out the possibility of weapons originating from outside
Afghanistan. "Smugglers could be bringing weapons from Uzbekistan and
Tajikistan to the north. A good transit point could be Badakhshan province," he
said without mentioning Iran.
Zai said powerful syndicates were carrying out the smuggling. "However, our
security officials and the Interior Ministry are working very actively in this
regard," he added.
According to Zai, the recent riots in northern Jowzjan province were an
indicator of the fact that weapons were freely available to people. He also
said that there still were armed groups in the north of Afghanistan. "It is a
very great concern for us that there are lots of illegal armed groups in the
north," he said.
General Abdul Manan, representative of the Defense Ministry in the DIAG
program, said the government had been able to collect 70,000 heavy and light
weapons from the whole country under the DIAG program. But he believed that at
least a million more pieces were in the hands of armed groups in the north.
A gun smuggler operating from Balkh province district told IPS that he had been
in the business for the past two years. The Pashto-speaking, bearded man who
spoke on condition of anonymity, said he regularly came to the north to buy
different kinds of weapons. "I have employed people to collect weapons from
people who have them and these are ferried to the south."
"I have my customers in Kandahar. When the weapons reach there, they come and
receive it. I make good profit. I can buy an AK47 for US$200 in the north and
sell it for $400 in the south," he added. Occasionally he smuggles explosives
Ahmad Shah, 45, a resident of Chemtal in Balkh freely admitted to supplying the
smugglers with guns. "I earn my living through running this business," he told
Atta Mohammad Nur, the governor of Balkh province, neither accepts nor rejects
the fact that weapons are being smuggled to the south. "It could be right.
Insurgents are doing their utmost to disrupt life in the country. They could be
smuggling weapons from north to the south," he said.
Rohullah Samun, spokesman for the Jowzjan governor, accepts that a vast amount
of weapons still exists in the province. "People do have weapons. There are
lots of illegal armed militias in Jowzjan and its neighboring provinces. Some
of the warlords are regrouping," he said.
The reference was to Rashid Dostum, one of Afghanistan's most formidable
warlords. Dostum, who once supported the Soviets, has had a hand in the many
regime changes that the war-torn country has seen over the past three decades
and retains enormous influence in Jowzjan.
Dostum was among leaders who helped US-led forces to overthrow the Taliban
government in 2001. Until recently, he was regarded as the strongman of the
north but his role has been reduced to that of being a military adviser to
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai.
On June 13, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns told CNN television in
Paris that there was "irrefutable evidence" that Iran was supplying weapons to
Ironically, the Taliban owe their origins largely to mujahideen (freedom)
fighters that were once armed and backed by the US against communist rule in
Afghanistan and the Soviet occupation.