War & Peace

AAN Reportage: Who fights whom in the Andar Uprising?


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The story of what is still being hailed by the government and media as a ‘popular uprising’ against the Taleban in Andar district, Ghazni has become one of the most ambiguous events on the battlefield for many years. The dominant and much-hyped account of what has happened presents an optimistic image of a purely popular movement of local Afghans motivated by the desire for education to stand up against the Taleban. But there are strong indications that different approaches in the insurgency, basically a Hezb-Taleban conflict, are behind it, and that government officials have actively promoted the ‘uprising’ and taken it out of the hands of its initiators. Meanwhile, there have been active attempts to reproduce it in neighbouring districts of Ghazni and elsewhere in the country. Our guest author, Emal Habib(*), has been talking extensively to sources on the ground and, in the first part of this special reportage, tells a very different story – of how some unhappy Taleban fighters reverted to their Hezb-e Islami roots and fought their brethren for control of Andar and how their ‘uprising’ was then co-opted by government figures.

During the past two and a half months since late May, the Taleban lost substantial parts of Andar district of Ghazni, a province just to the south-west of Kabul. The government and most of the local and international media attributed this to a popular uprising.(1) Some enthusiasts even deemed it an Arab-style revolution.(2)  Meanwhile, the Taleban viewed it as a takeover by a pro-government militia force – and many residents agree with them, although as I shall show, it was actually more complicated than that. In trying to disentangle these competing narratives and determine who fought whom and why, one has to start first with a look back to the past.
Andar district (sometimes known as Shilgar) is predominantly populated by the Andar tribe. Under the mujahedin government (in Ghazni 1992-95), it was brutally ruled by commander Taj Muhammad, more commonly known as Qari Baba, of the Harakat-e Enqilab-e Islami faction. His major and better organized rival was Hezb-e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with a marginal presence of three other factions, Mahaz-e Milli (Pir Gailani),Ittihad-e Islami (Sayyaf) and Jamiat-e Islami (Rabbani/Massud). Some villages, including Kunsaf, Saheb Khan, Abdul Rahim, Payendi and Gandaher, were particularly known for being Hezb strongholds while Harakat was scattered across the district. Commanders of the two factions would, at various points, shell villages controlled by the other, but generally, Qari Baba ruled Andar and its people with an iron fist (3) until the Taleban ousted him in 1995; during all that period, Hezb never managed to take over.

In 2003, two years after the Taleban regime was forced from power, a new generation of Taleban, who had mostly been madrassa students during the Emirate, started to take up arms in Andar against the government and foreign forces. In a series of ups and downs, their campaign reached a climax in 2006, with some setback in the following two years and then another high in 2009 to be followed by a gradual downturn since.(4) While the key figures in this resurgent local movement still remain the young men who were madrassa students under the Emirate, after 2007, they became more open to membership of the non-madrassa educated or the totally uneducated people. Among the newcomers were fighters from families who were traditionally not allied to the Taleban, due to their affiliation with former mujahedin factions. They included a few insurgents from Hezbi(5) families.

Among these few ‘Hezbi Taleban’ in Andar, two brothers, Rahmatullah, 35, and Abdul Malek, 26, rose to prominence due to their active participation in the fighting shortly after they joined the movement in 2007. Their father and particularly their uncle, Muhammad Hanif, had been active in Hezb-e Islami and the latter held a mid-level rank, first at its headquarters in Peshawar, and then in Ghazni. Rahmatullah was detained by the US military in early 2008 and freed in late 2009.(6) He reportedly met Ghairat Bahir, Hekmatyar’s son in-law, there and exchanged views on a revival of Hezb in Andar. He reportedly also owed his release from Bagram to the efforts of some Hezbis, such as former MP, Abdul Jabbar Shilgari.

Rahmatullah returned to the frontline, this time, as a mid-level local commander of the Taleban on the district level, leading a group of around one dozen men. But after a few months, they were disarmed and the group dismantled for what was termed ‘jihadi misconduct’ – in this case, spreading ideas different from the mainstream local Taleban’s, especially on the issues of schools, development work and attitudes towards Hezb-e Islami. In appreciation of his past active role and his term in prison and in an effort to keep him on board, the Taleban appointed him to their civil administration, at the district’s education department of their shadow government to oversee government schools.

Rahmatullah remained with the Taleban, although not whole-heartedly, until around late 2011. In early 2012, he started to recruit and rearm some of his old subordinates, plus several new ones, in defiance of the Taleban’s ban on him being militarily active. Almost all of his group members, around 14 people, had Hezbi links and had been convinced by him to fight according to a new strategy, one that was different and even in opposition to the Taleban’s. They would not attack Afghan security forces, nor would they prevent development work in the area. They quickly even went a step further: to put a halt to those preventing development work and closing schools. Their opposition to a campaign of school closures recently imposed by the local Taleban attracted an immediate reaction from both the Andar tribe and the Taleban, in the form of support and hostility respectively.

The ban on schooling had started in Andar and quickly spread to parts of Waghaz, Zanakhan and Gero districts, reaching Ghazni city(7) by late April 2012. What was introduced as a counter-measure to the government’s ban on unlicensed motorbikes about a year before; such bikes are used in most attacks and assassinations carried out by the Taleban. But the ban, which came to include registered motorbikes as well, not only deprived the Taleban, but also local residents of their most common means of transportation. The closure of schools a year ago in Deh Yak district of Ghazni had proved effective in allowing motorbikes at least in that district, so this was not an unreasonable tactic to use.(8)

The opposition of Rahmatullah’s group to the strict rules of the local Taleban came at a time when the Andar people were fed up with the Taleban’s ultra harsh policies in the area. The Taleban in Andar had imposed exceptional rules that are probably applied nowhere else in Taleban-land. Local people were not allowed to go to the main local town Mirai where the district headquarters were located. Mobile phone companies had to shut down service from sunset to sunrise. Construction of the main road to the provincial centre was stopped every time it started. All other development work was also opposed by the Taleban and aid deliveries were prevented from reaching the area, and if they did arrive, the Taleban would burn or destroy them.

Worst of all, the Taleban prevented mullahs from holding funeral prayers for those killed by them for spying or working with the government, and even punished some mullahs who did not heed this rule. This ban was equivalent to treating the deceased as non-Muslims, a great humiliation not only for the dead, but also their extended families. Such measures were taken in order to prevent the government from gaining any popularity and to minimise intelligence gathering on the Taleban.

The Andar tribe has traditionally been known for its disunity (9) and solidarity has worsened under the harshness of the recent Taleban regime and the even worse brutality of Qari Baba’s reign. Both shattered the Andar tribal system. So the idea of a tribal revolt of the Andar against the Taleban’s strict rules was always unconvincing. General unhappiness with the school closures did serve the cause of Rahmatullah’s group well, bringing them a measure of public support. However, many details of the story from the district, that the ‘uprising’ was actually a revolt by the ‘Hezb Taleban’ group against their Taleban brothers, sound convincing. What further strengthens the notion that it was a Hezb confrontation with the Taleban based on their different approaches and doctrines of jihad in the beginning are statements issued by the insurgent branch of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb weeks after the first skirmishes took place. The statements in Hekmatyar’s ‘jihadi media’ outlets clearly supported what it called Hezb-e Islami mujahedin battling their enemy in Andar(10).

Details of how they went about organising their rebellion – which are published here for the first time – support the Hezb versus Taleban narrative. They also indicate a strong hand of governmental institutions in Kabul in supporting the rebellion.

Rahmatullah and his brother brought together other young Hezbis, not only from Andar, but also from areas towards Wardak province, such as Rashidan district, and Tajiks from the vicinity of Ghazni city. Some older-generation Hezbis, with experience from the fight against the Soviets, were also in the group. As the spring of 2012 arrived, they started their patrols, distributed propaganda letters, Hekmatyar statements and other material clearly showing a Hezb origin in mosques and public gatherings. The Taleban noticed when they returned from their winter ‘holiday’, but were reluctant to confront the men of their old comrade.

The brothers and their comrades stepped up their verbal attacks against the Taleban and turned a few villages, which had the most former Hezbis, into their military bases. The Taleban warned Rahmatullah to stop his campaign, then ran out of patience. They made a surprise raid on his house, apparently some time after mid-April, and kidnapped his brother, Abdul Malek. Rahmatullah managed to evade capture as he was not home.

Relations deteriorated further. The Taleban encircled one of the Hezbi strongholds, Payendi village(11), where the whole group had been ‘training’ for two days. The Taleban moved to disarm the rebels on 11 May, but met fierce resistance by Rahmatullah’s men. Rahmatullah himself took a wound at his arm and was rushed to the Emergency Hospital for War Victims in Kabul. He stayed in Kabul, evacuated his family there and has never returned to Andar – for reasons which are not yet clear. After he left Andar, other former Hezbis who had been idle since 1995, as well as some low-level commanders from other mujahedin factions joined the struggle. The Hezbis’ first successful confrontation also emboldened some non-Hezbis to join the campaign.

Two weeks after this first clash, Hezbi fighters moved into another village, Qadamkhel, where they were welcomed and supported by a former Mahaz member, Wali Muhammad, who provided them with his qala to be used as their base. When a group of more than a dozen Waziristani Taleban were passing, unaware of the Hezbis’ presence, they were ambushed from the qala’s rooftops, captured and immediately handed over to the provincial government.

The Taleban moved quickly again to eliminate the rebels, but an intervention by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) from the district headquarters reportedly broke their encirclement and forced them to retreat. The Taleban attackers, however, were able to carry away the body of one victim of the fight, a Hezbi from Rashidan, and say they found evidence, including phone-communications, of his cooperation with two senior local notables: the former provincial governor and ex-commander, Faizanullah Faizan, and the former MP Shilgari. Both are from Andar and both are from the political wing of Hezb-e Islami.

From Payendi and Qadamkhel, the rebels expanded further, first to Kunsaf village. Combined Afghan and foreign forces had secured access to this village in early June by deploying patrol troops along the way, with supporting air patrols. This allowed the rebels to move safely to the village. More gains were to follow: Abdul Rahim and Gandaher, the latter Faizan’s native village. His big qala accommodated the rebels who used it as their military centre. Here, the Taleban suffered their biggest casualties; in a battle to take the qala, they lost one of their field commanders, in addition to several other fatalities. In the third of the three major battles fought between 11 May and mid-June, in Gandaher, the rebels were under the command on Lutfullah Kamran, brother of Amanullah Kamrani (each brother use a slightly different takhalus), the former deputy head and current member of the provincial council who is from Saheb Khan village. The brothers also belong to Hezb.

At the level of strategic communications, a coordinated media campaign kicked in both in Ghazni and Kabul as soon as the first shots were fired by Rahmatullah’s group. Shilgari emerged as the chief spokesmen touting the success of the people’s uprising. Both he and Faizan regularly appeared on Kabul-based TV stations promoting the ‘revolution of Andar’. The only glitches in this media campaign were the initial statements of two local officials, Andar district governor, Sher Khan Yusufzai, and provincial police chief, Zerawar Zahid, in their first contact with the media on the issue on 12 May, one day after the Payendi fighting. They explicitly called it a Hezb-Taleban conflict at the beginning and said a local Hezb commander, Abdul Samad, had been killed. Most of the media outlets when reporting the incident carried this version of the story (see for example here and here), but some others(12) characterised Samad as a tribal greybeard who had been killed by the Taleban after he objected to their behaviour toward the local people. Later these two officials switched to calling it a ‘popular uprising’, as did all other officials, publicly, in Ghazni and Kabul. The whole media, including those who reported the first skirmish as a Hezb versus Taleban battle, also quickly switched to the official account. All mention of Hezb quickly faded, however, and the dominant and indeed only narrative soon became that of a popular uprising.

Another Andar notable, the former MP and Harakat commander Khial Muhammad Hussaini, who had previously been Qari Baba’s right hand man, clearly pointed to a Hezb involvement in the Andar incidents. In a harshly worded statement emailed to journalists on 1 June, he said that: ‘New conspiracies are underway in the district by enemies of our people that is from one side the Taleban… and from the other side, blood-thirsty and dollar-hungry Hezb-e-Islami circles operating in the shape of arbakai and created by some foreign and internal elements. They have started assassinating our jihadi commanders and tribal elders.’

More importantly, the Afghan Islamic Press also quotes Khial calling the revolt an ‘American project planned […] through the Ministry of Borders and Tribal Affairs since the past two and half years’.(13) This ministry is held since 2008 by another former Ghazni governor, Assadullah Khaled. Khaled is from Nawa district of Ghazni, has an Ittihad-e Islami background but, since 2001, he has become a Karzai loyalist. Following his governorship in Ghazni, he was appointed to the same position in Kandahar where he was a close associate of the president’s late half brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai. Now, apart from being a cabinet minister, he has been made the Chief of Security for the Southern Zone by the President after his brother’s assassination. Khaled is probably the single most powerful figure in Ghazni calling the shots from behind the scene.

Interviews with Khial, his supporters, local officials and observers, many of whom wanted to speak off the record, also point to a strong role of Khaled in the Andar ‘uprising’. According to this version of events, Assadullah Khaled had tasked the three Andar notables – Khial, formerly of Harakat, and Faizan and Shilgari of Hezb – with paving the way for the deployment of a pro-government arbakai (more on arbaki in a paper by Mohammed Osman Tariq, ‘The Tribal Security System (Arbakai) in Southeast Afghanistan,’ Crisis States Research Centre, London School of Economy, December 2008). In return, each would be able to hire his men for it, thereby gaining power in the area again. The Hezbis were the more active, and it seems the most active person was Faizan who kept in touch with Rahmatullah and other young fighters from Hezbi families. He also was the man who, through meetings with Rahmatullah’s family elders, encouraged him to split off from the Taleban and form his own group.

The former Harakati Khial, it seems, was not happy and felt sidelined when the ‘uprising’ kicked off unilaterally in a Hezbi village without consultation with him. He felt further betrayed when three of his involved commanders were killed and two wounded about two weeks after the Payendi battle. Sources close to Khial in Ghazni explained the fallout as a conflict over factional influence and that he smelt a coup against him by his Hezbi counterparts in Andar which deprived him of the agreed upon credit and privileges linked with the arbakai. One said that, ‘Khial, whose Harakat faction ruled as a one-party government under the mujahedin [under Qari Baba], again wanted to have a bigger number of fighters than the Hezbis. They did reach a deal on that, but when his former commanders were killed before embarking on their role to fight, Khial totally retreated and turned against the plan.’(14)

Ex-governor Faizan also talked of Khaled’s ‘strong support and help for the uprising’ in an interview with AAN, while denying that Khaled had given any financial support. Amanullah Kamrani, the provincial council member, said about Khaled: ‘Yes, he is with the uprising, as are other high-profile officials in the central government who hail from Ghazni province.’ Khaled flew to Andar on 29 June and met the rebels in person in Kunsaf village, becoming the highest ranking government official to have visited the district since President Karzai in 2007.(16) The fact of Khaled’s visit was confirmed by multiple local sources, including a villager from Kunsaf and a member of the ‘arbakai’.

According to students from Ghazni at Kabul university who talked to AAN, Khaled was involved in another aspect of the uprising. They say that he provided them and a number of colleagues, all Pashtuns from Ghazni, with accommodation in a hostel which they said is funded by him. Two of the students said several of their number were called to a meeting with Khaled in his ministry in early June where he asked them to join the uprising and promised they would be paid. The students also mentioned another meeting in Khaled’s guest house with Lutfullah Kamran who asked them the same thing.

Speaking to various sources in Ghazni, many spoke about the pre-planning for a revolt or that the revolt was co-opted. These sources do have slightly different versions of events, however. Amanullah Kamrani told AAN the revolt had actually been well-planned, with Hezbis being deliberately used to avoid confrontation with religious circles: using Hezb as starter for the uprising worked, and then when it got the title ‘popular’, the Taleban and mullas could not de-legitimize it religiously and could not, ‘issue any fatwa of jihad against them.’

Another Ghazni notable, Khalil Hotak, who is an influential political activist and head of a council of tribal elders from across Ghazni called the Nejat (Salvation) Community Council also claims to have had a plan for an uprising in the province in which Khaled was involved. He told AAN: ‘We had been in touch for more than a year with local elders, the very elders who are now leading the uprising in the field, to mobilize them for simultaneous public uprisings in all districts. An untimely confrontation happened, and the uprising started prematurely in Andar only. Assadullah Khaled and Faizan jumped to get the credit for the uprising. They have actually manipulated it and the prospect for a real popular uprising is now seriously facing failure.’

Muhammad Nader Gerowal, a member of Ghazni’s provincial council and a senior member in the Nejat council, made the same complaint: ‘We made a very good plan to start the uprising after the Ministry of Interior had sent 300 ALP to each district. We had the support of all local elders. But what happened now is a thwarted uprising due to Khaled’s direct intervention.’

When AAN asked three local journalists who were part of a group of Ghazni-based journalists who were invited by Khaled for a meeting in the governor’s guest house in June, to discuss the ‘popular uprising’, all had been unconvinced by the official narrative. ‘I have no doubt that the so-called uprising is the work of Asadullah Khaled who already acts as the de-facto governor of Ghazni,’ said one who has been covering Ghazni issues since 2001 and met Khaled numerous times when he was the governor.

The journalists also pointed out that there had hardly been a chance to report freely about the uprising and to dig deeper into its nature. ‘No journalist can have access to the patsunian [the participants in the uprising] in the countryside without endorsement from Khalid’, one of them said. Another described how two days previously, an American journalist had come to Ghazni to investigate the uprising, but had rushed back to Kabul after he found it was, ‘not only difficult to investigate the story without Khaled’s approval, but also dangerous.’ A third journalist at the meeting said, ‘We saw a female journalist from al-Jazeera who had come with Khaled from Kabul because he is the only one to facilitate field visits by foreign journalists. Khaled wants the media to tell the version of the uprising that he wants.’

Undoubtedly, the rebels’ uprising had changed character during these events. It had been started by a staunch, anti-government, anti-ISAF Hezbi group, fighting for ideological reasons. But within weeks, after Rahmatullah had left the scene and new people had joined, especially the non-Hezbi Wali Muhammad, and former commander Faizan emerged as a field commander, the ‘uprising’ had turned into what looked and acted like an arbakai – an anti-Taleban militia which fights on the government’s behalf and is supplied and supported by ANSF and coalition forces. Arbakai is the term now almost unanimously used by local people to describe the ‘rebel’ force in Andar. It seems improbable that setting up such an arbakai was ever intended by Rahmatullah. Indeed, one of his relatives told AAN he has frequently called the Taleban to apologize for the consequences of his struggle.

The ‘rebel’ group in Andar is no traditional arbakai – where reliable elders select the members then ask for approval by the district government. In this case, recruitment to the militia has been based, rather, on personal relations with local strongmen like Faizan. This has not prevented infiltration by its enemies. In one of the deadliest incidents it experienced so far, an insider on June 26 killed five of his comrades in Badwan village overnight.

The fighters in Andar now call themselves Da Milli Patsun Ghorzang (the National Uprising Movement) – ‘national’ in reference to its Afghan (versus ‘foreign Taleban’) character. It is said to have 400 fighters supplied by ex-governor Faizan, who claims it is operating under his supervision and who frequently visits his men there. Lutfullah Kamran, too, who has led the ‘rebels’ in some of their skirmishes, has claimed in the media to be their leader. Many local people who had been punished or tortured by the Taleban for various ‘offences’ have also joined, seizing the opportunity to take revenge.(16) The movement’s leaders explicitly speak of a ‘counter-jihad’ against the Taleban. Ex-governor Faizan, for example, told AAN: ‘My jihadi struggle which started to drive out the Soviets still continues to counter what these ignorant dark people [the Taleban] have brought upon the people in the name of jihad’.

The arbakai is receiving support and incentives from the government and international forces, including wheat and other foodstuff. One of its members told AAN that the government had also ‘promised a salary, so we can be self-sufficient to fight.’ According to Amanullah Kamrani, foreign and Afghan forces are ready to back the uprising militarily whenever it needs help. The defence ministry’s spokesman, Zahir Azimi, told a press conference in June – when asked about the Afghan National Army’s support for the Andar revolt – that ‘we support any steps that help to improve security’. The government has so far refrained from officially adopting the Andar ‘rebels’ as an ALP unit under the Ministry of Interior; this would seem prudent given the lack of tribal cohesion among the Andar and the local residents’ hesitance to support a government-designed plan.

It is clear that, not only was the Andar revolt initially Hezb versus Taleban, rather than ‘the people’ versus the Taleban, but that the end result has been a transfer of power in part of the district from the Taleban to a government-backed militia or arbakai.

Among locals, feelings are mixed about what has happened. Some in the district have been celebrating, pointing to the re-opening of Mirai town, the re-opening of schools, the distribution of aid and the re-established, round-the-clock service of mobile phone companies. Yet, people had more optimism for the change in the beginning when it was mainly ordinary local youths who were fighting. Later, when they saw former commanders getting involved and when members of the arbakai started harassing some people who were or had been sympathetic to the Taleban, concerns started to overcome the optimism. Many now worry about the way power changed hands and fear a new phase of factional violence could be looming: internecine conflict among the Andar tribespeople would have long-lasting repercussions.

In Part 2 of AAN’s special reportage on the Andar ‘uprising’, Emal Habib will look at how successful the ‘Andar model’ might be for the government to expand its control into neighbouring districts and argues that real reconciliation would need both the community and the ulema on board. 

(*) Emal Habib (pseudonym) is a local journalist with focus on the Taleban in the south and southeast. He has followed the developments in Ghazni since the fall of the Taleban in late 2001.

(1) See our first blog on the issue here.

(2) The comment from the TolAfghan website (in Pashto) is titled: ‘The Andar uprising, continuation of the Arab uprisings’.

(3) People widely remember this piece of poem-like rhymed prose describing the ‘warrant of death’ by Qari Baba’s men who would take the victim to Zara Qala in Tangi village:

I’m a Mujahid from Tangi
I’ve been sent by Qari (Baba)
Bend your hands to your back (surrender yourself)
Lets go to Zara Qala
Give me your watch (before you are beheaded)

Read a piece where these verses are mentioned here.

(4) For an excellent account of how the Taleban insurgency gained power in Andar and at how they nearly lost, early on, because of extremist and abusive commanders, see C. Reuter and B. Younus, ‘The Return of the Taliban in Andar District, Ghazni’, in Giustozzi (ed.), Decoding the New Taliban, Columbia/Hurst (2009) pp.115–16.

(5) ‘Hezbi’ can refer to one of three different types of loyalists of former Prime Minister and Hezb leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The first type is those former mujahedin who fought the Soviet and then the civil war in the 1980s and mid-1990s under Hekmatyar’s leadership. They now have mostly returned home and are not connected to the insurgency but they still like Hekmatyar and his partisans. The second type is the politically active Hezbis who are either member of the party registered in Kabul, Hezb-e Islami, or are engaged in the government, without an open membership there or who are known to have been former members. The third kind of Hezbis the young men who grew up after the civil war and are mostly children of the first type Hezbis; they are active insurgents fighting the foreign forces and the Afghan government. Their struggle is strongly ideologized as jihad – parallel to that of the Taleban, but weaker than that. The ones who joined the Taleban in Andar were from the third generation of Hezbis.

(6) All these dates are rough estimations based on interviews with several people who know Rahmatullah and were in touch with him. They include one relative, a Taleban fighter who was with Rahmatullah when both fought under leadership of Mullah Momin, who was killed in a US bombing in 2008. The sources for the biographies of the two brother also include a former Nur-ul-Madaris student where Abdul Malek studied and a fellow villager from Ghundo. All of them spoke on condition of anonymity.

(7) In Ghazni, many schools, including the main girls school located about one kilometre from the governor’s office, were also closed after the Taleban abducted the school’s principal for a short while. The local government was unable to convince principals to re-open the schools until after the Hezbis had battled the Taleban in Andar.

(8) One local Taleban source described a different reason for the school closure. He said they had known since the winter that a plot for a revolt was being worked out by the government. ‘Local students had been poised to be used in this revolt, according to our intelligence. That’s why we kept schools closed for a while at the beginning of the year in order to prevent schools being used as a battle ground, something which would have made it difficult for us to differentiate between who was part of the plot and who was not.’ However, this account goes against what the mainstream Taleban say about the school ban.
The ban on motorbikes by the government in Andar and the Taleban’s response was not new. The government has tried several times, partially successfully, since 2006, to ban motorbikes because they are an effective means of escape in hit-and-run attacks and high-profile assassinations, such as in the case of the former governor, Qari Baba, deputy governor, Kazem Allahyar, and the outspoken anti-Taleban, Andar district chief, Rahim Disiwal. The Taleban have in response, at various points, banned vehicles, schools and visits to Ghazni city, in a series of tit-for-tat actions, since 2006. For more detail, see: Reuter and Younus ‘The Return of the Taleban in Andar’, cited in footnote 3.

(9) This has become almost proverbial: local people use the phrase ‘as disunited as Andar’.

(10) The official Hezb-e Islami Hekmatyar line on the conflict is garbled, probably reflecting the difficulties events posed for it. Its daily Shahadat carried a long statement ‘From the jihadi council of Ghazni province’, saying: ‘The recent military confrontation between the mujahedin of Hezb-e-Islami and some elements sold to Americans [and] disguised as Taleban is a planned conspiracy of Americans against the authority of the mujahedin of Hezb-e Islami… Some unaware Muslims are misled by mercenaries of the intelligence services of the enemy to believe that they are fighting an American Special Force clothed as Afghans or arbakai made by the enemy.’ A Hekmatyar website also carried a comment praising ‘the sweeping campaign of the mujahedin against some mischief-makers who were involved since long in disruptive and disturbing activities against the mujahedin presence in Andar’ and that ‘the end of tyranny has approached’.
The statement contradicts itself as it says in the beginning that Hezb’s mujahedin were fighting American-made mercenaries which used the name of Taleban, but later says that the anti-Hezb opposition are unintelligent brothers deceived by the enemy into believing that they are fighting arbakai or a militia trained by the Special Forces of the Americans.

(11) This part is based on interviews with two witnesses from Payendi.

(12) I heard it on Radio Azadi on 12 May myself. Pro-government Kabul daily Weesa also pointed this out, as one option to explain the events, andNewsweek later picked up on this, although a number of other facts in its story are inaccurate.

(13) According to Afghan Islamic Press (AIP), 31 May. The text is available online only for subscribers, but AIP faxed it to the author. The same report also quotes Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed calling the rebels an arbakai funded and armed by the government.

(14) The information on this is obtained from interviews with Khial, his loyalists (described in the previous paras) and local observers as well as a local Taleban commander who claims to have had intelligence since long ago about the arbakai plan.

(15) Karzai’s 2007 trip had to be cut short after the Taleban launched a rocket attack on Mirai where the President was holding a public speech to local elders. Rocket propelled grenades landed 100 to 200 yards of the President, forcing him to cut his visit short.

(16) Several people from Andar had been forcibly sent into exile as a light punishment by the Taleban to get rid of them without taking the headache of more killings, especially in the past four years. These men have also returned home and joined the uprising.

The story of what is still being hailed by the government and media as a ‘popular uprising’ against the Taleban in Andar district, Ghazni has become one of the most ambiguous events on the battlefield for many years. The dominant and much-hyped account of what has happened presents an optimistic image of a purely popular movement of local Afghans motivated by the desire for education to stand up against the Taleban. But there are strong indications that different approaches in the insurgency, basically a Hezb-Taleban conflict, are behind it, and that government officials have actively promoted the ‘uprising’ and taken it out of the hands of its initiators. Meanwhile, there have been active attempts to reproduce it in neighbouring districts of Ghazni and elsewhere in the country. Our guest author, Emal Habib(*), has been talking extensively to sources on the ground and, in the first part of this special reportage, tells a very different story – of how some unhappy Taleban fighters reverted to their Hezb-e Islami roots and fought their brethren for control of Andar and how their ‘uprising’ was then co-opted by government figures.

During the past two and a half months since late May, the Taleban lost substantial parts of Andar district of Ghazni, a province just to the south-west of Kabul. The government and most of the local and international media attributed this to a popular uprising.(1) Some enthusiasts even deemed it an Arab-style revolution.(2)  Meanwhile, the Taleban viewed it as a takeover by a pro-government militia force – and many residents agree with them, although as I shall show, it was actually more complicated than that. In trying to disentangle these competing narratives and determine who fought whom and why, one has to start first with a look back to the past.
Andar district (sometimes known as Shilgar) is predominantly populated by the Andar tribe. Under the mujahedin government (in Ghazni 1992-95), it was brutally ruled by commander Taj Muhammad, more commonly known as Qari Baba, of the Harakat-e Enqilab-e Islami faction. His major and better organized rival was Hezb-e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with a marginal presence of three other factions, Mahaz-e Milli (Pir Gailani),Ittihad-e Islami (Sayyaf) and Jamiat-e Islami (Rabbani/Massud). Some villages, including Kunsaf, Saheb Khan, Abdul Rahim, Payendi and Gandaher, were particularly known for being Hezb strongholds while Harakat was scattered across the district. Commanders of the two factions would, at various points, shell villages controlled by the other, but generally, Qari Baba ruled Andar and its people with an iron fist (3) until the Taleban ousted him in 1995; during all that period, Hezb never managed to take over.

In 2003, two years after the Taleban regime was forced from power, a new generation of Taleban, who had mostly been madrassa students during the Emirate, started to take up arms in Andar against the government and foreign forces. In a series of ups and downs, their campaign reached a climax in 2006, with some setback in the following two years and then another high in 2009 to be followed by a gradual downturn since.(4) While the key figures in this resurgent local movement still remain the young men who were madrassa students under the Emirate, after 2007, they became more open to membership of the non-madrassa educated or the totally uneducated people. Among the newcomers were fighters from families who were traditionally not allied to the Taleban, due to their affiliation with former mujahedin factions. They included a few insurgents from Hezbi(5) families.

Among these few ‘Hezbi Taleban’ in Andar, two brothers, Rahmatullah, 35, and Abdul Malek, 26, rose to prominence due to their active participation in the fighting shortly after they joined the movement in 2007. Their father and particularly their uncle, Muhammad Hanif, had been active in Hezb-e Islami and the latter held a mid-level rank, first at its headquarters in Peshawar, and then in Ghazni. Rahmatullah was detained by the US military in early 2008 and freed in late 2009.(6) He reportedly met Ghairat Bahir, Hekmatyar’s son in-law, there and exchanged views on a revival of Hezb in Andar. He reportedly also owed his release from Bagram to the efforts of some Hezbis, such as former MP, Abdul Jabbar Shilgari.

Rahmatullah returned to the frontline, this time, as a mid-level local commander of the Taleban on the district level, leading a group of around one dozen men. But after a few months, they were disarmed and the group dismantled for what was termed ‘jihadi misconduct’ – in this case, spreading ideas different from the mainstream local Taleban’s, especially on the issues of schools, development work and attitudes towards Hezb-e Islami. In appreciation of his past active role and his term in prison and in an effort to keep him on board, the Taleban appointed him to their civil administration, at the district’s education department of their shadow government to oversee government schools.

Rahmatullah remained with the Taleban, although not whole-heartedly, until around late 2011. In early 2012, he started to recruit and rearm some of his old subordinates, plus several new ones, in defiance of the Taleban’s ban on him being militarily active. Almost all of his group members, around 14 people, had Hezbi links and had been convinced by him to fight according to a new strategy, one that was different and even in opposition to the Taleban’s. They would not attack Afghan security forces, nor would they prevent development work in the area. They quickly even went a step further: to put a halt to those preventing development work and closing schools. Their opposition to a campaign of school closures recently imposed by the local Taleban attracted an immediate reaction from both the Andar tribe and the Taleban, in the form of support and hostility respectively.

The ban on schooling had started in Andar and quickly spread to parts of Waghaz, Zanakhan and Gero districts, reaching Ghazni city(7) by late April 2012. What was introduced as a counter-measure to the government’s ban on unlicensed motorbikes about a year before; such bikes are used in most attacks and assassinations carried out by the Taleban. But the ban, which came to include registered motorbikes as well, not only deprived the Taleban, but also local residents of their most common means of transportation. The closure of schools a year ago in Deh Yak district of Ghazni had proved effective in allowing motorbikes at least in that district, so this was not an unreasonable tactic to use.(8)

The opposition of Rahmatullah’s group to the strict rules of the local Taleban came at a time when the Andar people were fed up with the Taleban’s ultra harsh policies in the area. The Taleban in Andar had imposed exceptional rules that are probably applied nowhere else in Taleban-land. Local people were not allowed to go to the main local town Mirai where the district headquarters were located. Mobile phone companies had to shut down service from sunset to sunrise. Construction of the main road to the provincial centre was stopped every time it started. All other development work was also opposed by the Taleban and aid deliveries were prevented from reaching the area, and if they did arrive, the Taleban would burn or destroy them.

Worst of all, the Taleban prevented mullahs from holding funeral prayers for those killed by them for spying or working with the government, and even punished some mullahs who did not heed this rule. This ban was equivalent to treating the deceased as non-Muslims, a great humiliation not only for the dead, but also their extended families. Such measures were taken in order to prevent the government from gaining any popularity and to minimise intelligence gathering on the Taleban.

The Andar tribe has traditionally been known for its disunity (9) and solidarity has worsened under the harshness of the recent Taleban regime and the even worse brutality of Qari Baba’s reign. Both shattered the Andar tribal system. So the idea of a tribal revolt of the Andar against the Taleban’s strict rules was always unconvincing. General unhappiness with the school closures did serve the cause of Rahmatullah’s group well, bringing them a measure of public support. However, many details of the story from the district, that the ‘uprising’ was actually a revolt by the ‘Hezb Taleban’ group against their Taleban brothers, sound convincing. What further strengthens the notion that it was a Hezb confrontation with the Taleban based on their different approaches and doctrines of jihad in the beginning are statements issued by the insurgent branch of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb weeks after the first skirmishes took place. The statements in Hekmatyar’s ‘jihadi media’ outlets clearly supported what it called Hezb-e Islami mujahedin battling their enemy in Andar(10).

Details of how they went about organising their rebellion – which are published here for the first time – support the Hezb versus Taleban narrative. They also indicate a strong hand of governmental institutions in Kabul in supporting the rebellion.

Rahmatullah and his brother brought together other young Hezbis, not only from Andar, but also from areas towards Wardak province, such as Rashidan district, and Tajiks from the vicinity of Ghazni city. Some older-generation Hezbis, with experience from the fight against the Soviets, were also in the group. As the spring of 2012 arrived, they started their patrols, distributed propaganda letters, Hekmatyar statements and other material clearly showing a Hezb origin in mosques and public gatherings. The Taleban noticed when they returned from their winter ‘holiday’, but were reluctant to confront the men of their old comrade.

The brothers and their comrades stepped up their verbal attacks against the Taleban and turned a few villages, which had the most former Hezbis, into their military bases. The Taleban warned Rahmatullah to stop his campaign, then ran out of patience. They made a surprise raid on his house, apparently some time after mid-April, and kidnapped his brother, Abdul Malek. Rahmatullah managed to evade capture as he was not home.

Relations deteriorated further. The Taleban encircled one of the Hezbi strongholds, Payendi village(11), where the whole group had been ‘training’ for two days. The Taleban moved to disarm the rebels on 11 May, but met fierce resistance by Rahmatullah’s men. Rahmatullah himself took a wound at his arm and was rushed to the Emergency Hospital for War Victims in Kabul. He stayed in Kabul, evacuated his family there and has never returned to Andar – for reasons which are not yet clear. After he left Andar, other former Hezbis who had been idle since 1995, as well as some low-level commanders from other mujahedin factions joined the struggle. The Hezbis’ first successful confrontation also emboldened some non-Hezbis to join the campaign.

Two weeks after this first clash, Hezbi fighters moved into another village, Qadamkhel, where they were welcomed and supported by a former Mahaz member, Wali Muhammad, who provided them with his qala to be used as their base. When a group of more than a dozen Waziristani Taleban were passing, unaware of the Hezbis’ presence, they were ambushed from the qala’s rooftops, captured and immediately handed over to the provincial government.

The Taleban moved quickly again to eliminate the rebels, but an intervention by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) from the district headquarters reportedly broke their encirclement and forced them to retreat. The Taleban attackers, however, were able to carry away the body of one victim of the fight, a Hezbi from Rashidan, and say they found evidence, including phone-communications, of his cooperation with two senior local notables: the former provincial governor and ex-commander, Faizanullah Faizan, and the former MP Shilgari. Both are from Andar and both are from the political wing of Hezb-e Islami.

From Payendi and Qadamkhel, the rebels expanded further, first to Kunsaf village. Combined Afghan and foreign forces had secured access to this village in early June by deploying patrol troops along the way, with supporting air patrols. This allowed the rebels to move safely to the village. More gains were to follow: Abdul Rahim and Gandaher, the latter Faizan’s native village. His big qala accommodated the rebels who used it as their military centre. Here, the Taleban suffered their biggest casualties; in a battle to take the qala, they lost one of their field commanders, in addition to several other fatalities. In the third of the three major battles fought between 11 May and mid-June, in Gandaher, the rebels were under the command on Lutfullah Kamran, brother of Amanullah Kamrani (each brother use a slightly different takhalus), the former deputy head and current member of the provincial council who is from Saheb Khan village. The brothers also belong to Hezb.

At the level of strategic communications, a coordinated media campaign kicked in both in Ghazni and Kabul as soon as the first shots were fired by Rahmatullah’s group. Shilgari emerged as the chief spokesmen touting the success of the people’s uprising. Both he and Faizan regularly appeared on Kabul-based TV stations promoting the ‘revolution of Andar’. The only glitches in this media campaign were the initial statements of two local officials, Andar district governor, Sher Khan Yusufzai, and provincial police chief, Zerawar Zahid, in their first contact with the media on the issue on 12 May, one day after the Payendi fighting. They explicitly called it a Hezb-Taleban conflict at the beginning and said a local Hezb commander, Abdul Samad, had been killed. Most of the media outlets when reporting the incident carried this version of the story (see for example here and here), but some others(12) characterised Samad as a tribal greybeard who had been killed by the Taleban after he objected to their behaviour toward the local people. Later these two officials switched to calling it a ‘popular uprising’, as did all other officials, publicly, in Ghazni and Kabul. The whole media, including those who reported the first skirmish as a Hezb versus Taleban battle, also quickly switched to the official account. All mention of Hezb quickly faded, however, and the dominant and indeed only narrative soon became that of a popular uprising.

Another Andar notable, the former MP and Harakat commander Khial Muhammad Hussaini, who had previously been Qari Baba’s right hand man, clearly pointed to a Hezb involvement in the Andar incidents. In a harshly worded statement emailed to journalists on 1 June, he said that: ‘New conspiracies are underway in the district by enemies of our people that is from one side the Taleban… and from the other side, blood-thirsty and dollar-hungry Hezb-e-Islami circles operating in the shape of arbakai and created by some foreign and internal elements. They have started assassinating our jihadi commanders and tribal elders.’

More importantly, the Afghan Islamic Press also quotes Khial calling the revolt an ‘American project planned […] through the Ministry of Borders and Tribal Affairs since the past two and half years’.(13) This ministry is held since 2008 by another former Ghazni governor, Assadullah Khaled. Khaled is from Nawa district of Ghazni, has an Ittihad-e Islami background but, since 2001, he has become a Karzai loyalist. Following his governorship in Ghazni, he was appointed to the same position in Kandahar where he was a close associate of the president’s late half brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai. Now, apart from being a cabinet minister, he has been made the Chief of Security for the Southern Zone by the President after his brother’s assassination. Khaled is probably the single most powerful figure in Ghazni calling the shots from behind the scene.

Interviews with Khial, his supporters, local officials and observers, many of whom wanted to speak off the record, also point to a strong role of Khaled in the Andar ‘uprising’. According to this version of events, Assadullah Khaled had tasked the three Andar notables – Khial, formerly of Harakat, and Faizan and Shilgari of Hezb – with paving the way for the deployment of a pro-government arbakai (more on arbaki in a paper by Mohammed Osman Tariq, ‘The Tribal Security System (Arbakai) in Southeast Afghanistan,’ Crisis States Research Centre, London School of Economy, December 2008). In return, each would be able to hire his men for it, thereby gaining power in the area again. The Hezbis were the more active, and it seems the most active person was Faizan who kept in touch with Rahmatullah and other young fighters from Hezbi families. He also was the man who, through meetings with Rahmatullah’s family elders, encouraged him to split off from the Taleban and form his own group.

The former Harakati Khial, it seems, was not happy and felt sidelined when the ‘uprising’ kicked off unilaterally in a Hezbi village without consultation with him. He felt further betrayed when three of his involved commanders were killed and two wounded about two weeks after the Payendi battle. Sources close to Khial in Ghazni explained the fallout as a conflict over factional influence and that he smelt a coup against him by his Hezbi counterparts in Andar which deprived him of the agreed upon credit and privileges linked with the arbakai. One said that, ‘Khial, whose Harakat faction ruled as a one-party government under the mujahedin [under Qari Baba], again wanted to have a bigger number of fighters than the Hezbis. They did reach a deal on that, but when his former commanders were killed before embarking on their role to fight, Khial totally retreated and turned against the plan.’(14)

Ex-governor Faizan also talked of Khaled’s ‘strong support and help for the uprising’ in an interview with AAN, while denying that Khaled had given any financial support. Amanullah Kamrani, the provincial council member, said about Khaled: ‘Yes, he is with the uprising, as are other high-profile officials in the central government who hail from Ghazni province.’ Khaled flew to Andar on 29 June and met the rebels in person in Kunsaf village, becoming the highest ranking government official to have visited the district since President Karzai in 2007.(16) The fact of Khaled’s visit was confirmed by multiple local sources, including a villager from Kunsaf and a member of the ‘arbakai’.

According to students from Ghazni at Kabul university who talked to AAN, Khaled was involved in another aspect of the uprising. They say that he provided them and a number of colleagues, all Pashtuns from Ghazni, with accommodation in a hostel which they said is funded by him. Two of the students said several of their number were called to a meeting with Khaled in his ministry in early June where he asked them to join the uprising and promised they would be paid. The students also mentioned another meeting in Khaled’s guest house with Lutfullah Kamran who asked them the same thing.

Speaking to various sources in Ghazni, many spoke about the pre-planning for a revolt or that the revolt was co-opted. These sources do have slightly different versions of events, however. Amanullah Kamrani told AAN the revolt had actually been well-planned, with Hezbis being deliberately used to avoid confrontation with religious circles: using Hezb as starter for the uprising worked, and then when it got the title ‘popular’, the Taleban and mullas could not de-legitimize it religiously and could not, ‘issue any fatwa of jihad against them.’

Another Ghazni notable, Khalil Hotak, who is an influential political activist and head of a council of tribal elders from across Ghazni called the Nejat (Salvation) Community Council also claims to have had a plan for an uprising in the province in which Khaled was involved. He told AAN: ‘We had been in touch for more than a year with local elders, the very elders who are now leading the uprising in the field, to mobilize them for simultaneous public uprisings in all districts. An untimely confrontation happened, and the uprising started prematurely in Andar only. Assadullah Khaled and Faizan jumped to get the credit for the uprising. They have actually manipulated it and the prospect for a real popular uprising is now seriously facing failure.’

Muhammad Nader Gerowal, a member of Ghazni’s provincial council and a senior member in the Nejat council, made the same complaint: ‘We made a very good plan to start the uprising after the Ministry of Interior had sent 300 ALP to each district. We had the support of all local elders. But what happened now is a thwarted uprising due to Khaled’s direct intervention.’

When AAN asked three local journalists who were part of a group of Ghazni-based journalists who were invited by Khaled for a meeting in the governor’s guest house in June, to discuss the ‘popular uprising’, all had been unconvinced by the official narrative. ‘I have no doubt that the so-called uprising is the work of Asadullah Khaled who already acts as the de-facto governor of Ghazni,’ said one who has been covering Ghazni issues since 2001 and met Khaled numerous times when he was the governor.

The journalists also pointed out that there had hardly been a chance to report freely about the uprising and to dig deeper into its nature. ‘No journalist can have access to the patsunian [the participants in the uprising] in the countryside without endorsement from Khalid’, one of them said. Another described how two days previously, an American journalist had come to Ghazni to investigate the uprising, but had rushed back to Kabul after he found it was, ‘not only difficult to investigate the story without Khaled’s approval, but also dangerous.’ A third journalist at the meeting said, ‘We saw a female journalist from al-Jazeera who had come with Khaled from Kabul because he is the only one to facilitate field visits by foreign journalists. Khaled wants the media to tell the version of the uprising that he wants.’

Undoubtedly, the rebels’ uprising had changed character during these events. It had been started by a staunch, anti-government, anti-ISAF Hezbi group, fighting for ideological reasons. But within weeks, after Rahmatullah had left the scene and new people had joined, especially the non-Hezbi Wali Muhammad, and former commander Faizan emerged as a field commander, the ‘uprising’ had turned into what looked and acted like an arbakai – an anti-Taleban militia which fights on the government’s behalf and is supplied and supported by ANSF and coalition forces. Arbakai is the term now almost unanimously used by local people to describe the ‘rebel’ force in Andar. It seems improbable that setting up such an arbakai was ever intended by Rahmatullah. Indeed, one of his relatives told AAN he has frequently called the Taleban to apologize for the consequences of his struggle.

The ‘rebel’ group in Andar is no traditional arbakai – where reliable elders select the members then ask for approval by the district government. In this case, recruitment to the militia has been based, rather, on personal relations with local strongmen like Faizan. This has not prevented infiltration by its enemies. In one of the deadliest incidents it experienced so far, an insider on June 26 killed five of his comrades in Badwan village overnight.

The fighters in Andar now call themselves Da Milli Patsun Ghorzang (the National Uprising Movement) – ‘national’ in reference to its Afghan (versus ‘foreign Taleban’) character. It is said to have 400 fighters supplied by ex-governor Faizan, who claims it is operating under his supervision and who frequently visits his men there. Lutfullah Kamran, too, who has led the ‘rebels’ in some of their skirmishes, has claimed in the media to be their leader. Many local people who had been punished or tortured by the Taleban for various ‘offences’ have also joined, seizing the opportunity to take revenge.(16) The movement’s leaders explicitly speak of a ‘counter-jihad’ against the Taleban. Ex-governor Faizan, for example, told AAN: ‘My jihadi struggle which started to drive out the Soviets still continues to counter what these ignorant dark people [the Taleban] have brought upon the people in the name of jihad’.

The arbakai is receiving support and incentives from the government and international forces, including wheat and other foodstuff. One of its members told AAN that the government had also ‘promised a salary, so we can be self-sufficient to fight.’ According to Amanullah Kamrani, foreign and Afghan forces are ready to back the uprising militarily whenever it needs help. The defence ministry’s spokesman, Zahir Azimi, told a press conference in June – when asked about the Afghan National Army’s support for the Andar revolt – that ‘we support any steps that help to improve security’. The government has so far refrained from officially adopting the Andar ‘rebels’ as an ALP unit under the Ministry of Interior; this would seem prudent given the lack of tribal cohesion among the Andar and the local residents’ hesitance to support a government-designed plan.

It is clear that, not only was the Andar revolt initially Hezb versus Taleban, rather than ‘the people’ versus the Taleban, but that the end result has been a transfer of power in part of the district from the Taleban to a government-backed militia or arbakai.

Among locals, feelings are mixed about what has happened. Some in the district have been celebrating, pointing to the re-opening of Mirai town, the re-opening of schools, the distribution of aid and the re-established, round-the-clock service of mobile phone companies. Yet, people had more optimism for the change in the beginning when it was mainly ordinary local youths who were fighting. Later, when they saw former commanders getting involved and when members of the arbakai started harassing some people who were or had been sympathetic to the Taleban, concerns started to overcome the optimism. Many now worry about the way power changed hands and fear a new phase of factional violence could be looming: internecine conflict among the Andar tribespeople would have long-lasting repercussions.

In Part 2 of AAN’s special reportage on the Andar ‘uprising’, Emal Habib will look at how successful the ‘Andar model’ might be for the government to expand its control into neighbouring districts and argues that real reconciliation would need both the community and the ulema on board. 

(*) Emal Habib (pseudonym) is a local journalist with focus on the Taleban in the south and southeast. He has followed the developments in Ghazni since the fall of the Taleban in late 2001.

(1) See our first blog on the issue here.

(2) The comment from the TolAfghan website (in Pashto) is titled: ‘The Andar uprising, continuation of the Arab uprisings’.

(3) People widely remember this piece of poem-like rhymed prose describing the ‘warrant of death’ by Qari Baba’s men who would take the victim to Zara Qala in Tangi village:

I’m a Mujahid from Tangi
I’ve been sent by Qari (Baba)
Bend your hands to your back (surrender yourself)
Lets go to Zara Qala
Give me your watch (before you are beheaded)

Read a piece where these verses are mentioned here.

(4) For an excellent account of how the Taleban insurgency gained power in Andar and at how they nearly lost, early on, because of extremist and abusive commanders, see C. Reuter and B. Younus, ‘The Return of the Taliban in Andar District, Ghazni’, in Giustozzi (ed.), Decoding the New Taliban, Columbia/Hurst (2009) pp.115–16.

(5) ‘Hezbi’ can refer to one of three different types of loyalists of former Prime Minister and Hezb leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The first type is those former mujahedin who fought the Soviet and then the civil war in the 1980s and mid-1990s under Hekmatyar’s leadership. They now have mostly returned home and are not connected to the insurgency but they still like Hekmatyar and his partisans. The second type is the politically active Hezbis who are either member of the party registered in Kabul, Hezb-e Islami, or are engaged in the government, without an open membership there or who are known to have been former members. The third kind of Hezbis the young men who grew up after the civil war and are mostly children of the first type Hezbis; they are active insurgents fighting the foreign forces and the Afghan government. Their struggle is strongly ideologized as jihad – parallel to that of the Taleban, but weaker than that. The ones who joined the Taleban in Andar were from the third generation of Hezbis.

(6) All these dates are rough estimations based on interviews with several people who know Rahmatullah and were in touch with him. They include one relative, a Taleban fighter who was with Rahmatullah when both fought under leadership of Mullah Momin, who was killed in a US bombing in 2008. The sources for the biographies of the two brother also include a former Nur-ul-Madaris student where Abdul Malek studied and a fellow villager from Ghundo. All of them spoke on condition of anonymity.

(7) In Ghazni, many schools, including the main girls school located about one kilometre from the governor’s office, were also closed after the Taleban abducted the school’s principal for a short while. The local government was unable to convince principals to re-open the schools until after the Hezbis had battled the Taleban in Andar.

(8) One local Taleban source described a different reason for the school closure. He said they had known since the winter that a plot for a revolt was being worked out by the government. ‘Local students had been poised to be used in this revolt, according to our intelligence. That’s why we kept schools closed for a while at the beginning of the year in order to prevent schools being used as a battle ground, something which would have made it difficult for us to differentiate between who was part of the plot and who was not.’ However, this account goes against what the mainstream Taleban say about the school ban.
The ban on motorbikes by the government in Andar and the Taleban’s response was not new. The government has tried several times, partially successfully, since 2006, to ban motorbikes because they are an effective means of escape in hit-and-run attacks and high-profile assassinations, such as in the case of the former governor, Qari Baba, deputy governor, Kazem Allahyar, and the outspoken anti-Taleban, Andar district chief, Rahim Disiwal. The Taleban have in response, at various points, banned vehicles, schools and visits to Ghazni city, in a series of tit-for-tat actions, since 2006. For more detail, see: Reuter and Younus ‘The Return of the Taleban in Andar’, cited in footnote 3.

(9) This has become almost proverbial: local people use the phrase ‘as disunited as Andar’.

(10) The official Hezb-e Islami Hekmatyar line on the conflict is garbled, probably reflecting the difficulties events posed for it. Its daily Shahadat carried a long statement ‘From the jihadi council of Ghazni province’, saying: ‘The recent military confrontation between the mujahedin of Hezb-e-Islami and some elements sold to Americans [and] disguised as Taleban is a planned conspiracy of Americans against the authority of the mujahedin of Hezb-e Islami… Some unaware Muslims are misled by mercenaries of the intelligence services of the enemy to believe that they are fighting an American Special Force clothed as Afghans or arbakai made by the enemy.’ A Hekmatyar website also carried a comment praising ‘the sweeping campaign of the mujahedin against some mischief-makers who were involved since long in disruptive and disturbing activities against the mujahedin presence in Andar’ and that ‘the end of tyranny has approached’.
The statement contradicts itself as it says in the beginning that Hezb’s mujahedin were fighting American-made mercenaries which used the name of Taleban, but later says that the anti-Hezb opposition are unintelligent brothers deceived by the enemy into believing that they are fighting arbakai or a militia trained by the Special Forces of the Americans.

(11) This part is based on interviews with two witnesses from Payendi.

(12) I heard it on Radio Azadi on 12 May myself. Pro-government Kabul daily Weesa also pointed this out, as one option to explain the events, andNewsweek later picked up on this, although a number of other facts in its story are inaccurate.

(13) According to Afghan Islamic Press (AIP), 31 May. The text is available online only for subscribers, but AIP faxed it to the author. The same report also quotes Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed calling the rebels an arbakai funded and armed by the government.

(14) The information on this is obtained from interviews with Khial, his loyalists (described in the previous paras) and local observers as well as a local Taleban commander who claims to have had intelligence since long ago about the arbakai plan.

(15) Karzai’s 2007 trip had to be cut short after the Taleban launched a rocket attack on Mirai where the President was holding a public speech to local elders. Rocket propelled grenades landed 100 to 200 yards of the President, forcing him to cut his visit short.

(16) Several people from Andar had been forcibly sent into exile as a light punishment by the Taleban to get rid of them without taking the headache of more killings, especially in the past four years. These men have also returned home and joined the uprising.

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Thematic Category: War & Peace