When the police goes local; more on the Baghlan ALP
AAN returns to the story of the local police (ALP) of Baghlan and particularly the group of Hezb-e Islami fighters who, supported by the US Special Forces, had reconciled and become local police in summer 2010, and were decimated in a Taleban attack in September. Some locals have accused this group of committing crimes. Others however claim they were heroically protected by them. AANâ€™s Gran Hewad unpacks this murky tale and explores what it means when armed groups get official recognition.
The unit of former Hezb-e Islami ALP (also called arbaki or militia) formed under the guidance of US special forces in Baghlan did not die when their commander, Sher, was killed by Taleban in September 2010 (seeÂ here). Instead, Sher was replaced by his close friend and party comrade, Nur ul-Haq. He is the son of the locally well-known and late Arbab Sardar of the Omarkhel tribe and was part of a reserve group of fighters which was staying in a guesthouse in Pul-e Khomri, in September.
Nur ul-Haq is now the commander of three ALP posts, one located in Omarkhel, another on the Ajmil bridge and the third in Oryakhel village. His men are accomodated in three barracks (in Shahabuddin, Kandahari Village and Haji Nadirâ€™s crossroad).* Local people believe Nur ul-Haq now â€˜advisesâ€™ Special Forces and several alleged that he has used SF operations to attack his rivals.**
AAN has heard disturbing allegations by local people about the behaviour of this ALP unit. â€˜He arrested me for ransom,â€™ a rich land and livestock owner from the same Omarkhel tribe said. The landowner explained that he was detained on his way home and kept for a night in a cold room in Nur ul-Haqâ€™s home which is in Sharli village at the edge of a river. â€˜He didnâ€™t even give me a blanketâ€™ said the man, who accused his jailers of taking all his money and his mobile phone. â€˜Tribal elders managed to pressure [Nur ul-Haq] to release me, may God in his anger seize him!â€™
When AAN called to put this and several other, similar accusations to Nur ul-Haq, he said he needed to get permission from his superiors to speak. The permission apparently did not arrive.
However, there is another side to the ALP/Nur ul-Haq. He has made himself a heroic figure among those living in another local village, Mangakai. The village was home to a late Taleban commander, Badar, who was Mangal by tribe. Badar was killed along with seven of his fighters during a night raid in early October in the Kohna Masjid area of Dand-e Ghori, which is south-west of the Pul-e Khumriâ€“Mazar highway. Badarâ€™s father-in-law, Haji Nawab, gaveÂ kheiratÂ (organised food and a gathering of villagers) to offer prayers for the soul of the â€˜martyredâ€™ Badar.
Villagers said that a few days after theÂ kheiratÂ a police ranger jeep drove into their village and out jumped five armed policemen from the ANP (the regular Afghan National Police) who severely beat Haji Nawab in front of the villagers, who believe it was because he had givenÂ kheiratÂ and offered prayers for his son-in-law. Locals added that the police were Andarabis [who form the bulk of the Baghlan ANP force] and that they actually wanted to put pressure on local Pashtuns whom they suspected of being Taleban sympathizers. While Haji Nawab was being beaten, some of the villagers called Nur ul-Haq, the head of the local ALP. He asked them to keep the police busy until he arrived. The villagers invited the police for tea and gained the approximately 15 minutes necessary for the ALP unit, led by Nur ul-Haq, to reach the village. They in turn gave the Afghan National Policemen a sound trashing.
The villagers were pleased. Haji Nawab was so happy that his hatred for the ALP â€“ who are supported by the SF, the killers of his son-in-law â€“ turned to appreciation. He sent his son to join them and asked them to establish an outpost in the village, in case support was needed in the future.
The man heading up security and ALP as part of police forces across the north, is General Daud Daud, Commander of the 303 Pamir Police Zone. He apparently wanted someone else to head the Baghlan ALP, another local Pashtun commander called Haji Manak. But Manak was, according to locals, rejected by the Americans because of reported tension with â€˜their boyâ€™ Nur ul-Haq. Instead another man was appointed as head of Baghlan ALP, General Gulab, who is Shinwari by tribe and a former head of the intelligence department in Baghlan Police headquarters. But whatever tension may have existed between General Daud and Nur ul-Haq, it seems to have been solved; a development which may help to ease the rivalries between the ALP and their Andarabi rivals in the ANP. The ethnic Tajik Andarabis have been seriously concerned about the Special Forcesâ€™ support for what they see as â€˜Pashtun militiasâ€™, aka the ALP. The Andarabis themselves enjoy General Daudâ€™s support, because of jihad-era comradeship, despite the accusations made against them of committing crime and generally disrupting security (seeÂ earlier blog).
What are we to make of this small example of ALP, of what it says about reintegration, the role of Special Forces and the way different communities may be oppressed or gain leverage from different state-armed groups? In Baghlan, local police may protect local communities. They may also prey on them. Appointments have proved to be messy and command and control weak. And hanging over all this tale is the spectre of the ethnic and factional conflicts of the â€˜90s. There are concerns that Special Forces are interested only in hitting the Taleban hard now. The future grief which the ALP may bring seems not to be on their minds.
* Locals report that there are other unoficial militias, including one in Nahrin district, led by Mad Ali, that is allegedly extorting money at checkpoints from people working in the local coal mine.
** There are also jirgas facilitated by Special Forces, for instance with regard to land disputes.The tribal elders are invited by the SF, who ask both side of the dispute to bring their legal documents and to narrate the history of the dispute. The elders announce their judgment, which is to be enforced by Nur ul-Haq’s militia.