A New Taleban Front?
The Taleban successfully have infiltrated Northern and Northeastern Afghanistan and destabilised certain areas, mainly in Kunduz province. Now, there are signs that they might attempt to push forward into mainly Hazara-settled areas the central region. The main road into Jaghori, an important Hazara area, has been blocked raising fears of a new economic blockade or event an attack. Thomas Ruttig looks at the first symptoms of this new development.
The Taleban might plan an advance into the central region of the Hazarajat, one of the last areas of the country that hitherto have only been marginally affected by insurgent activities. This has been reported by Kabul-basedÂ Hasht-e SobhÂ daily on Thursday (â€˜Taleban dar pay-e nufuz ba munateq-e markazi / Taleban begin to influence central areasâ€™) on the basis of Taleban nightletters distributed at the border of Qarabagh and Jaghori districts, south-eastern Hazarajat. Both districts belong to Ghazni province but the border between them marks the limit between Pashtun (Qarabagh) and Hazara-settled (Jaghori) areas.
The nightletters shown in the newspaper are handwritten (as they are often), carry the official letterhead of the Taleban Islamic Emirateâ€™s Qarabagh district administration but are not dated. They declare the road linking Jaghori, through Qarabagh, with the Kabul-Kandahar section of the great Afghan ringroad closed. The traffic on this road, the quickest connection between Kabul where many Jaghori Hazaras live, and their area of origin has been difficult since at least two years but was made almost impossible in the last few months. This has forced travelers to take the detour through Kabul, Behsud and Nawur, increasing travel time between Ghazni city and Jaghori from three to 12 hours. Before, when the road was still open, travelers did not carry any paper work with them that could indicate employment with foreign organizations and deleted phone numbers from their mobile phones before passing Qarabagh for the fear of Taleban makeshift roadblocks.
According to Hasht-e Sobh, commodity prices in Jaghori have already soared. The local population is afraid of a repetition of the Taleban blockade of Hazarajat in the late 1990s.
Most significantly, the Taleban nightletters also appeal to the local population, asÂ Hasht-e SobhÂ writes, â€˜not to prevent the [Talebanâ€™s] entry into this areaâ€™. This could be a sign forÂ an imminent – or at least a planned – attack on Jaghori, a district that is characterized by relatively high standards of boysâ€™ and girlsâ€™ education. The newspaper further quotes analyst who say that this might indicate â€˜a new plan of the [Taleban] to expand their influence on the countryâ€™s central [mainly Hazara-populated] areasâ€™. This would follow successful inroads into the North and Northeast of the country where insurgent activity has abruptly increased of late.
Most Hazaras had been hostile to the Talebanâ€™s advance into their region in the 1990s after the movement that considered Shia as non-Muslim had committed some mass murders against the minority group, for example in Mazar-e Sharif, Yakaolang (Bamian province) and at the Robatak Pass (Samangan). The Taleban conquered Bamian, the largest town in Hazarajat, late in their campaign that brought them control over more than 90 per cent of Afghanistanâ€™s territory in that period. It was supported by an agreement with one faction of the main Hazara partyÂ Hezb-e Wahdat, led by Ustad Muhammad Akbari (now an MP in Kabul), a rival of the leader of Wahdatâ€™s main wing Abdul Karim Khalili (now a Vice President). Under this deal, Akbariâ€™s fighters guaranteed that Bamian remained calm and accepted a presence of Kandahari Taleban in the town.
In the meantime, the Taleban have â€“ at least officially â€“ moderated their position vis-Ã -vis the Shia community. Mulla Omar has declared repeatedly that the movement would not tolerate any â€˜sectarianâ€™ bias. This can be interpreted as an attempt to woe the Hazara population that feels neglected by the central government in Kabul.
Apart from Qarabagh and Jaghori, Taleban activity in peripheral areas of the Hazarajat has increased markedly. Over the past months, sporadic Taleban attacks or fighting was reported from the Shibar Pass in Bamian province, from Sarepul in the north and Ghor in the West. In most of those areas, as in the Afghan north, the activity seems to origin in neighbouring Pashtun areas.
Some of the most recent fighting took place in Kejran district in western Daikondi, when large groups of Taleban fighters who had gathered in neighbouring Baghran district attacked a police post not far from the district centre in the night of 12 June. The attackers were repelled by the police and local forces, leaving behind 16 dead, and the fighting that had lasted a few days has for the moment stopped. Inhabitants however report that several hundred Taleban fighters are still gathered and ready for renewed attacks, particularly after reports of exaggerated violence against them by the Hazara defenders. Kejran had been attacked before by the Taleban, in November 2007. Then, they even took the district centre, but apparently prepared by a deal with one of the local government officials.
An earlier attack in Ghor had also seen the congregation of up to hundreds of Taleban fighters from the whole region and seem to represent a new development in the remote areas that seem to hold little importance for the Coalition and government forces. Taleban involvement also was presumed in this yearâ€™s renewed clashes between settled Hazaras and incoming Pashtun nomads in Behsud and Daymirdad districts in Wardak/Maidan province.
These activities, however, cover a large area across different regions of the country which are under different parts of the Taleban shadow administration. Coordination is, therefore, unlikely. If an attack on Jaghori happens, however, this could represent a major thrust of the Taleban that are well-established in the Pashtun-inhabited areas of Ghazni province.