Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

External publications

Warlords, Religious Leaders, Insurgents: Three external publications

Thomas Ruttig 31 min


For the London-based Tony Blair Faith Foundation, Thomas Ruttig analysed the relationship between Islamic religion and politics in Afghanistan through the phases of internal conflict over modernisation and armed conflict, starting with the 1970s. He starts with the analysis that Afghan society, before the Soviet occupation, was religiously conservative, with liberal urban enclaves and few Islamist influences. Throughout the 20th century, however, repeated top-down and violently enforced modernisation by various Afghan governments provoked armed resistance from conservative tribal actors and the Islamic clergy strengthened the Afghan Islamists and made them a key political factor. They took over the leadership of the anti-Soviet resistance, supported by the West, Arab regimes and foreign extremists.

The armed struggle changed the make-up of national elites; simultaneously, the wars resulted in a conservative religious and social backlash. The role of religion became more prominent, as a tool of self-identification against foreign occupiers, and the religious clergy increasingly took up political and ideological leadership roles. Later, under the Taliban, the mullahs became the ‘transmission belts’ of government rule, being the eyes and the ears of the regime. Today, Afghanistan’s political sphere is dominated by a group of surviving mujahedin leaders – now calling themselves ‘jihadi leaders’ whose role, also based on increasing economic power, comes close to a monopoly of power.

Thomas Ruttig, Situation Report: Religion in Afghanistan. Tony Blair Faith Foundation, London 2014.

The original link to this text has disappeared online. Find the full text at the end of this overview.



Read an overview about three recent external publications of AAN co-director Thomas Ruttig, in the German magazines Orient and INAMO and for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation in London.

In an article for the quarterly INAMO, a journal run by the Berlin-based Information Project Near and Middle East, Thomas Ruttig has looked at the phenomenon of “warlords” and their historical context and evolution in Afghanistan. He puts the term in quotation marks as – according to his analysis – the number of warlords was very low and their rule limited to a few years. Afghan warlords were a result of armed conflict that broke out in the 1970s. After the ten years of Soviet occupation and the Russian government of Boris Yeltsin stopping support for the regime of President Najibullah (1986-92), a coalition of mujahedin parties took over power in 1992 but their internal quarreling led to a round of inter-factional wars. The country split into fiefdoms controlled by armed factions who formed quickly changing alliances. Warlord rule was ended in 1996 by the victory of the Taleban movement. Most of the former warlords fled the country and only returned as allies of the Western forces who ended the Taleban regime. Today, these former warlords are deeply anchored in Afghanistan’s political, economic and security architecture.

The article is in German. Full text here.

Thomas Ruttig: „Die an den Hebeln sitzen. Genese und Zukunft der ‚Warlords’ in Afghanistans neuer Oligarchie“. In: INAMO, Heft Nr. 78, Jahrgang 20, Sommer 2014 (print only; order a copy here:


For the academic magazine Orient, Thomas Ruttig, in co-authorship with AAN author Philip Münch, now at Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik in Berlin, looked at recent developments in the two main groups of the Afghan insurgent movement – the Taleban and Hezb-e Islami’s armed wing –, its internal organisation, modus operandi and position towards a political solution. The authors conclude that, given the assurances of continued international support and ANSF progress, the short-term chance for an all-out military victory of the Taleban is comparatively small. With this prospect, they might still be persuaded to talk – although Taleban hawks will use any post-2014 foreign military presence as an argument to continue the insurgency. It needs to be considered that, against claims to the opposite, the movement is more than just an externally manipulated terrorist outlet. Its local networks are not interested in a further destruction of the country, but they will also not accept any solution that does not consider their interests, and honour, and continues to treat them as a minor conflict party that has either the choice to lay down arms and join the legitimate government or be defeated.

The calculation so far in international diplomatic circles to create a pro-talks dynamic within the Taleban movement by starting negotiations has failed so far, as there are no negotiations. First, it was driven by the US interest to withdraw its troops and create a conducive environment for talks, without sufficiently taking conditions on the ground into consideration. Secondly, it excluded the Kabul government, making it hostile to initiatives it did not lead. Thirdly, both the US and Kabul’s approach was not inclusive enough, as they reduced “reconciliation” to talk with the Taleban without grounding it on a genuine Afghan societal consensus. Although the timeframe for ending the insurgency by peaceful means has shrunken further – with 30 more months of a US troop presence (and political attention guaranteed by that) – the door to negotiations can still be opened within this window.

The international community needs to understand that such a process – with its multi- faceted internal and regional dimensions – will be so multi-layered that it probably needs much more time than just three years. The ground work to prepare for such a long process, which will have no guarantee of success, needs to be done now, starting with efforts to end the war and relieve the burden of bloodshed and destruction from the Afghan population and, simultaneously, prepare mechanisms and the agenda for a broader Afghan societal debate about how Afghanistan’s political system should look like in the mid-term. A simple power-sharing deal with the Taleban – without keeping up the so far embryonic, unsustainable and instable social systems and political institutions that emerged after 2001 and deep-reaching reforms of the partially dysfunctional current system – would leave Afghanistan in the same environment that created each of the armed conflicts since 1975, only with a different set of actors in power. (The article is in English.)

Philipp Münch and Thomas Ruttig, “Between Negotiations and Ongoing Resistance: The Situation of the Afghan Insurgency”, in: OrientIII/2014, pp 25-41 (print only).

The full text of the article is available in Philipp Münch’s profile on the SWP website, here.

Thomas Ruttig(*)

Religion in Afghanistan: The role of political Islam and the ‘jihadi leaders’

This text was originally written as a “Situation Report“ for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation (later: Tony Blair Institute for Global Change) in 2013 and published in early 2014. After the renaming, the text disappeared from that website.

Although the situation in Afghanistan has changed fundamentally since, large parts of this text are still valid for historical analysis.

Circa 99 per cent of Afghans are Muslims, and the current constitution, adopted in 2004, defines Afghanistan as an “Islamic Republic”. It also stipulates that Islam is the “the religion of the state” and that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam”. Popular Islam in Afghanistan has very strong, although not publicly displayed Sufi undercurrents, with the Naqshbandiya and Qaderiya the most influential tariqa (orders). Going beyond the provision of the pre-war 1964 constitution that gave the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam a dominant status, it establishes equal rights for the Shia minority (some 20 per cent of the population)[1] for the first time. As the constitution prohibits “any kind of discrimination”, it also gives equal rights to non-Muslim minorities. It further stipulates, “Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law”. These legal provisions do not always translate into practice.

Afghan society before the Soviet occupation was religiously conservative, with more liberal urban enclaves and little Islamist influences. Repeatedly in the 20th century, though, top-down and violently enforced modernisation by various Afghan governments – initially those of King Amanullah during the 1920s and again under the Soviet-backed regimes (1978-92) – provoked armed resistance led by conservative tribal elements and the Islamic clergy. In general, however, the clergy – the mullahs, often uneducated and outsiders in many communities, and the better-educated ulema (higher-ranking Islamic scholars; singular: alim) – remained politically weak and only of local importance. Their almost monopolistic grip on education had largely been broken by Amanullah’s reforms. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Islamists had a marginal presence at the few universities and some rural madrassas. They were repressed under the monarchy (until 1973), the Republic (1973-78) and the leftist regimes (1978-92). 

The polarisation caused the takeover of power by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in 1978 – a left-wing party established in 1965 that wanted to turn Afghanistan into a socialist country allied with the USSR – and even more so by the Soviet occupation in the following year strengthened the Afghan Islamists. With Afghanistan now a hot spot in the Cold War, they took over the leadership in the anti-Soviet resistance, supported by the West, Arab regimes and foreign Islamist extremists. Under the influence of the Islamist military dictator of Pakistan, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (ruled 1978-88), and supported through this country’s Islamist parties, monarchist, nationalist and even leftist (Maoist) groups that participated in the resistance were marginalised by being cut off from supplies when Pakistan, in 1981, decided to only support seven Islamist mujahedin groups. This allowed the mujahedin to reinterpreted the liberation struggle in religious term, as a ‘jihad’.

As a result of the last four decades of armed and increasingly brutal conflict, not only millions of Afghans were killed and displaced and the infrastructure destroyed but also the social fabric of Afghan society was ripped apart. The armed struggle led to elite change, away from the landed, tribal aristocracy, often with people from the intelligentsia – engineers, teachers and doctors – moving into leadership positions. Simultaneously, the wars resulted in a conservative religious and social backlash. The role of religion became more prominent, as a self-identification against the foreign occupants, and the religious clergy increasingly took up political and ideological leadership roles. The mujahedin parties of the 1980s – both Sunni and Shia – were either led by ulema or members of the intelligentsia with clear Islamic credentials. Under the Taliban, the mullahs became the ‘transmission belts’ of their rule, being the eyes and the ears of that regime.

This had long-term effects, and the results are visible everywhere. This reaches from a group of surviving mujahedin leaders – now calling themselves ‘jihadi leaders’ – who dominate in the political sphere in every day life to how every-day life is organised, particularly by the continuing exclusion of large parts of the female population from public life, particularly but not only in rural areas. Women employment is still the exception rather then the rule; when travelling, Afghan women have almost unavoidably to be accompanied by a male relative (mahram) and there is an on-going debate whether women should be visible in the media. At the political level, this social tendency is reflected by regular attempts to curb human rights, including women’s rights, and related institutions and activists. This is based on the widespread assumption that Islamic values predominate over internationally accepted norms and freedoms enshrined in the constitution and recognised by UN member-states, including Afghanistan, as being in effect ‘anti-Islamic’. Although this assumption is mainly held tacitly, it is regularly expressed in Friday sermons and has repeatedly been raised in public by influential religious scholars, members of parliament and even government ministers. Criticism of the jihadi leaders is treated by them as ‘criticism of Islam’ and cracked down upon, with several early cases establishing precedents to deter later challenges[2]. Under these circumstances, no political actors can openly define themselves as ‘secular’, in spite of Afghan society’s secular undercurrent[3]

The trend to crack down on religious debate within the courts is concerning and the trend to label criticism against religious figures ‘un-Islamic’ reflects an internalisation of the jihadist concept of takfir[4] that over the past decades have been a concept adhered to by minority extremist groups only, the so-called ‘jihadists’ or Wahhabis. It also represents the top-down politicisation of Islam, which is exacerbated by the lack of judicial independence in Afghanistan.

As a result, younger generations are torn between the demand to follow to what are considered Afghan or Islamic values and the attraction of ‘western’ innovations in culture, dress and technology[5]. Particularly in an urban environment, many live a synthesis of both. The failure of the post-2001 Western intervention to establish peace and stability in the country, however, has strengthened anti-Western sentiments. 

The conservative backlash led to growing intolerance vis-à-vis non-Muslims and numbers of religious minorities have dwindled throughout the conflict years. There remains only one member of the small Jewish community in Kabul. Although indigenous to Afghanistan for many centuries, Sikhs and Hindus – labelled together as Ahl-e Hunud (“Indian people”) in popular representation – are increasingly seen as ‘foreign’. They have come under periodic pressure and many have left the country; their combined population has declined from 20,000 to 7,000 since 1978 [6]. The (Shia) Ismaili minority, split into two isolated groups in Baghlan and Badakhshan provinces, also feel the pressure; particularly by radical Sunnis, they are considered ‘non-Muslim’. (Extremist Muslims even apply this to the Shiites in general.) For Westerners, the derogatory term kafir (unbeliever) has increasingly become currency in everyday speech. The recent series of apparently spontaneous killings of Western journalists or aid workers seem to be the extreme edge of this tendency.[7]

Although sectarian undercurrents are evident in strong mutual biases in both communities, one important feature of post-2001 Afghanistan – in striking difference to Iraq – is that violent Sunni-Shia conflict not been largely absent, in spite of attempts by radical groups to trigger such a conflict. An inherent discrimination against the minority is seen in the fact that Sunni-Shia disputes are generally solved on the basis of the Sunni Hanafi jurisprudence. That being said, the constitution obliges the provision of a separate judiciary for inner-Shia disputes. 

No official Christian community exists in Afghanistan, but starting from the period of Taleban rule (1996-2001) there have been a growing number of conversions. Some are the result of proselytising Christian aid groups, mainly among marginalised communities, others via conscious renunciation of Islam due to war crimes committed in its name[8]. Denouncing Islam continues to be treated as apostasy in accordance with sharia law and, in theory, carries the death sentence[9].

The Conflict-Related Evolution of Religious Narratives

Although it was the Soviet invasion of Christmas 1979 that brought Afghanistan to the attention of the broader international public, conflicts had begun earlier in the same decade. Armed conflict in Afghanistan has started in the mid-1970s. It evolved from small-scale guerrilla warfare into an internationalised conflict that is still on-going. 

Afghanistan’s conflict years can be divided into five phases: 1) small Islamist groups fighting a central government that included leftists elements (1975-78); 2) localised but widespread popular uprisings against a left-wing regime (1978-79); 3) Islamist-led and externally supported insurgency against a Soviet military intervention; internationalisation of the conflict in the Cold War context (1979-89); continued after the Soviet withdrawal against the Najibullah government (1989-92); 4) the factional wars, with a first phase that had the victorious mujahedin groups – they are called tanzim in Afghanistan, indicating their military network character[10] – fighting for supremacy in the country (1992-94/96) and a second phase were this conflict bore out between the re-united tanzim and the Taleban (1994/96-2001); 5) US-led military intervention, triggered by the events of 9/11, and anti-Western insurgency. Throughout all these phases, political forces involved in these conflicts expressed and legitimised themselves in religious terms.

Depending on whether, and if how many, western troops remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO/ISAF combat forces scheduled for the end of 2014, and whether an unlike quick political settlement of the armed conflict can be achieved with the insurgents, a new ‘Afghanised’ phase of the conflict might occur that is fought out between the central government’s forces and the insurgents. 

Starting in the early 1960s, Afghanistan begun experiencing political tensions that were mainly a reflection of the inability of the conservative and stagnating Afghan institutions to absorb and employ the growing educated class that were the long-term output of Amanullah’s reforms. The 1964 constitutional reforms, which strengthened parliament but did not legalise political parties, radicalised both leftists and Islamists and drove them underground. Both mobilised students, leading to campus clashes in Kabul and elsewhere starting in the mid-1960s and reaching a violent high in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Both also infiltrated the military ad started a competition for violent regime change.

Religious motifs were already prevalent in these Islamist-versus-leftist political conflicts. For example, the visit by Soviet leader Khrushchev in 1960 sparked demonstrations led by the Islamic clergy against what they perceived as a growing influence of pro-Soviet atheists in the country. A new wave of ulema-led demonstrations broke out – and was repressed – in 1970, after a leftist publication praised Soviet founding father Lenin in terms reserved for the prophet Muhammad. 

The leftists gained the upper hand with the coup d’état on 17 July 1973 that brought to power a member of the royal family, Sardar (Prince) Muhammad Daoud who, however, proclaimed a republic. He was supported by one of the two main PDPA factions, Parcham (Banner). Against the leftists influence in government, the Islamists staged a decentralised armed uprising in July 1975 in various provinces of the country. Although unsuccessful, it was significant both to these years, and to the later development of Afghan conflict, as it featured some of the most well known actors of the decades to come. This included the two most prominent later mujahedin leaders, Ahmad Shah Massud, a Tajik from the Panjshir valley (who became defence minister of the first post-PDPA government and was assassinated on 9 September 2001), and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a detribalised Pashtun also from the Afghan north who is among the leaders of the current insurgency. Both, Massud and Hekmatyar were students of engineering, and represented a new type of Afghan political leader, both modern educated but religiously conservative at the same time. (Both were also arch-enemies, and their fighters later often clashed while fighting the Soviets.) The surviving leaders of the uprising fled to Pakistan where they received support and training by President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government and continued to wage small-scale cross-border guerrilla warfare.

When Daoud sidelined the leftists, they staged another military coup on 28 April 1978, led by PDPA-linked officers. When the new leaders were soon cornered by, first, spontaneous countrywide uprisings and, later, more organised resistance led by the Islamist diaspora supported by Pakistan, they called for Soviet military assistance. Finally, the Soviet leadership decided to intervene directly in late 1979, enabling the Pakistani leadership and the Afghan mujahedin to brand the struggle as a ‘jihad’ against the Soviet and local ‘atheists’.

Phase one of the conflict was also driven by antagonism between Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan that had experienced a tense relationship ever since Pakistan as a separate state emerged in 1947. This conflict has its cause in Afghanistan’s claims to Pashtun- and Baloch-inhabited areas – today’s Pakistani provinces Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan as well as the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) – that had been split off by British colonialism and came to Pakistan in 1947. To further its irredentist claims, Afghan governments supported, and partly hosted, ethnic separatist movements across the border. From 1975 onwards, as result of the failed Islamist uprising in Afghanistan and the escape of its leaders to Pakistan, the latter started retaliating in similar fashion by supporting these insurgents, initially against President Daoud’s short-lived republic, and then by supporting the mujahedin against the Soviet-backed government. 

Before 1973, the Islamist movement diffuse, organised in some urban groups and around a number of rural madrassas. The Sunni urban groups colluded around a group of professors of theology at Kabul University’s sharia faculty, some of them had been students at Cairo’s al-Azhar and were influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. This group was known as Jamiat-e Islami (Islamic Association) and remained an umbrella group for most of the urban Sunni Islamists up to the PDPA takeover in 1978.[11] In 1969, it established the Muslim Youth (Jawanan-e Musalman). Minuscule Shia underground groups[12], struggling for the minority’s political emancipation, go back to the second half of the 1940s even. One staged an abortive coup d’ètat on the Afghan New Year 1949.

The time between the abortive July 1975 uprising and the Soviet intervention in late 1979 saw a number of attempts to unite the diverse Islamist groups. But, paradoxically, these attempts deepened splits and led to the establishment of various Sunni Islamist groups, the later tanzim. The reason were deep-seated rivalries, particularly between Jamiat leader Burhanuddin Rabbani and one of the organisation’s leading members, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who simply were unable to agree on a single leader. As a result, Hezb-e Islami-ye Afghanistan, established sometime in 1976 as an unity party, became Hekmatyar’s faction while Rabbani revived Jamiat.[13]

There was also a conceptual conflict over the approach to the new communist regime. When non-clergy leaders of the Islamists’ younger generation like Hekmatyar declared ‘jihad’ against the PDPA government, the Ulema-led tanzim challenged their religious qualification and legitimacy to do so[14]. This was an indirect claim by the ulema for hegemony in the resistance movement, that did not materialise though, due to the inefficiency of their tanzim compared to those led by Hekmatyar and Rabbani, in the latter case mainly due to efficient and modern-educated commanders like Ahmad Shah Massud in the Panjshir and Ismail Khan in Herat.

In phase three, the US, Saudi, Pakistani and Iranian response to the Soviet invasion of December 1979 did not only internationalise the conflict, their arms, financial and ideological support to existing Islamist groups established the mujahedin tanzim as dominant factors on the Afghan political scene that continue to exist today. The enormous resource flow also heated up the rivalry between its leaders, leading to further organisational splits. The Islamist tendency of the tanzimwas well known then already. When a group of mujahedin leaders were invited to the US in 1985, Hekmatyar – who considered America as alien to Afghanistan and kafir as the Soviet Union – rejected to meet President Ronald Reagan. Reagan nevertheless called the mujahedin leaders the ‘moral equivalent’ to the US’ founding fathers.[15]

In the 1980s, the tanzim remained divided along ethnic and sectarian lines, although much of their resistance to unite in a broad alliance was caused by their leaders’ competition for the external resources, much of which were not made instrumental for the war effort but privatised. After Pakistan’s sidelining most resistance groups, six Sunni groups dominated the scene: Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami that received the lion’s share of the external support, Rabbani’s Jamiat-e Islami, with Ahmad Shah Massud as its most prominent commander, a second Hezb-e Islami led by an religious scholar, Mawlawi Yunis Khalis (one of his major commanders was Jalaluddin Haqqani), the ulema-run Harakat-e Inqilab-e Islami (Islamic Revolution Movement) under Mawlawi Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi which later joined the Taliban and two smaller groups, Jabha-ye Nejat-e Melli-ye Afghanistan (National Salvation Front of Afghanistan), whose leader, 1992 interim president Sibghatullah Mojaddidi, is an alim and a Sufi leader at the same time, and Jabha-ye Islami-ye Melli-ye Afghanistan (National Islamic Front of Afghanistan), led by another Sufi leader, Pir Sayyid Ahmad Gailani.

Saudi Arabia’s role – that had committed to providing the same amount of support to the mujahedin as the US (USD 3-4 bn each) – furthered the emergence of a new Islamist strand in Afghanistan, wahhabism. Small Wahhabi groups had only existed in Afghanistan in remote parts of its northeast, as a result of the forced conversion of non-Muslims Nuristani groups under the reign of Amir Abdul Rahman (1891-1901). In 1980, Saudi Arabia was instrumental in a new attempt of coalition building between the six major Sunni tanzim. The product was called Ittihad-e Islami bara-ye Azadi-ye Afghanistan (Islamic Union for the Freedom of Afghanistan) and was led by a professor of Islamic theology, Abdul Rabb Rassul Sayyaf. When the front imploded, Sayyaf led Ittihad (renamed Dawat-e Islami after 2001) as his own 

Wahhabi-orieted tanzim that was generously funded and able to buy up field commanders from other tanzim, as it lacked a natural base of support in the country. Saudi Arabia was also instrumental in the sending of non-Afghans fighters to join the Afghan jihad. This included the young Osama bin Ladin and laid the foundation for the later emergence of al-Qaida. It were Sayyaf’s organisation and commander Jalaluddin Haqqan who hosted most of these jihadist ‘internationalists’. Sayyaf is currently a presidential candidate. An extremist Islamist group in the Philippines has adopted his name, calling itself Abu Sayyaf. (Its founding leader had fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan.)

Together with Sayyaf’s newcomer organisation, there were finally seven major Sunni tanzim based in and supported through Pakistan, usually summarised as Haftgana (or “Peshawar Seven”). On the Shia side, there were nine major tanzim, based in and supported by Iran. Throughout the war against the Soviets, they remained fragmented. Only in 1989 – when the Soviet troop withdrawal heralded political change – the leadership in Tehran forced eight Hazara groups to merge under the name Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan (Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan); they were dubbed the Hashtgana (or “Tehran Eight”). The ninth Shia group, the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (Harakat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan) that mainly mobilised among the Sayyids who see themselves as a distinct ethnic group remained separate. 

During the 1980s, the Islamist Sunni and Shia mujahedin commanders either eliminated or co-opted the old tribal and local elites. This conflict was particularly harsh among the Shia Hazara of central Afghanistan, where the traditional elites (landowners, religious and community leaders, the khans) had almost completely liberated the Hazara-settled areas and established a semi-independent administration from 1979 onwards, basing it on a tacit non-aggression pact with the Soviets and the central government. An influx of Khomeinist groups, trained and inspired by Iran’s new religious leadership, wiped out this structure between 1982-84 and led to a take-over of Islamist forces also among Afghanistan’s Shia groups. 

Phase two and most of phase three (1978-89) were characterised by a clear polarisation between the internal forces, between ‘kafir’ against ‘good Muslims’. In the last years of the Soviet occupation when negotiations over a troop withdrawal were already under way, and after the withdrawal had been completed in February 1989, the central government tried to break its dilemma. Under President Najibullah (1986-92), it dropped symbols associated with the communist regime, renamed the PDPA Hezb-e Watan (Homeland Party), presented its leaders as ‘good Muslims’ as well, wooed the Islamic clergy symbols, adopted a new constitution and proclaimed a ‘policy of national reconciliation’, offering mujahedin leaders and commanders government positions on the national and subnational levels and their organisations participation in the now ostensibly pluralistic political system. Elections were held and seats in parliament kept vacant for what now was termed the ‘armed opposition’. Finally, whole provinces were vacated by government armed forces as an offer to the tanzim to establish themselves permanently on Afghan territory. Thetanzim leaders and, apart from some exceptions, the commanders did not accept these offers. Nevertheless, the reconciliation policy was later emulated by the Karzai government and its Western allies. 

Religious Narratives in the Current Conflict

The anti-Soviet ‘jihad’ strengthened the Islamic narrative in Afghanistan and the victory over the Soviets led to the dominance of the mujahedin leaders, now ‘Jihadi leaders’, in today’s Afghan political system and the public discourse. As a result, all major parties in the current conflict define themselves in religious terms as ‘good Muslim’ and representing ‘true Islam’. 

1 – The insurgents

The Afghan insurgents comprise of different factions. By far the largest and most influential are the Talbena, officially the Islamic Movement of the Taliban (De Talibano Islami Ghurdzang, in Pashto). Besides, there are other amrmed insurgent groups: the Hezb-e Islami faction led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; (known as HIG in the West) and local Salafi groups in the northeast of the country. The so-called Haqqani and Mansur networks, in the southeast of the country, and remnants of a faction of Hezb-e Islami/Khales, in eastern Afghanistan, are sometimes considered separate organisations in the West but operate – with a large degree of autonomy – under the Taliban umbrella. There is also a plethora of armed groups operating that often masquerade as Taliban, who are remnants of former tanzim that feel not integrated in the post-Taliban political structures. In their case, the boundary between the insurgency and criminal activity is particularly fluid.

The Taliban rally against what they call an occupation of Muslim lands by unbelievers and the ‘corruption’ of their Afghan puppets, questioning the latters credentials as ‘good Muslims’. The term ‘Islamic’ in their movement’s name emphasises its super-ethnic, nation-wide intentions, as opposed to the label ‘Pashtun movement’ or even ‘movement of the Pashtuns’ often ascribed to them in the West and in Pakistan. 

As a separate faction, the Taliban[16] emerged in the mid-1990s as a product of the tanzims’ factional wars and war crimes committed by all factions during that period. The population, that had mostly supported the fight against the Soviets, lost trust in the mujahedin’s ability to lead the country to peace and stable government. This created the conditions for The Taliban as a new force to end the civil war by disarming rival factions, and to implement what the mujahedin had promised: an Islamic state. 

There had been localised “Taliban fronts”[17] within different mujahedin tanzim since the early 1980s, particularly in Afghanistan’s south, that participated in the anti-Soviet struggle. They were organised by ulema or mullahs who mobilised their students into a mujahedin front, sought support from one tanzim but mainly fought autonomously. One of those petty commanders was Mullah Muhammad Omar who run a small front – first linked with Hezb (Khales) and later with Harakat-e Inqilab-e Islami – just outside Kandahar city in the mid-1980s and a sharia court. Many of those Taleban fronts withdrew from the fight after the Soviet troop withdrawal in 1989 and returned to teaching. Only in 1994, some of these groups remobilised, appalled by the chaos created by the tanzim and particularly by some atrocities committed against children. They coalesced into what called itself the Islamic Movement of the Taliban (De Talibano Islami Ghurdzang, in Pashto). The Taliban were thus a younger, ideologically more radical generation of former mujahedin, though their enmity with the mujahedin tanzim is not primarily understood in religious terms but was and is caused by different political approaches. 

Although an indigenous movement started in Afghanistan, the Taliban soon attracted interest and support from the Pakistani government. Although consistently denied, elements in Pakistan’s military establishment, apparently with tacit leadership approval, continue to support the Taliban to this day, logistically, politically and possibly with intelligence and advice. The Taliban recruited heavily among the socially deprived Afghan refugee population in Pakistan, madrassa students and particularly among orphans who did not know Afghanistan from own experience and were easy to indoctrinate.[18]

The Taliban movement’s emergence reflected inner-Pashtun social conflicts. These include tensions between the Pashtun tribal aristocracy that had dominated the monarchy, and marginalised, often nomadic tribes, sometimes within individual tribes. In the Taliban’s organisation, religious, tribal and regional components overlap, even though as an Islamist movement it does not recognise tribal, ethnic or linguistic boundaries. 

Today’s Taleban movement is dualistic in nature, both structurally and ideologically. The aspects are interdependent: a vertical organisational structure, in the form of a centralised ‘shadow state’, reflects its supra-tribal and supra-ethnic Islamist ideology, which appears to be ‘nationalistic’ – i.e., it refers to Afghanistan as a nation – at times. At the same time, the movement is characterised by horizontal, network-like structures that reflect its strong roots in the segmented Pashtun tribal society. The movement is a ‘network of networks’. The combination of vertical (religious/ideological) and horizontal (tribal) structures gives the Taleban movement a high degree of cohesion while maintaining organisational elasticity. This elasticity in its horizontal dimension – based on Pashtun individualism – allows discussion and even dissent, allows a sufficient degree of autonomy of local commanders and prevents them from feeling over-controlled. Subsequently, the movement has experienced no serious splits. At the same tie, its supra-tribal ideology keeps the door open for non-Pashtun elements. This has allowed it to systematically expand into non-Pashtun areas of the North and West. Islam as an ideology creates cohesion in an otherwise – ethnically as well as politically – heterogeneous movement. The Taliban based their control over the population on the ubiquitous but previously politically insignificant mullahs who are present in all Afghan communities, being probably a few hundred thousand individuals. This gave the mullahs hitherto unknown influence. 

The Taliban’s ideology is a ‘crude homemade Islam’, an ‘eclectic ad hoc’ mixture full of ‘contradictions, breakouts, gaps, alterations and highly idiosyncratic interpretations’. It combines elements of the conservative Sunni Hanafi Islam predominant in rural Afghanistan with fundamentalist readings of Arabian and Indian subcontinental provenience (Wahhabism, Deobandi school) and stresses ‘the importance of ritual and modes of behaviour’, including outside appearance (clothes, haircut, shape of beard, etc.) as epitomised by its notorious ‘religious police’, the Amr Bil Ma’ruf, during the 1996-2001 period. In the post-2001 period it has toned down these aspects, although there are still cases of bans on music during weddings, or attacks against shops selling cassettes and CDs.[19] There also is a strong, though less visible, Sufi element within the movement, as is the case with many Afghans[20].

It is unclear how much of a religious debate really occurs within the Taliban movement or its associated ulema. The Taliban’s ulama council seems to play a superficial role, rubber stamping decisions of the Taliban leadership or Mullah Omar personally, as in practice the movement is lead by lower-level mullahs. 

A key episode of the Taliban’s religious self-legitimisation as an Islamic movement was the appointment of their leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, in 1996 in Kandahar, as amir-ul-mo’menin(leader of the faithful), a title that gives him religious credentials beyond Afghanistan and makes his leadership almost impossible to challenge from inside the movement. This reflects elements of jihadist theory, namely that jihad against unbelievers is only possible under an independent Muslim ruler in an un-occupied territory. But these jihadist elements of ideology have not played out much in the Taliban’s modus operandi. The movement strictly follows an Afghanistan-only agenda, making it, in fact, something like ‘national Islamists’[21]. Afghan Taleban have not participated in any violent activity outside Afghanistan and their save havens in western Pakistan, including in the terrorist 9/11 attacks. Despite occasional jihadist rhetoric in Taliban statements, jihadist ideas have never played a large role in the Taliban movement. The only exception was between 2004 and 2007 when the notorious Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah imported the method of indiscriminate mass suicide attacks from Iraq. This created strong disagreements inside the movement between his followers and the more traditionalist majority of commanders who considered these strikes as ‘un-Islamic’, as they mainly killed Afghans, i.e. fellow Muslims. Dadullah was killed in a coalition airstrike in 2007. From then on, the Taliban have been trying to regulate their fighters’ behaviour vis-à-vis the civilian population by a layha (code of conduct) that has seen several editions.

As al-Qaida’s 9/11 strikes led to the fall of the Taliban regime, and therefore the loss of what many jihadists considered the only independent Muslim territory, this brought the Taliban and al-Qaeda into conflict. Already during the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan, there was not much love lost between the Afghan and particularly the Arab and Pakistani jihadist fighters. Skirmishes were periodic, and Taleban leadership used the Arab volunteers as cannon fodder on the most dangerous frontlines. There is am effective faultline between the Afghan Taleban and al-Qaida[22], and the failure to conceptualise it contributed to the failed US-led anti-terrorism approach in Afghanistan. The fault lines with al-Qaeda make a return of this organisation to Afghanistan unlikely even in the case of another Taliban takeover.

Particularly after 2001, the Afghan Taleban leadership went extra miles in public statements to communicate to the governments in neighbouring countries – particularly to the former Soviet Central Asian republics, China and Iran – that it harbours no aggressive plans toward them. Despite the largely overblown threat scenarios articulated by Central Asian regimes, mainly to divert attention from internal suppression and to attract Western support, there have been few independently confirmed incidents of cross-border violence originating in Afghanistan. The relationship between Iran Taleban, which was extremely strained with the Taliban in power after the killing of Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e Sharif in 1998, has seen some détente. This is mainly due to the enduring period of US-Iranian tensions and the threat of a military strike on Iranian nuclear installations that could have involved, in Tehran’s view, operations from Afghan territory. Tehran has established contacts with some Taliban groups and reportedly provided some support, mainly to be able to mobilise these groups as spoilers in the case of US strikes. The Taleban, mainly for domestic reasons, also have tones down their anti-Shiism which culminated in a number of massacres of Shia communities in the late 1990s. China has managed to maintain contacts with the Taliban leadership, starting at least in the early 2000s, making sure that the Taliban did not train or support Uighur separatists.

This has led to some differentiation between the Afghan and the Pakistani Taleban. The latter emerged as a support structure for their Afghan counterparts after 2001 and tried to emulate their 1996-2001 regime in Pakistan. This brought the Pakistani Taleban in strict opposition with the powers-to be in Islamabad, on the support of which – in contrast – the Afghan Taliban rely. Afghan Taliban leader have often been mobilised by Pakistani leaders to mediate with their Pakistani brethren, and the Afghan Taliban have strictly avoided any action that could cost them this vital support. Toda, it is mainly the Pakistani Taliban who host foreign jihadists, among them from Uzbekistan and the Chinese part of Turkestan. Nevertheless, there are some overlapping structures between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

As a consequence of the US-led foreign intervention in 2001, a new insurgency[23] grew from modest beginnings into a country-wide movement[24]. The movement, presenting itself as a national and an anti-occupation force, is feeding on the shortcomings of the new regime. These include endemic corruption and, on the subnational level, its frequent predatory behaviour and political and tribal exclusivity. Pakistani cross-border involvement, and the high-handedness of the international intervention that has seen years of carelessness towards Afghan civilian casualties, have also fuelled Taliban propaganda and recruitment. 

Recent years have seen escalating violence. The “surge” of US troops to crush the Taliban-led insurgency brought international troop levels close to that of the Soviets in the 1980s (130,000), triggered an intensification of the Taliban’s asymmetric warfare and an increasing number of civilian casualties.[25] The US strategy did not succeed, and political fatigue has led to the decision to withdraw combat forces by the end of 2014. As the insurgency continues and attempts for a political settlement are stagnating, many post-2001 achievements in the economic and social spheres are in danger of being eliminated. Already now, the population faces problems of access to social services such as education and health, which are mostly sub-standard in comparison with other South Asian countries.

For a number of years, the Taliban have switched to using their old label ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’, to point out that they consider themselves the legitimate government that had been overthrown by an unlawful external intervention. It still includes the attribute ‘Islamic’. Alongside its fighting force, in which a centralised command oversees a series of local networks, it has also built up parallel government structures. There are a number of quasi-ministerial ‘commissions’ under its central Leadership Council, better known as ‘Quetta shura’ and military and civilian administrations for all 34 provinces, partly on the ground, partly based in Pakistan. The Taliban are now displaying the same religious motifs and justifications for their struggle that were previously used by the ant-Soviet mujahedin – mainly of the jihad against unbelievers and their local ‘lackeys’. They also continue to call their fighters “mujahedin”[26].

The Taliban are now divided between those who consider a political solution to avoid further bloodshed and those wishing to continue the war, betting on a military takeover when NATO forces leave at the end of 2014. The outcome is difficult to predict, as the Taleban have made some territorial gains, including the symbolic takeover of some abandoned NATO forward bases, but also suffered setbacks on the hand of the government and allied irregular forces. In mid-May 2014, they started a new spring offensive that continues to test the capabilities of the government forces. This pushes realistic prospects for peace talks further into the future.

2 – The central government coalition

The current central government in Kabul is a lose coalition of different political networks, an uneasy alliance between former tanzim and elements of the anti-PDPA diaspora. This alliance emerged as a result of the international conference held in Bonn in late 2001 to determine a political roadmap for post-Taliban Afghanistan. Particularly, the Panjshiri core of Jamiat-e Islami (the followers of the assassinated Massud) tried to establish their hegemony over the future political set-up of the country in Bonn and did so successfully: the group was given control over the most key positions ministries[27], with the concession to have a Pashtun, Hamid Karzai, as president. In an attempt to bolster their position further, they started a campaign to deligitimise the diaspora Afghans that had joined the new government for not having participated in the jihad, using derogatory terms with religious undertones against them (sag-shuyi; ‘dog washers’). Secular leftist figures were labelled as ‘un-Islamic’ and excluded from the new interims administration. One of them, Sima Samar, initially a deputy head of government and women’s affairs minister, later and until now head of the influential Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, was publicly labelled an ‘Afghan Salman Rushdie’, indirectly calling for her assassination.

To legitimise their claim to dominant power, the former mujahedin styled themselves as the embodiment of the anti-Soviet jihad and the resistance against the Taleban, with the “martyr Ahmad Shah Massud” their most powerful symbol[28].

President Hamid Karzai allies, in fact, have a claim to be part of the same tradition. Although many of them did not participate directly in the armed struggle, their key leaders, including Karzai, were members of the tanzim. Particularly the well-networked Karzai – who belonged to Mojaddidi’s organisation – was instrumental for raising resources for different tanzim. To bolster his religious credentials after having been made president, Karzai seeked support and legitimacy through constant consultation with the ‘jihadi leaders’, attempting to sway religious arguments against the Taliban, for example by labelling asymmetric warfare ‘un-Islamic’. The competition of ‘who can be more Islamic’ has led to pressure on media rights, restricting freedom of expression, as well as on non-Islamist political groups and the every-day freedoms enjoyed by most Afghans[29].

These considerations made the small circle of ‘jihadi leaders’ who joined the post-Taliban administration (Sayyaf, Rabbani, Mojaddedi, Gailani and the sons of Khalis and Muhammadi) a dominant in what is called ‘the Palace’, the centre of power in Kabul that consists of a large number of official and unofficial advisors. The jihadi leaders became an essential part of the core of this group and used their position to establish a countrywide network of influence. Outside the immediate ‘palace’, this included key positions in the judiciary, parliament, the province-level administrations, the armed forces as well as the tanzim-turned-political parties that constitute and mobilise the leaders’ individual power bases. 

The political power of the jihadi leaders is increasingly grounded on economic might. The financial support they received during the anti-Soviet jihad and the 2001 war against the Taleban and al-Qaeda as well as income from the drug trade and other activities helped them to accumulate substantial wealth and to take over substantial parts of the legal Afghan economy. Today, most of them control networks of enterprises, including prominent companies in ex- and import (often with monopolistic rights), the mining, banking, security and logistics sectors, some based abroad and headed by young, educated family members with dual citizenships; private institutions of higher education, TV and radio stations and print media that are often labelled ‘independent’; and extensive real estate, including whole streets and bazaars in urban centres of Afghanistan, government lands in the rural areas that were privatised during the lawless periods of factional war as well as properties abroad, in Iran and Pakistan, increasingly in the UAE and Turkey and in Europa and North America. In Afghanistan, private housing is erected on those lands – so-called shahrakand ‘townships’, which are distributed with preference among the leaders’ political or ethnic clienteles. Political protection for actors in the drug economy, through influence in the security apparatus, is also part of these diversified economic empires. Economic interests often transcend boundaries between ethnic and political camps. 

Due to the Islamist dominance over the Afghan political discourse, the former mujahedin parties also dominate the current political party system under which most of them have registered themselves. Only one non-Islamist tanzim – the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (better known as Jombesh), led by Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former militia that fought on the Soviet side – and one non-tanzim political party – the Rights and Justice Party (Hezb-e Haq wa Edalat) – have managed to join the political system as significant new forces. Apart from that, there are almost 100 more political parties across the political spectrum, including the left, but they have effectively been sidelined, even deprived of their right to present party-based lists of candidates during parliamentary elections.[30]

Of particular importance is the High Council of Ulema. This nation-wide body is made up of 3,000 members, one quarter of whom are Shia[31], with 34 provincial branches across the country. Despite the fact that it was set-up by the government in 2002 and that all of its members receive government salaries, it presents itself as a ‘non-governmental’ body. Its major role, envisaged by the Afghan executive, was to provide a government facing the Taliban’s religiously motivated challenge with religious legitimacy of its own. The council almost always publically backs the government and it has significant influence on the president’s decisions. However in the provinces, members often preach an alternative message and, at times, attack the administration and its Western backers. Recently, many official Afghan religious leaders opposed the elections as ‘contrary to Islam’. The Council has been led since its establishment by followers of jihadi leader Sayyaf.

A relatively new trend is the appearance of neo-fundamentalist groups in Kabul and several other provinces, particularly among students and Afghanistan’s youth. The strongest groups are the pan-Islamic Hezb-e Tahrir, and Jamiat-e Islah, an indigenous Afghan group that reject “old” Muslim Brotherhood-related mujahedin as deviants and presents itself as the heir and true representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in Afghanistan. These groups are overwhelmingly Sunni, and often anti-Shia, although they denounce violence. They are also ‘internationalist’ in the sense of being more conscious of events in the wider Muslim world than both the older-generation of mujahedin and even the Taliban[32].


There is no doubt that Afghanistan’s current political leaders are devout Muslims and Islam is more than an instrument to obtain and maintain power. Many Afghans, however, see the religious arguments used by them as tainted by war crimes and systematic human rights violations, which is exacerbated by the prevailing culture of impunity. This is epitomised by the so-called amnesty law passed by parliament in 2010, jointly supported by former mujahedin, communists and even Taliban MPs. President Karzai and his allies have prevented the publication of reports by both the UN and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) mapping these crimes throughout all phases of Afghanistan’s conflicts[33]

The dominance of the jihadi leaders-cum-ulema in key positions comes close to a monopoly of power. This results in their ability to style themselves as the only legitimate embodiment of Islam in Afghanistan, puts them above the law and suppresses most opposition. This is arguably the highest hurdle on Afghanistan’s path toward a more open, pluralistic society.

(*) The author is a founder, co-director and senior analyst at the Afghanistan Analysts Network (, an independent non-profit think tank based in Kabul and Berlin.

[1] Population figures are extremely unreliable for Afghanistan and range from 25.5 million (Afghan government for 2012/13) to 31.8 million (CIA World Fact Book for 2014). 

[2] The first of these was in 2003: the case of the newspaper Aftab that had printed an article accusing so-called jihadi leaders of using Islam as an “instrument to take over power” to establish the “rule of the mullahs”, calling this “holy fascism”; after accusations of insulting Islam, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief was forced to flee abroad. In 2005 a monthly women’s affairs newspaper was banned and its editor-in-chief threatened with the death sentence for apostasy after challenging orthodox Islamic views on women’s rights. In a similar case in 2008, a student and freelance journalist in Mazar-e Sharif, Parvez Kambakhsh, was jailed and sentenced to death for blasphemy after he printed and distributed to pamphlets that were judged to have questioned tenets of Islam and thus constituted blasphemy. These pamphlets were of Iranian origin and deemed legitimate in Iranian discourse. Kambakhsh’s verdict was commuted to 20 years in jail but he was pardoned by the president and brought out of the country following massive international protests.

[3] A few leftist parties referred to themselves as “secular” in the early post-Taliban years, but have since ceased to do so in public.

[4] The practice to declare opponents “kafir” which can also be applied to Muslims. The first prominent case was when the Egyptian Islamic Jihad proclaimed – and then assassinated – President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981.

[5] However, even the most radical Islamic groups have now adopted modern means of communication that in the 1990s were still outlawed by the Taliban.

[6] See: Fabrizio Foschini, “A Lost Opportunity? Hindus and Sikhs do not get a reserved seat in parliament“, AAN, 16 Dec 2013. In 2013, a majority in the Afghan parliament rejected a presidential decree giving Sikhs and Hindus a joint guaranteed seat in the lower house. 

[7] For some public reactions see: Azam Ahmed and Alan Blinder, „Americans Die in Grim Trend in Afghanistan“, New York Times, 24 April 2014.

[8] Many of these are members of the Afghan intelligentsia but remain secretive even from family members.

[9] The case of one Afghan who turned to Christianity and received the death sentence received broad media coverage in 2006. In early 2014, a UK court granted asylum to an Afghan atheist.

[10] Most of the tanzim are Islamist; there are, however, exceptions: Jombesh-e Melli Islami (National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan) and the Ismaili militia. Both emerged from pro-PDPA militias but switched sides when the USSR stopped financing the regime. Jombesh, based in the Uzbek and Turkmen population, led by ‘General’ Abdul Rashid Dostum; and a nameless militia from the Ismaili religious minority which has since been remodelled as a political party, Hezb-e Paiwand-e Melli (National Accord Party), led by Sayed Mansur Naderi. Afghanistan’s Ismaili community is split into two branches, the mainly apolitical branch loyal to the Agha Khan in parts of Badakhshan, and those led by the Naderi family in the Kayyan valley of Baghlan province, north of Kabul..

[11] For more background on this and other Afghan political parties: Thomas Ruttig, Islamists, Leftists – and a Void in the Center. Afghanistan’s Political Parties and where they come from (1902-2006), Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Kabul/Berlin 2006.

[12] The Shia groups, as well as political activities outside the capital Kabul remain under-researched. A rare exception is Faridullah Bezhan, “Ethno-religious dynamics and the emergence of the Hezbe Seri Itehad (Secret Unity Party) in Afghanistan in the late 1940s”, Central Asian Survey, 31:4, 445-64.

[13] Kevin Bell, Usama bin Laden’s “Father Sheikh:” Yunus Khalis and the Return of al-Qa’ida’s Leadership to Afghanistan, The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, May 2013, pp 13ff.

[14] Similar arguments were used against Taliban leaders when they began their movement that was, and is, lead mainly by lesser-qualified village mullahs.

[15] Mujib Mashal, Hekmatyar’s never-ending Afghan war, al-Jazeera website, 28 Jan 2012.

[16] The term taliban (which is not capitalised here to flag the difference) has traditionally been used in Afghanistan for the – often very young – students at local mosques and madrassas, as opposed to students of government-run schools.

[17] Pakistan’s former chief of army staff General Aslam Beg stated in 1995 that he was part of an ‘experiment’ to establish ‘Taleban forces’ in liberated territories of Kunar in 1985–6. The News (Pakistan), 3 March 1995

[18] For an early report, see: Mariam Abou Zahab, “L’origine sociale des Tâlebân”, Les Nouvelles d’Afghanistan No. 74-75, Paris 1996, pp 24-6.

[19] Bernt Glatzer, ‘Zum politischen Islam der afghanischen Taliban’ in Dietrich Reetz (ed.), Sendungsbewusstsein oder Eigennutz: Zu Motivation und Selbstverständnis islamischer Mobilisierung, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Studien 15 (Berlin 2001), pp 173–82; Antonio Giustozzi, Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop: The Neo-Taleban Insurgency in Afghanistan (New York 2001), p 12; Thomas Ruttig, The Other Side: Dimensions of the Afghan Insurgency: Causes, Actors – and Approaches to TalksAfghanistan Analysts Network, Kabul/Berlin, July 2009, pp 18–20.

[20] Two tanzim leaders, Mojaddedi and Gailani, are also leaders of Sufi orders, and even Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar was educated by his own Sufi sheikh.

[21] I paraphrase the term ‘national communism’ used for the Romanian Communist Party with its agenda that sometimes deviated from the Moscow line.

[22] Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al-Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970-2010, London 2012.

[23] The insurgency is often wrongly described as ‘neo-Taliban’, negating the continuity in their leadership, ideology, and organisational structure.

[24]  The insurgency spread by varying degrees in different regions, with the predominant areas being Pashtun.

[25] According to SIPRI, the Afghan conflict is the fourth most violent worldwide. SIPRI Year Book 2013.

[26] There are also internal fault lines in the movement, played out in conflicts between Kandahari leaders and non-Kandahari tribal networks, as well as between the competing leadership bodies of the Quetta and the Peshawar shuras.

[27] Defence, Interior, Foreign Affairs, the intelligence services, the Presidential office and Presidential Guard.

[28] Massud was the most prominent commander of the anti-Soviet mujahedin. He was assassinated by al-Qaeda operatives on 9 September 2001 and declared a “national hero” by the Karzai government. Many Pashtuns see Ahmad Shah Massud as a symbol of non-Pashtun ethnic rule, but this does not prevent his legacy becoming a political tool for particular groups. 

[29] This is characterised by debates that often appear odd from a western perspective, regarding for example female TV presenters, participation in song contest or the broadcasting of Indian or Turkish soap operas, all of which are deemed too liberal by conservatives.

[30] While the Law on Political Parties establishes this right, the Electoral Law overruled this, by imposing a non-party-based election system, the Single Non-Transferable Vote

[31] The Shia additionally have their own council of ulema.

[32] The military coup against the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, for example, has galvanised cooperation between some of these groups, even including older-generation tanzim activists.

[33] In summer 2013, Karzai replaced some of the most independent members of the AIHRC who had been a driving force behind the report and had been pushing for accountability.


conflict Insurgency Islam jihadi leaders reconciliation Warlords