Dasht-e Archi, a district in the northeastern corner of Kunduz province is almost entirely controlled by the Taleban. They have established shadow sub-national governance structures in the district, while most local government officials are absent and work remotely from the provincial capital. Although the Taleban do not provide any services themselves, they have co-opted government and non-governmental organisation (NGOs) services in the district. AAN researcher Obaid Ali (with input from Thomas Ruttig and Jelena Bjelica) offers an in-depth account and analysis of how the local Taleban supervise basic service delivery, such as education and health in Dasht-e Archi. He explores how the two parallel forms of government operate in the district and how this affects the lives of ordinary people.Daftani Bazaar, built by the Taleban in 2015, five kilometres to the northwest of Dasht-e Archi district centre. Photo. AFP.
Service delivery in insurgent-affected areas is a joint research project by the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). Our research methodology and literature review, can be read here and the first case study in the series, on Obeh district in Herat province, can be read here.
Dasht-e Archi district: the context
- District centre lies approximately 42km to the northeast of Kunduz city, linked by a non-asphalted road;
- Population assessed to be between 92,576 and 190,000 people, based on various available sets of data; the majority are Pashtun, followed by Uzbeks;
- Since 2013 there has been frequent fighting between the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). and the Taleban, including within the district centre; Jundullah, a group allied with the Taleban, is also present;
- Today the district is almost 80 per cent controlled by the Taleban; the district centre was temporarily taken by the Taleban in June and again in September 2015; in September 2018, the Taleban carried out another large-scale assault on the district centre, but were defeated by the ANSF.
Dasht-e Archi: service delivery
- Education: of the 58 schools in the district, 27 have buildings, while 29 are open-air. One girls high school operates in the government-controlled area and one in the Taleban-controlled area. Most of the district schools are monitored by the Taleban;
- Health: There are ten health facilities in Dasht-e Archi, including a 20-bed health centre in the government-controlled district centre. Most of the others are located in Taleban-controlled areas. Therefore, they have the potential to influence them. However, as Taleban fighters and their families get treatment there, they largely refrain from interfering in the staff’s day-to-day work. The medical staff’s salaries and supplies for all facilities – in both the government and Taleban-controlled areas – are provided by the Ministry of Public Health through a national NGO;
- Electricity, media and telecommunications: there is no government-run provision of electricity and households mainly use solar panels; there is no mobile phone coverage at night; electronic media operate across the district, but is used by only the limited number of people with access to electricity and other devices (TVs, mobile phones)
- Other services: the government’s administrative system is paralysed; it operates mostly from Kunduz provincial centre; there are no development projects, the Taleban collect taxes and their primary court is open.
Introducing Dasht-e Archi district
The district’s name refers to its pre-1930s, pre-irrigation geography: ‘dasht’ means desert, and ‘archi’ – originally ‘achi’ (آچی) – means ‘sour’, ie undrinkable, in Turkic. At that time, the district was mainly flat wasteland, with water only fit for livestock. It was mainly used as a summer pasture by Pashtun nomads. (The 1914 British Gazetteer of Afghanistan cites “scanty and brackish” water from springs and a small stream, also called ‘Archi’.)
These nomads came from southern Kandahar and Helmand, as well as from eastern Kunar and Nangrahar provinces. There are a number of villages named after those tribes. There are, for instance the villages of Shinwari,Mangal, and Kandahari (which is tribally unspecific, indicating the nomads might have originated from various southern and eastern tribes). The original population were Uzbeks who only settled in the far northern and northeastern parts of what today is Dasht-e Archi district, near the Amu Darya river. They are still in those areas today. At this time, the district was part of the northeastern province of Qataghan (1).
In the early 1930s, King Muhammad Nader Shah (ruled 1929-33) appointed Wazir Muhammad Gul Mohmand, a famous Pashtun author and poet, as tanzimayi rais, a kind of super-governor for the whole of northern Afghanistan. (2). Mohmand recognised Dasht-e Archi’s agricultural potential, if properly developed, and encouraged Pashtun nomads to settle there. He provided them with land deeds and constructed a large irrigation canal that started from the Kokcha River (situated in today’s Takhar province and a tributary to the upper section of the Amu Darya). This was part of a larger, provincial development plan that also involved the production and processing of cotton as a cash crop. A cotton textile mill was established in the provincial capital, Kunduz city, by the Spinzar (White Gold) joint stock company and was a major part of the economic development policies of both pre- and post-World War II Afghan governments. Over time, this visionary investment and major water-supply infrastructure development in the 1930s transformed the once-desert land of Dasht-e Archi into a fertile plain. Today the district produces a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Dasht-e Archi is the most northeastern district of Kunduz province. It borders the province’s Imam Saheb to the west, Kunduz’s central district to the west (the Ab Dan desert lies between them) and Khanabad to the south. To the east and southeast is Takhar province and the districts of Khwaja Ghar and Bangi. Dasht-e Archi’s northern border is formed by the Amu Darya. Across the river lies Tajikistan.
Dasht-e Archi has three main roads out of the district, one, 25 kilometre-long, connecting to Imam Saheb, another, 23 kilometre-long, to Khwaja Ghar in Takhar province (neither are asphalted) and a third, to Kunduz city via the river port of Sher Khan Bandar. It is 42 kilometres long and asphalted only on the stretch between Sher Khan Bandar and the provincial capital.
There is no solid population data available for Dasht-e Archi. According to an Independent Directorate of Local Government (IDLG) profile of Dasht-e Archi in 2017, the district had an estimated population of 190,000 people (110,000 male and 80,000 female). The Central Statistic Office’s (CSO) estimate for 2018 puts the population at less than half of the IDLG’s figure, at 92,576 people (46,994 male and 45,582 female) (see here p25). Based on the CSO figure, Dasht-e Archi district comprises 8.4 per cent of the total population of Kunduz province, making it the third most-populated district (after Imam Saheb and Khanabad).
Dasht-e Archi’s main ethnic groups are Pashtuns, followed by Uzbeks. The IDLG profile states that Pashtuns constitute 50 per cent of the population, with Uzbeks at 30 per cent, Tajiks at 15 per cent, Turkmen at five per cent, Arabs at three per cent and Gujar two per cent. The population is distributed between about 160 villages.
Conflict and security
Dasht-e Archi has a long history of conflict and instability. In the 1980s, it was one of the mujahedin’s strongholds in Kunduz province. Commanders from different jihadi tanzims (factions) were involved in the fight against the Soviet occupation, but the district was largely under the influence of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami (HIG). Indeed, Hekmatyar was born in neighbouring Imam Saheb district.
In the 1990s after the Soviet withdrawal, Dasht-e Archi suffered from infighting among the jihadi commanders, like other parts of the country. In 1997, Kunduz became a stronghold for the Taleban’s Emirate in the north and Dasht-e Archi divided along ethnic lines. Most of the Pashtuns and Hezb fighters allied with the Taleban, while most Uzbeks fought against them. Mullah Dadullah-ye Lang (Dadullah, the Lame), a Pashtun from Uruzgan, was appointed Taleban commander in charge of Kunduz, and remained a powerful Taleban commander in the northeast until the Taleban’s Emirate collapsed in 2001 (after which he led calls for a new ‘jihad’ – see AAN reporting here) and remained an influential commander until his death in 2007).
In 2001, after the United States launched its bombing campaign against the Taleban, Dasht-e Archi was the first district of Kunduz to be captured by the so-called Northern Alliance, the anti-Taleban coalition (details here). The late Sheikh Sadruddin Sahdi, an Uzbek from Dasht-e Archi who joined the anti-Taleban Jamiat-e Islami as a commander in the late 1990s, overran the district. He then served as district governor for 12 years before being assassinated in August 2013. He was succeeded by his son, Nasruddin, who has now held the post for over five years.
Until 2009, the district remained relatively peaceful, but by mid-2009 a new generation of Taleban who had studied in Pakistani madrassas had returned. They started to recruit fighters from the Pashtun community. The spread of their influence, however, was stopped in late 2010 by night raids and the targeted killings of Taleban commanders by US forces. Most of the surviving senior commanders left for Pakistan to avoid being killed, but some low-ranking Taleban commanders, however, remained in Dasht-e Archi and largely stuck to hit-and-run attacks against security forces and local governmental officials.
After the late Mullah Salaam Baryal, a Kandahari-origin Pashtun from Dasht-e Archi, was appointed Taleban shadow governor for Kunduz in 2013, Dasht-e Archi once again became one of the Taleban’s major strongholds in the province. This happened between late 2014 and mid-2015. Before his appointment as shadow governor, Baryal had reportedly fought as the commander of a group (leading 15 to 20 fighters) during the pre-2001 Taleban rule of Kunduz and remained loyal to the Taleban after their defeat.
Baryal moved the insurgents’ main base from Chahrdara district in the southwest of Kunduz to Dasht-e Archi, which is his home district, and made it the movement’s command centre for the province. Dasht-e Archi is in a better location, militarily, than Chahrdara district and this facilitated his operations, not only in Kunduz, but also in Takhar and Baghlan provinces, to the east and south. Under Salaam, the insurgency in the province developed a cohesive structure and better chain of command. Mullah Salaam’s strong links with Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, predecessor of the current Taleban leader (Mansur was killed in 2016, read AAN’s analysis here), allowed him to mobilise significant support from the Taleban’s Leadership Council.
By 2014, Taleban fighters under Salaam’s command overran several strategic areas around Kunduz city and established a strong presence there (read AAN’s previous analysis here). Salaam invested significantly in gaining the support not only of the local Pashtun majority, but also of Uzbek communities by giving them Taleban district governorships and other positions. Salaam was also the mastermind and commander of the temporary capture of Kunduz city by the Taleban in 2015, and again in 2016 (read AAN previous analysis here). Therefore, he was considered one of the most trustworthy Taleban commanders in the northeast.
After Mullah Salaam’s death in February 2017 (he was killed in a US drone strike in February 2017), Mawlawi Rahmatullah (also known as Mawlawi Muhammad) took the leadership of Kunduz’s Taleban. He is a Pashtun from the Safi sub-tribe of Chahrdara district and was one of Mullah Salaam’s close aides. However, he faced serious problems establishing his lead over the province’s insurgency, as the Kandahari Pashtuns in Dasht-e Archi were pushing for the appointment of a commander from their district and tribe. Eventually, the Taleban Leadership Council confirmed the appointment of Mawlawi Rahmatullah. This, however, did not quell the disgruntlement of the Dasht-e Archi Taleban. (There is no single leader among them and their strength lies in the unity of local elders and mid-level commanders.) Rahmatullah, therefore, remains a relatively weak shadow Taleban governor and his ability to orchestrate large-scale offensives against government forces in the provinces falls far behind his predecessor.
However, Dasht-e Archi continues to play a key role in the current militancy in northeast Afghanistan, as it geographically links the Taleban’s fronts in Takhar province to the east with those in Khanabad and Imam Saheb districts of Kunduz province to the south and west. This is part of a larger corridor through which the Taleban arrange logistical support and reinforcements from neighbouring districts and the neighbouring provinces of Baghlan and Takhar when needed for larger-scale operations. The district, which is also on the way to Badakhshan province, enables safe passage west for fighters via Takhar. From Badakhshan, they can cross Nuristan province to Laghman, Kunar and Nangrahar provinces in the east of Afghanistan, on their way to their major supply and retreat base, Pakistan.
Today, the Taleban control around 80 per cent of the district’s territory. Most of the interviewees for this research told AAN that the government controls only the district centre and around 20 of the 160 villages in the district, covering about 15 to 20 per cent of the district’s total population. (These 22 villages, including the district centre, have higher populations than the villages further out in the district, which are under the Taleban’s control.) The estimate of District Governor Nasruddin Sahdi lies at the lower end; he told AAN that only about 15 per cent of the population live under government rule.
According to Sahdi, the Taleban have brought under their control villages in the northern, eastern and western parts of the district, including the Uzbek villages in the northeast. Meanwhile, the government remains under virtual Taleban siege in the district centre. The frontlines are only a maximum of three kilometres away from the district governor’s office in all directions. To the north, Afghan National Army (ANA), commando special forces and ANA strike force units are stationed in a base in Wakil Sayed Akbar village. These units are well-trained and equipped with modern weapons to support the ANA. They take part in night raids, the targeted killing of Taleban leaders and special offensives against the Taleban. However, they are unable to widen the government’s reach in the district. To the east, west and south, Afghan National Police (ANP) and Afghan Local Police units are deployed in checkposts in Bazar-e Sheikhabad, Arbab Sayed Ahmad and Tajik Qeshlaq villages.The remaining parts of the district are controlled by the Taleban.
Most of the Taleban fighters in Dasht-e Archi are locals. A small number of outsiders from neighbouring Takhar operate alongside them. They are called in when there is a need for reinforcements during larger operations, after which they return to their original posts.
Apart from the local Taleban, there is another active group of insurgents in the district, Jabha-ye Qariha (the front of the qaris, those who have memorised and can recite the Quran by heart). It is the military wing of Jundullah (Army of God), an independent group, although allied with the Taleban. Jundullah follows its own radical ideology, largely ignoring the local culture, in contrast to the Taleban permission and respect for local elders and their system of traditional mediation, carried out on a number of issues (read AAN’s previous analysis here). Initially, this front was established by Qari Aminullah Tayeb, an Uzbek from Rustaq district in Takhar province in 2013. Most of its fighters are from non-Pashtun communities such as the Uzbeks, Tajiks and Arabs. It consists of 100 to 120 religiously educated, young, radical fighters.
Jabha-ye Qariha is based in Shahrwan, an area about 15 kilometres northwest of Dasht-e Archi’s district centre. Late Taleban shadow governor Salaam was able to ensure their alliance with the Taleban and prevented them joining the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, whose remnants are now mostly allied with the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). Jundullah currently fights under the local Pashtun Taleban’s command in the northeast of the district and follows the shadow Taleban governor’s instructions. After Aminullah Tayeb’s appointment as the shadow Taleban governor for Takhar in 2015, the front’s leadership was taken over by Mullah Qader, an Uzbek from Khwaja Ghar district in Takhar province. The Taleban and the local population respect the group because all its members are religiously well-educated. This gives the front credibility when it comes to religious values and their interpretation.
Jabha-ye Qariha is playing a significant role when it comes to youth radicalisation. The front encourages and mobilises madrassa students to fight against government forces in Dasht-e Archi in its ranks and provides recruits with military training in its Shahrwan stronghold. Apart from Dasht-e Archi, Jabha-ye Qariha also operates in some of Takhar’s northern districts that border Dasht-e Archi, such as Khwaja Ghar and Dasht-e Qala.
In terms of numbers, the IDLG in 2017 estimated a total of 2,000 insurgents in the district. This includes 1,500 local Taleban and 300 non-local Taleban. The IDLG district profile does not specifically mention Jabha-ye Qariha or Jundullah but lists 200 “Central Asian” fighters. None of AAN’s local interlocutors could confirm the presence of foreign fighters in Dasht-e Archi today. (3) Local sources close to the Taleban told AAN that the total number of insurgents in Dasht-e Archi was only around 800 to 1,000 fighters. A member of the development council also thought their number was less than 1,000. It seems the IDLG might overestimated the number of insurgents operate in the district.
Government provision of services
The government’s presence in Dasht-e Archi is limited to the district centre and nearby villages. Most respondents said that, apart from the district governor, the police chief and agriculture department staff, all other officials, including the district attorney general and the heads of both the health and education departments are based in Kunduz provincial centre and only rarely visit the district. This started when, in 2015, the district fell to the Taleban. After this, local government officials remained in Kunduz city for almost four months until the district centre was retaken by government forces (read media article here). Since then, sporadic visits have resumed. However, many regular services for the people have never resumed. For instance, one respondent said that if a person needs a tazkera (national identity card), he or she has to go to the provincial centre. Another respondent said that, to register a case with the district attorney general, one also has to go to Kunduz city and find the prosecutors for the district. He added there was no permanent office for the district prosecutors in Kunduz city and most of the time they were unavailable.
The agriculture department’s staff remain in the district. The Taleban have taken a ‘soft’ approach towards them because of the assistance they provide to farmers, who, for the most part, live in Taleban-controlled areas and are often dependent on outside subsidies.
Many of the respondents said that local government appointments were largely based on nepotism and family connections. In a district with a majority of Pashtuns, local government posts are largely run by Jamiat-e Islami affiliated Uzbeks. Only the head of the education department is a Pashtun. There are two main reasons preventing Pashtuns from serving as local government officials in the district. First, the appointment of local officials has to be endorsed by Nasruddin Sahdi, the district governor, who is an Jamiati Uzbek with an anti-Taleban background. He favours people loyal to him and his party. The other reason is that the Taleban issue threaten local Pashtuns, warning them not to take government jobs. They focus their threats against Pashtuns because they form the majority ethnic group in the district. As for Uzbeks, if they work for the government, they are usually living inside the district centre and are loyal to the district governor. Most of the respondents said that, apart from the education, health and agriculture sectors, the Taleban have warned people not to serve as government employees. If they ignore these warnings, they will take their agricultural land and private homes in Taleban-held areas.
According to the IDLG profile of Dasht-e Archi district, as well as AAN’s interview with the district governor, the Afghan government security forces number about 655 officers.
- Most belong to the Afghan National Army (ANA) – numbering 360 officers –based three kilometres north of the district governor’s office;
- Afghan National Police (ANP): numbering 95 officers (from Uzbek, Tajik and Pashtun communities);
- Afghan Local Police (ALP): 200 officers (ALP members are from different ethnic groups such as Uzbeks, Tajiks and Pashtuns). The ALP unit is led by Hamid, an Uzbek, Jamiat-e Islami affiliated commander from the Qarluq area .
These figures indicate that government forces are outnumbered by far by the Taleban.
The shortage of security forces, a lack of timely deployment of reinforcements and supply logistics are the major obstacles faced by local forces, according to most of the interviewees. A school teacher, for instance, said the only reason the Taleban have not taken over the district centre is their fear of airstrikes by US forces. Otherwise, he added, the Taleban are already much stronger and better organised than the government forces.
An ALP commander in Dasht-e Archi told AAN that there was no serious intention from the government side to fight the Taleban. “The security forces are frustrated by continual fighting,” he said. The ALP commander also said the security forces in the district concentrate on protecting their own territory from the Taleban and do not get timely reinforcements or logistical support to be able to carry out their own offensives. He added that the local Taleban also face issues such as the recruitment of new fighters and supplies.
The Taleban have established a parallel shadow government in the district to deal with daily affairs. A development council member from Dasht-e Archi told AAN that it includes “a district governor, head of education, judicial, health, public outreach, military and the finance committees.” According to all respondents, these posts are filled by young Pashtuns and Uzbeks from the district. (4)
All the respondents said the Taleban ‘out-govern’ the Afghan administration particularly in the justice sector in addressing disputes among local people. This is largely because the government justice system is effectively paralysed, given it operates remotely from Kunduz city.
The Taleban’s justice committee operates as a primary court (ie appeals are heard elsewhere – see the following paragraph), where people submit letters to register their cases and get a receipt with an exact date to attend a hearing. Generally, the court takes a few days to review registered cases but it depends on their complexity and the availability of the Taleban’s judges. A number of respondents stated that the Taleban justice committee was always busy. Locals usually take their cases to the Taleban court, where they are adjudicated faster, without corruption and with satisfactory outcomes. For many people, the only available option for their grievances is the Taleban court. Although they do not readily admit it, they often register their cases with the Taleban court so that they can force the opposing side to attend the hearing and accept the Taleban verdicts.
The primary Taleban court’s verdicts are mostly accepted by both parties. If not, they can turn to the Taleban’s provincial justice committee, which functions as an appeal court. This committee (the appeal court) does not have a permanent office but its judges are available in Topra Kash, a more rural area of Kunduz’s central district and around 15 kilometres to north of the provincial governor’s office. Respondents said that it mostly endorses the primary court’s decisions. When neither decision has been acceptable to a party, respondents said they can turn to the Taleban’s Leadership Council, also known as the Quetta Shura or sometimes to the Peshawar Shura. (The Peshawar Shura deals with issues related to eastern, central and northern regions.) It operates as the supreme court but it is difficult to access for ordinary people as it requires spending a lot of money to travel all the way to Quetta or Peshawar in order to register a case. To register a case with either of the Taleban’s councils, the appeal court needs to refer the case to them. Basically, the court provides a reference number for the case, as well as a contact number, address and names of the person responsible for the case.
For the implementation of the primary court’s decisions, the shadow Taleban district governor plays a key role, supported by the military committees. For example, if there is a land dispute, the shadow governor asks the military commander of the specific village to implement whatever decision the court takes. Minor cases, such as family disputes, are sometimes referred to the local elders’ council. This depends on both sides’ accepting the move. The elders’ council decisions are often approved by the Taleban court and again implemented by the shadow district governor.
Other Taleban committees deal with daily affairs. For example, their public outreach committee delivers speeches at social gatherings and during Friday prayers in mosques. Their finance committee collects taxes from agricultural land, shops, commercial services such as telecommunication networks, construction projects and any other source of income at the local level. Their education committee supervises schools (see more details below), the health committee monitors health facilities in the district and assures the attendance of health workers. Apart from the justice committee, the rest of the Taleban’s committees do not deliver services because they do not have the capacity or ability to do so.
AAN conducted 10 in-depth interviews with key informants in Dasht-e Archi district, based on a semi-structured questionnaire, itself developed following a review of the relevant literature. They included tribal elders, district authorities, respected individuals in the district, civil society activists, a head teacher and other teachers from Taleban-controlled areas, a female teacher from a government-controlled area, a local doctor from a Taleban-controlled area and local journalists. They were asked a series of questions about their experiences and perceptions of education, health, telecommunication and electricity, and other services available in their district. For more detail about our research methodology see this dispatch. A summary and analysis of their answers in triangulation with the background information is presented below.
1. Education services
According to various sources, that include the Afghan Ministry of Education, the district governor, the head of the district development council, school teachers and local people, there are 58 government schools in Dasht-e Archi district, 27 in buildings, and 29 open-air. Of these 57 schools, 14 are high schools (16 to 18 years old) two for girls and 12 for boys; 12 secondary schools (12 to 15 years old); 27 primary schools (six to 11 years old); four Ministry of Education-run religious schools (age six to 18 years old) and one teacher training centre. There are also around 20 private religious schools in the district. According to these sources, there are 27,550 students in the district, 17,907 boys and 9,643 girls. and 404 teachers, 379 male and 25 female, who work in the district. It is difficult to confirm whether these numbers are real or only on paper. Regarding the two girls’ high schools, one operates in a government-controlled area and the other in the Qarluq area, which fell to the Taleban in November 2018. As schools have been off for examinations and their winter break since then, it is not yet known whether the school will be allowed to re-open when the new school year starts after Nawruz (21 March). However, the signs are not good. All respondents said that in the Taleban area, girls are only allowed to study until aged 12 years old (grade six).
The statistics on the gender of teachers are the most striking. Just six per cent of teachers in the whole district are female. These 25 individuals only teach in the two girls’ high schools. In all the remaining girls schools, including the secondary schools, girls are taught by male teachers. As will be seen, this is one factor keeping many girls at home.
The managing and monitoring of the schools is divided between the insurgents and the government based on who controls the area. According to a school teacher interviewed by AAN, “The education department has a specific team of five to six people to monitor the schools.” A local government official said:
In government areas, the local education department monitors the schools. In the rest of the district the Taleban monitors them. The education department’s monitors visit the schools once or twice a week. The teachers/students’ attendance record, textbooks, teaching method are the issues that controllers focus on.
However, the schools in most of the district (80 per cent of the territory) are controlled by the Taleban’s education committee, which has influence on local education staff and often interferes in the curriculum. A teacher from a Taleban-controlled area said that Mawlawi Naser Khaksar, head of the Taleban’s education committee for Dasht-e Archi, along with four or five mullahs, monitor the schools. The Taleban’s monitoring team checks the textbooks, and teachers’ and students’ attendance records. In the opinion of a school teacher from the Taleban-controlled area:
The Taleban monitoring-system is somehow similar to the education department, but they put more emphasis on religious subjects. In some areas the Taleban interfere in the education curriculum. For instance, they are not interested in social science being taught or textbooks on culture.
Most of the respondents confirmedthat the Taleban’s education committee also insisted on the study of religious subjects such as fiqh (jurisprudence, Islamic law) being taught instead of mahratha-ye zendegi (social science) and farhang (culture), subjects that are part of the ministry of education’s curriculum.
Moreover, the Taleban sometimes introduce their own members to serve as school teachers in their areas, several respondents said, thereby assuring their influence on society and the education sector and getting their own people paid government salaries. Usually, they said, the local elders’ shura (council) presents the Taleban’s demand on appointments of teachers to the government education department. The Taleban mainly introduce those who hold education certificates from madrassas. The local shura then introduces the Taleban member as a teacher of religious subjects and also as a preacher for their village mosque to the local government. In this way, the local shura assures the appointment of Taleban members. The local education department usually accepts the recommendations. These teachers then receive government salaries. The Taleban in Dasht-e Archi rarely dismiss teachers in their area, but there have been cases where they have pushed for this, for example when a teacher regularly misses classes without consulting the school headmaster or informing the Taleban’s education committee. In general, the Taleban go directly to the school teachers themselves, or to local elders, to address their concerns, as a civil society activist explained:
Taleban do not dismiss teachers, but they transfer teachers from one school to the other if a teacher regularly misses classes. The Taleban send a message to the [government] education department and ask for an official replacement of the teacher.
The most striking and recent example of how the Taleban exercise their control over the education sector is the closure of schools in the province, including in Dasht-e Archi, for more than a month at the beginning of 2018. This was a response to the ministry of education’s decision that teachers’ salaries would now be transferred to them via the banking system. Before, teachers’ salaries had been paid in cash directly to them at the schools. The Taleban considered the decision an attempt to curb their influence on the system – although they do not tax teachers’ salaries. The Taleban were also afraid that if their members had to go to the provincial centre to collect their salaries they might be caught by the Afghan security forces The closure lasted from March to late April 2018. The Taleban also instructed teachers to protest against the provincial education department.
In Dasht-e Archi, all the schools remained closed until the elders stepped in and mediated between the Taleban and the government. Eventually, the Taleban accepted that payments through the banking system could go ahead because teachers had become frustrated by their fruitless protests and started to criticise the Taleban’s decision. The Taleban realised that a long close-down of the schools might turn the teachers against them. Therefore, they allowed teachers to reopen the schools.
Some respondents pointed out that the Taleban’s monitoring is not rigorous. Unlike the Department of Education officials, who were said to be visiting schools once or twice a week, a development council member said that “the Taleban sometime visit a school twice a week but other times, they do not monitor the school even for a month.” This may be because the Taleban are foremost engaged in fighting and lack the capacity to systematically staff their monitoring teams. When there is a large-scale offensive against government forces, all Taleban members, including members of their education committee and even some teachers, take part.
In some other areas, according to respondents, neither the local government education department nor the Taleban monitor schools close to the front lines. Therefore, they said it remained unclear whether the schools were open or shut. Education in the district has been badly affected by clashes between Taleban and government forces, which mostly happen in the spring and summer, when schools are in session (the main school holiday in Afghanistan is from December to March). The schools in Dasht-e Archi’s district centre have also been regularly affected and remained closed for long periods of time, as the centre changed hands between the ANSF and Taleban several times in 2015 and 2016.
It is the continual fighting and instability in the district which does the most harm to girls’ education. The two girls’ high schools have been repeatedly caught in the crossfire between Taleban and government forces. The Lisa-ye Naswan-e Markazi (Central Girls’ High School), with around 1,500 students, was moved from its original building to a rented house due to insecurity in 2015, so students could attend classes without feeling under threat. According to a female school teacher, this was a decision taken by the school’s personnel. She said the school teachers (ten men and nine women) paid the rent from their own pocket. The other girls’ high school, Lisa-ye Naswan-e Qarluq (Qarluq girls’ High School), with around 1,400 students, was in an area on the frontline for a long time. In November 2018, the Taleban overran the Qarluq area entirely and the school came under their control. According to Abdullah Mushfeq, the school’s headmaster, the Taleban did not close the school and did allow students to hold their final exams in November. They also told him they would allow girls to attend the high school the following school year, from March 2019 (Nawruz). However, it is still unclear whether the Taleban will indeed allow the girls’ high school to operate this coming year. Speaking to AAN, a local elder from Qarluq who did not want to be named, said he did not expect the Taleban to allow girls to attend the high school. He added that some local Taleban members had already told people that girls would only be allowed to study until grade seven, or when they are 13 year old.
Generally, people in Taleban-controlled areas allow their daughters to go to primary school, but forbid or dissuade them from continuing further. Additionally, the Taleban’s regulation that women and girls cannot go out of the house without a male member of their families also blocks the participation of women and girls in society. or these reasons, girls above the age of 12 years, whether Pashtun or Uzbek cannot go to school in Taleban-controlled areas, nor can women serve as school teachers there.
According to the Afghan Ministry of Health’s data on the basic package of health services, there are ten health facilities in total in the district, including one Basic Health Centre (BHC), three Comprehensive Health Centres (CHC), and six Sub Health Centres (SHC). (5). Health facilities in the district operate in both areas, in the government-controlled as well as Taleban areas. Most of them, however, are located outside the district centre and in areas under Taleban control.
Almost every respondent said that neither the government nor the Taleban interfere in the day-to-day work of the health sector. On the Taleban side, this is because the health service is crucial for them as they have to rely on it to ensure treatment for any of their fighters who get wounded or sick.
The majority of the interviewees also said men and women have equal access to health services. However, there are issues related to women’s access and a lack of female doctors across the district. The Taleban strictly apply a rule that women can not go to a health facility without a male relative. This is the most serious problem women face, most respondents said. Some of the interviewees also complained about the lack of female doctors in the district, as well as the number of health facilities in the district. Generally, female doctors are not interested in working in insecure, Taleban-dominated districts and a district not educating most of its girls even to twelfth class will not be producing ‘locally-grown’ female doctors. Respondents said the only female health workers available in the district are local midwives and nurses who graduated from two-year medical courses in the government-run medical institute in Kunduz city. One female interviewee said:
It is difficult for many women who live in far-flung areas to reach a clinic. In general, those who live close to a health clinic can have access. The number of health facilities is also not enough to address local demands. Young girls cannot go to a health clinic alone. Because of fear of the Taleban, even male doctors do not treat women in the absence of a male family member.
Health service delivery in Taleban-controlled areas also suffers from a number of other serious shortcomings. The major issues are a lack both of timely medical supplies and of electricity, a shortage of medicine and delays in medical workers’ salaries. These issues were illustrated by a local doctor when he talked with AAN in mid-October 2018:
The Afghan government does not address our demands. There are low-quality medicines in health facilities throughout the district and we work in dark rooms without electricity. The medical workers have not received salaries for the past four months. The Ministry of Public Health should not hand over all its responsibilities to NGOs to address our demands. The ministry should monitor the health facilities and assure our safety, logistical support and timely payment of the health workers.
The NGO he mentioned is Afghan, Just [sic] for Afghan Capacity and Knowledge (JACK). Until the end of 2018, another NGO, the Organisation for Health Promotion and Management (OHPM) also operated in the district, but then stopped after serious complaints about its failure to provide timely support to the health facilities.
Local elders set up health shuras (councils) in order to ensure medical workers’ safety and the security of health clinics in a way that is independent from the Taleban, but also respected by them. It is not clear when exactly the shuras were set up, but locals say they have been there for years. The shuras consist of the representatives of villages served by the health facilities. A school teacher, who is also a member of a health shura, said:
The health shura has 10 to 15 members from the villages nearest to the health facilities. The shura cooperates with the health clinics. For instance, the shura assures the safety and protection of female medical workers.
Another member of a health shura said:
The shura takes care of medical workers, as well as the property of the clinics. For instance, the shura does not allow locals to misuse the health facility. The main concern is the safety of female medical staff and their protection.
The shuras do not allow weapons inside the health facilities, one interviewee said.
The Taleban have even set up their own health committee to regularly monitor health clinics in order to assure health workers attend their duties. The Taleban’s health committee is led by Qari Imran, a local Taleb from Dasht-e Archi.
A civil society activist stated:
The Taleban do not interfere in health clinics or their work. Of course, they sometimes use the health clinic’s ambulance for their injured fighters, but they do not force the doctors or nurses to only look after their fighters….
Access to electricity and media
In 2014, the Provincial High Peace Council received 600,000 USD for a hydropower project in the district centre to supply power to around 1,000 households. The project was successfully implemented. However, in 2015, due to serious clashes between government forces and the Taleban, the hydropower station was entirely destroyed. Consequently, there is no supply of government-run electricity in Dasht-e Archi. As an alternative, many households have installed solar panels, which is sufficient to light rooms, recharge mobile phones and watch television.
Many residents in Dasht-e Archi who have access to electricity have TV sets at home that are connected to satellite dishes. People who can usually watch countrywide TV stations such as Tolo, Aryana, Shamshad and Aina, in order to follow the news and other programs. They also tune in to Central Asian TV stations, such as those from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. This is despite the Taleban ordering people not to watch TV or listen to music, instructions mostly delivered by the preachers during Friday prayers at the local mosques. They instead encourage people to listen to recitations of the Holy Quran and other Islamic programmes on the radio and at the mosque. In practice, however, these instructions are largely ignored, and the Taleban do not actively prevent people from listening to the radio or watching TV. For example, they do not conduct house searches for banned equipment. A civil society activist said:
People place their satellite dishes in a hidden place. The dishes are mostly installed in the middle of the roof and covered with plastic. It looks like a greenhouse on the roof.
As for radio, there is no local radio station in Dasht-e Archi, although radio is widely listened to in the district. People listen to both national and foreign broadcasters. The latter, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the British BBC and the German Deutsche Welle, are mainly listened to by middle-aged or older people who want to follow the news. For younger people, national radio stations that broadcast music and other programmes such as cooking, sports and other entertainment are the favourite channels. According to a local elder,“There are one or two radios in every house.”
Most people, especially the young, listen to radio channels from Tajikistan, for music and other entertainment. They keep the sound low so that the neighbours cannot hear it. To have access to radio, householders place a long stick on the roof with an antenna on top of it.
Access to telecommunication
The other issue of concern in the district is the lack of access to mobile networks during the night. In Dasht-e Archi, telecommunication companies only operate during daylight, from six in the morning until four in the afternoon. The Taleban have forced mobile companies to switch off the network at night for security reasons. There are four active private mobile network operators in the district, Roshan, Afghan Wireless, Etisalat, and MTN. The Taleban do not allow Salaam mobile network because it is a government-run company. They have also instructed people to avoid using the Salaam mobile network.
Most of the interviewees for this research said that telecommunication companies have complied with the Taleban’s instructions, implementing their orders immediately upon request, for fear of having their antennas destroyed by the insurgents. The Taleban also collect taxes from the companies. According to all of the respondents, the Taleban’s finance committee regularly receives money – amount unknown –from telecommunication companies based in Kunduz city.
The Taleban banned the possession of internet-connected smart phones (ones without internet connection are allowed) among their own fighters in Dasht-e Archi in 2016. This rule was imposed after a number of drone attacks and night raids by the US and Afghan forces against Taleban commanders in the district (read media reports here). The Taleban perceive mobile networks as a tool that US and Afghan intelligence use to locate their hideouts. Only some people in government-controlled areas have smart phones with internet connections. In general, internet connections are very weak in the district and uploading a short video or a photo takes a long time. Locals in Dasht-e Archi mostly prefer to use old-style phones without internet access. In this way, they do not have to fear the Taleban.
According to most of the respondents, residents in Taleban areas are supposed to have pro-Taleban songs on their smart phones (not connected to the internet), as well as religious scholars’ speeches on Jihad in case their phones were checked. In the same vein, they said, having a music video or a pro-government video could mark a person as a government spy, the penalty for which, they said, could be death. However, if people’s devices are checked by government forces and they carry pro-Taleban songs, they are perceived to be Taleban fighters and risk being arrested. In Dasht-e Archi, locals are forced to adjust their lives according to this doubly-coercive system. All in all, it is safer not to have a smart phone. A head teacher from Dasht-e Archi said: “It is better to have an ordinary phone without pro-government or pro-Taleban speeches or songs in it.”
Other available services
Dasht-e Archi may have profited from development projects in the first half of the twentieth century, but today infrastructure development is marginalised. Insecurity is a ‘pretext’, interviewees insisted, used by the provincial government as an excuse for not carrying out construction or development projects. Respondents said that, in principle, the Taleban do allow NGOs to operate and that, in the past, they have allowed specific projects they considered beneficial, although they rejected others. All of the respondents believed that neither government nor non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were interested in carrying out development projects in the district. As to commercial construction projects, the Taleban charge a ten per cent tax on any project.
Construction of an asphalted Kunduz–Dasht-e Archi road, that was supposed to connect the district centre through Sher Khan Bandar dry port with Kunduz city, has only been partly implemented. Out of a total of 40 kilometres, only 21 kilometres, between Sher Khan Bandar and Dasht-e Archi have been asphalted; the remaining stretch of 19 kilometres remains unpaved. All the respondents said the Taleban were preventing the completion of the remaining part because they fear it would allow government forces in Dasht-e Archi to receive better reinforcements and supplies.
The other roads, for example the 23-kilometre-long road between Dasht-e Archi and Khwaja Ghar district of Takhar province, and the 25-kilometre road between Imam Saheb district of Kunduz and Dasht-e Archi also remain non-asphalted. In these cases, according to most of the interviewees, this is due to neglect on the part of the local government. They said locals had asked for the upgrade of these roads a number of times, but the government, they said, had ignored their demands because of insecurity. A provincial council member said:
The Afghan government should pay more attention to Dasht-e Archi district. There is no development project in the district. If one compares Dasht-e Archi with other districts of Kunduz province, there are big differences in terms of allocated funds for development and construction projects.
It would seem the council member is somewhat right here, given that other insecure districts, such as Khanabad, Aliabad and Chahrdara, all have asphalted road to Kunduz city and electricity.
From the Taleban’s side, they provide nothing in the way of infrastructure.
From this research, it is clear that the significant presence of the Taleban in the district has meant they have a greater influence on most public services than the government, although – apart from in the judicial sector – they do not provide any services of their own. The Taleban’s presence in more than four-fifths of the district has harmedlocal government morale and its ability to monitor the delivery of basic services.
Given their ability to control large swathes of territory and the people who live there, the Taleban are able directly interfere in services. In education, they play a large role in monitoring schools, notably teachers and students’ attendance records. They change the curriculum by adding more religious books and banning ‘modern’ subjects, as well as appointing their own members as teachers. Furthermore, they dictate the conditions under which girls’ education is possible. They enforce strict rules on telecommunication services. Their shadow government system is currently perceived to be much stronger than the government’s, not least through their tax-collection system – they tax not only the local population’s economic activities but also commercial services such as telecommunications. Without their blessing, the delivery of public services would be severely hampered.
Dasht-e Archi is a district in which the government forces’ presence is mainly symbolic, protecting as people put it “a few billboards within the district centre” (the forces are only able to protect the district governor office, district police chief’s compound and limited areas around the district centre). The local government is not capable of lobbying for construction or development projects in order to bring in income and generate work opportunities. For the local population, living in insecurity and largely ruled by the Taleban, and with local government largely absent means there is a limit to how much NGOs, government or companies want to work in their area.
Edited by Thomas Ruttig, Jelena Bjelica and Kate Clark
(1) Before 1964, Afghanistan had five provinces, Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Turkistan, and Qataghan and Badakhshan. In 1963, Qataghan and Badakhshan and was divided into four provinces, Baghlan, Kunduz, Takhar and Badakhshan (more details in this Ministry of Education high school geography textbook, grade 12,).
(2) Muhammad Gul Mohmand was a close aide of King Nader Shah’s and from 1930 served in various high-ranking government posts, for example as interior minister. While serving as tanzimayi rais, he was governor for the provinces of Qataghan and Badakhshan and Turkistan, as well as the hukumat-e ala (a lower-ranking province) Maimana (see map here). He was the author of ten books, most of them about Pashto literature and language. He was also a strong promoter of making Pashto as the country’s official language (read more here).
(3) It is possible that the IDLG included the Jundullah fighters when speaking about Central Asians. AAN has found during previous research on non-Pashtun Taleban and other insurgent groups in northern Afghanistan, that government information about these groups is often sketchy and vague.
(4) The Taleban’s shadow government for Dasht-e Archi comprises:
- Mullah Zulfeqar: Taleban’s shadow district governor for Dasht-e Archi. He is originally from Takhar province but stays in Dasht-e Archi;
- Mawlawi Naser Khaksar: Taleban’s head of education committee, originally from Dasht-e Archi;
- Mawlawi Musa: head of the judicial committee, originally from Dasht-e Archi;
- Mawlawi Awaz: head of the military committee, originally from Dasht-e Archi;
- Mawlawi Kaber: head of the public outreach committee, originally from Dasht-e Archi;
- Mawlawi Neyaz Muhammad: head of the finance committee, originally from Dasht-e Archi.
(5) Afghanistan developed its basic package of health services (BPHS) in 2003. The BPHS is implemented by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) in Afghanistan and currently outsourced to 40 national and international NGOs, who are mandated with delivering BPHS services in 31 provinces. In the remaining three provinces, the MoPH delivers BPHS directly. For an overview of health service delivery in Afghanistan, see here.
This article was last updated on 24 Jan 2021