Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

Herat City’s Reported Spike in Insecurity: What a sober reading of events reveals

S Reza Kazemi 20 min

In late 2019 and early 2020, Afghanistan’s key western city of Herat witnessed a series of security incidents, including targeted killings and attacks on the police. The increase in violence resulted in an Afghan media uproar and a swirl of local theories about what or who could be behind it. Taking a closer look at the incidents, AAN researcher Reza Kazemi finds that reporting tended to overlook or underplay inter-elite rivalries over provincial politics, which seem to have played a role in the recent insecurity. He notes that the violence, currently eclipsed by the spread of the Covid-19 disease, may fluctuate, as it has already seen a decrease since February 2020; however, it is likely here to stay.

Busy crossing in Herat's old city before the Corona pandemic. Photo: Thomas Ruttig (2019).

An outcry about ‘worsening security’

In late 2019 and early 2020, Afghan media reported a pronounced spike in crime and insecurity in and around Herat city that resulted in several deaths. Herat-based journalists have reported on local security and other developments in the city almost daily, notably in the widely-read Hasht-e Sobh. In a 9 December 2019 article, the daily reported “14 killings in the last 30 days” and posed the question: “What’s going on in Herat?” In a subsequent 17 December 2019 article, the newspaper’s front page highlighted “assassination, terror and insecurity” in Herat causing “a wave of fear” among its residents. Similarly, Etilaat Roz, another Kabul-based newspaper, reported on “an increase in assassinations, targeted and armed killings, robberies and extortions in Herat city and widespread presence of Taleban fighters in a number of districts of Herat province.” (See more such reports by Afghan media here and here.)

Though the reporting drew attention to the concerns of Herati citizens, it also obscured and sometimes confused a clearer understanding of the situation, for at least two reasons. First, most reporting mixed incidents that took place in the city with those that had happened out in the districts, suggesting that they were all part of a single trend of a worsening security situation. However, city and district-level security conditions differ. While some districts, such as restive Shindand, are insecure because they are contested by the government and the Taleban, the city has mostly seen criminal and security incidents, certainly no large-scale attacks or open fighting that would put a temporary stop to daily life for the last several years. (1)

When viewed on their own, the recent security incidents in the city looked more like a new upswing in a persistent up-and-down rather than a pronounced change. Similarly, the number of security incidents appears to have been decreasing in Herat city since February 2020. Furthermore, and partly due to the lumping together of different types of security incidents, reporting has tended to ignore, or only treat in passing, the possible role of provincial politics in driving the instability.

In response to the media reporting, this dispatch first presents the most illustrative examples of the most recent security incidents in and around Herat city. It then describes the theories that are circulating locally that have attempted to explain the increase in the number of incidents. Special attention is paid to the role of provincial politics. This is followed by a discussion of the government’s response and some concluding thoughts on how security might pan out in future in the city.

Incidents

Looking at the recent wave of security incidents in and around Herat city, two categories of incidents were most prominent: targeted killings and attacks on the police. There was also one sectarian attack, which appears to be part of a more long-standing trend. Below, the most illustrative examples of each category are listed. The lists are not exhaustive.

The first category is targeted killings – attacks that appear to be pre-meditated and aimed at specific individuals. Organisations that keep track of violent incidents, such as the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), confirm that they have indeed been on the rise and the third leading cause of civilian casualties in 2019 in Herat province as a whole (details below). Examples of such killings include:

  • On 7 October 2019 unidentified armed men opened fire on Haji Abdul Rahim Sadeqi in Islam Ali village of Enjil district (which is just outside Herat city). Sadeqi was an ex-jihadi commander and father of Abdul Aziz Sadeqi, proprietor and managing director of the private local Taban (Brilliant) TV channel. Sadeqi died from his wounds in November. His death drew condolences from, among others, long-time Herati strongman Ismail Khan and governor Abdul Qayum Rahimi (2) – an indication of Sadeqi’s and his family’s influence, particularly in Enjil and Herat city. (Rahimi, who had served in this position since January 2019, has meanwhile been replaced by Sayed Abdul Wahid Qatali, who was introduced in early April 2020.)
  • On 14 December 2019 Lotfullah Halimi, a provincial employee of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), was shot dead in the ECC compound in downtown Herat. The relatives of the deceased staged a protest in front of the provincial police compound, accusing “some of [the deceased employee]’s colleagues of killing him for possibly divulging some documents” and alleging that the governor intervened to release those arrested by the police in connection with the murder. The provincial government rejected the allegation of the governor’s involvement in freeing any of those detained.
  • On 11 January 2020 unidentified gunmen killed Wakil Ahmad Muhammadi, a provincial member of Abdullah Abdullah’s presidential election campaign, in downtown Herat. In a Facebook post, Abdullah offered his condolences and “instructed the provincial government authorities to seriously investigate this criminal incident and report actions taken by them.”
  • On 17 February 2020 unknown armed men on a motorcycle shot dead Abdul Rahim Azimi, Enjil district primary court judge, in Shaidayi area in the east of Herat city. He was on his way home after performing the evening prayer in a mosque. No one claimed responsibility for the killing.

The second major category of security incidents has been a series of attacks on police personnel, vehicles and checkpoints in Herat city. Examples include:

  • On 17 October 2019 unknown gunmen shot dead two police officers in Khwaja Kala area in police district (PD) 7 of Herat city. On the same day, municipal employees and relatives of the deceased staged a protest by carrying the dead bodies to the governor’s compound. They demanded that the provincial administration arrest, prosecute and punish the perpetrators.
  • On 17 November 2019 a magnetic explosive device attached to a traffic police vehicle exploded near Khorasan Exchange Market in the centre of Herat city, injuring four to nine people.
  • On 13 December 2019 unidentified gunmen opened fire on a police checkpoint in Tank-e Mawlawi area in PD 12 of Herat city, killing three police officers. The attackers ran away.
  • On 15 December 2019 two armed men on a motorcycle attacked a police checkpoint in the Darb-e Kandahar area in police district (PD) 10 of Herat city, killing three police officers, according to the Afghan online newspaper Khabarnama. Herat police said the two assailants were killed in the crossfire. Hasht-e Sobh, however, reported that four armed men attacked the police checkpoint; two were killed when police returned fire while two others escaped.

Third, there has been another sectarian attack, part of a series against Shias in and around Herat city that started in 2016 (previous AAN reporting here):

  • On 28 October 2019 a suicide bomber blew himself up between Darb-e Khosh and Chahar Suq Bazaar areas in PD 2 of Herat city. His target, Herat police reportedly said, was Takiya Imam Hadi, a local Shia place of worship. The blast killed a passer-by and injured seven others. At least one of the injured died afterwards.

Theories

It is difficult to be definitive about who is behind the above-mentioned security incidents in Herat city. Below we outline and assess the main theories but give special attention to the role of provincial politics.

IDPs and returnees

One of the most prevalent theories on the increased level of violence in and around the city places the blame on changes in Herat’s population driven by the influx of large numbers of returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), both from Iran and neighbouring provinces respectively, in particular from Badghis, Ghor and Farah.

Available information on their numbers is contradictory, indicating the fluidity of the situation as well as different timeframes and categorisations. While Jawid Nadem, head of the provincial Directorate of Refugees and Repatriation (DoRR), told AAN that around 158,000 displaced families currently live in Herat province, of which around 70,000 are IDP families in Herat city, a recent Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR) report put the figure much lower, at about 17,000 by early 2020. Given Afghanistan’s average household size of 7.4, this would mean there were 518,000 or 125,800 individual IDPs, respectively, in Herat city. As for returnees, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) recorded around 477,000 individuals from Iran in 2019 and, later, about 226,000 since between 1 January and 4 April 2020 through the Milak (Nimruz) and Islam Qala (Herat) border crossings, for the whole country, including through and in Herat province. IOM says returns in 2020 “have reached new record totals” because of “coronavirus transmission fears in Iran.”

There is, however, little or no evidence to link these populations to the spike in violence. The bias against this particular population may be partly driven by the fact that among those displaced from the adjacent provinces, many have settled in makeshift mud houses in specific areas, notably Shaidayi in the east of the city. Also, among those returning from Iran, many of whom have settled in informal settlements around the city, some are drug users. Many locals including the police, journalists and residents point the finger at vulnerable people, like drug users and IDPs in general, when security incidents take place in the city (see for instance this Azadi Radio report where former Herat police chief Aminullah Amarkhel, who was replaced in February 2020, lists “one and a half million IDPs” as “a major reason of insecurity in Herat,” alongside “regional intelligence agencies and drug mafia.” Although drug users may resort to petty crimes such as theft, there is nothing at present linking them to the kinds of violent crimes listed above. And although some IDPs may have been involved in violence or crime (including illegal possession of arms, collusion with insurgents and roadside blasts, according to Herat police and prosecution authorities), especially in the eastern parts of Herat city (see this Killid report), attributing all insecurity to them smacks of scapegoating.

External actors

Top officials have also linked recent security incidents in Herat city to actors outside the country, another useful place for finger pointing. For instance, ex-governor Rahimi, deputy governor Ghulam Daud Hashemi and former police chief Amarkhel have said that “regional rivalries,” “interference of foreign countries” and “regional intelligence agencies” were responsible for insecurity in Herat, including the provincial centre. (3) This is a not so oblique reference to the alleged Iranian-Saudi competition (4) and Pakistani interference playing out in the province. All three countries, Iran in particular, do have ties with some actors in Herat and on the battlefield, (5) but the provincial government has provided little evidence to suggest a direct relationship between recent security incidents in the city and foreign interference.

Only with respect to sectarian attacks does the responsibility of the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) (locally called ‘Daesh’) as an external actor, at least to Herat province, seem highly plausible. It has already claimed responsibility for some such attacks in the past (read previous AAN analysis here). In late December 2019, the provincial Directorate of National Security (NDS) said it arrested seven alleged Daesh operatives and transferred them to Kabul for investigation. Despite the possible presence of ISKP operatives or cells, AAN has heard from various sources inside and outside the provincial government that local sympathy for the group is nearly non-existent and so it is not easy for it to gain traction in the province. As illustrated above, there was just one failed attempt claimed by Daesh in the period this piece deals with. (6)

Pre-Corona street scene in Herat. Photo: Christine-Felice Roehrs (2014).

A local perspective

Provincial politics have been either cursorily dealt with or completely overlooked in most of the reporting on recent insecurity in Herat city. There have been hints, though, that they might play a significant role. Former governor Rahimi said in a press conference in November 2019 that there were “political and factional motives behind some crimes in Herat.” (7) He later said in another press conference in December 2019 that “if a security member enters the government system through meddling by a politician or zurmand [someone powerful], he isn’t answerable to the government but to the person who has intervened for his appointment.” (8) In the same press conference, Rahimi referred, in veiled language, to “troublemaking by some circles and mafia for their own political purposes.”

Conversations AAN has had with local journalists and civil society activists point to the existence of complex rivalries among the provincial elites. Part of this competition is for influence in the police force, as the second quote above indicated. Heavyweights such as Ismail Khan, provincial council chair Kamran Alizai and ulama (religious scholars) council head Mawlawi Khodadad Saleh, as well as many previous and current Herat representatives in the provincial council and parliament, vie for influence in the security forces, especially the police. They sit atop a network of relations because, as a local civil society activist told AAN, “they are the big [local] elites to whom many smaller figures of influence, down to the gozar [urban neighbourhood], are affiliated.” Specifically, they seek to protect their business interests or those of their families and their constituents (see also this previous AAN report). Many of them have private institutes of higher education, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and factories in and around the city that are run by allies and employ many others. Police connections are sought to ensure protection, not just against threats targeting their businesses but also more importantly against personal harassment, extortion, abduction and assassination. Representing a common view expressed by those whom AAN spoke to, a local journalist said:

There’s no doubt that the elites have power over the appointment of police station heads in their areas. I know a previous MP who has appointed three or four police station heads… It’s a mutual relationship: the elites make it possible for some to get and stay appointed as police officials and they in return provide protection and other services.

Another local journalist explained what such ‘other services’ might entail:

Police officials are among those who escort the elites to the airport when they travel to Kabul and are with them when they come back to Herat. The elites like to be surrounded by people. The more people there are around them, the more powerful they feel. They also need to have their people in the police because that helps them get their clients’ requests addressed, for instance, by calling a police station head to release an arrestee.

These elite-police relations undermine the police’s ability to pursue and address crime and insecurity. “Herat police are often busy protecting figures of influence, their families, their properties and their interests,” said a local civil society activist. In an opinion piece for Hasht-e Sobh, Herati journalist Pedram Qazizadeh describes this as “police having been taken hostage by prominent men and people’s representatives.”

Tensions arise or break into conflict when deeply-entrenched interests (eg between local elites and a host of other people including police officials) are rattled. For instance, after the Herat customs department moved from the city to Islam Qala in Kohsan district in the north-west of Herat province in mid-2019, several killings of police and employees took place, mostly on the Islam Qala-Herat city road (see this Ava Press report). In a conversation with AAN, a local journalist said a provincial council member was indirectly behind this violence. “He opposed the move [of the customs department] because it takes the customs outside his area of influence to that of a competitor’s and so it hurts his profits from imports, which are enormous and are either under-taxed or evade taxes altogether.” This is while Herat police authorities have attributed the responsibility for these incidents to the Taleban, including the most recent one in which five local employees of Da Afghanistan Bank, the country’s central bank, were killed on the Herat-Islam Qala road on 9 April 2020.

Such tensions sparked by disturbances in deeply-entrenched interests can also arise between local elites and non-Herati government officials sent from Kabul. This appears to have been the case in the backlash against reforms that brought down police chief Amarkhel in February 2020. The reforms he tried to implement included personnel changes, security allocations and decisions on the new Herat police requirement to re-register all existing arms licenses (see, for example, here). He did not return to the province after attending the president’s and interior minister’s meetings with police chiefs and governors in February 2020 in Kabul. An official in the provincial police headquarters who asked not to be named described to AAN some of the issues that Amarkhel and local elites used to clash over:

There was conflict when the police chief didn’t act according to their [local elites’] wishes and wants. This happened when police officials were changed [in the city and districts], when decisions were made about the renewal of arms permits, when 20, 50, 100 police officers were requested to provide security for events and gatherings, when imported vehicles were prevented from entering the city without going through customs and when tough action was taken against drug trafficking.

Although the reforms were probably intended to strengthen law and order, there may also have been vested interests of non-Herati government officials at play (in this case, the police chief and, by extension, the governor) in terms of seeking to secure positions for allies or to change local power arrangements to their benefit.

Broadly speaking, provincial elites, including both the locals and those sent from Kabul, have come to be divided into three competing camps with ties that reach into the heart of the national political rivalries in Kabul. A first group includes top government officials who are close to Ashraf Ghani: the new governor Sayed Abdul Wahid Qatali, a Herati, who previously served, among other things, as head of the Administrative Office of the President in Kabul and who has just replaced Abdul Qayum Rahimi (from neighbouring Farah province and is also brother of Abdul Salam Rahimi, previously the president’s chief of staff and currently the state minister for peace); and Obaidullah Nurzai, from Logar province, who has replaced Aminullah Amarkhel as Herat police chief. A second faction comprises local elites close to Abdullah Abdullah, including new MPs such as Habib ul-Rahman Pedram and Sayed Azim Kabarzani and re-elected ones like Ghulam Faruq Majruh and Qazi Nazir Ahmad Hanafi. A third group revolves around Ismail Khan, including his son Taha Sadeq, who is an MP, and former jihadi commanders; recently, they have been increasingly gravitating towards the circle around ex-president Hamed Karzai. Two other heavyweights, Alizai and Mawlawi Saleh, do not neatly fit in any of the groups on the current provincial political scene. They are generally seen as close to Ashraf Ghani, although they sometimes find themselves at loggerheads with the (pro-Ghani) provincial government leadership, notably the recently replaced governor and police chief.

Local journalists and residents have told AAN that they believe some provincial elites are implicated in some of the security incidents listed above – both the killings and the attacks on the police. The same allegations were also made by the unnamed police official cited above. With regard to the targeted killings, they said the involvement was usually indirect, with elites employing qurutaks (thugs) to settle scores with rivals over issues ranging from politics to business. As with Kabul city where criminals often retreat to the Shomali plains for refuge after committing a crime in town (read this recent AAN report), the criminals of Herat tend to seek shelter in areas around the city (eg Siyawushan village in nearby Gozara district), according to local observers, where state authority is weak and they can find refuge among criminals, often with jihadi backgrounds.

It also appears that some targeted killings have been perpetrated by the Taleban, such as the murder of the Enjil district primary court judge (which mirrors a wider trend in attacks on judges by the Taleban). The prevalence of targeted killings by the Taleban helps elites obscure the assassinations reportedly commissioned by them for political or economic motives. Overall, however, targeted or deliberate killings are now considered to be the third leading cause of civilian casualties in Herat province, according to the latest annual report by UNAMA on the protection of civilians in Afghanistan’s armed conflict (p94).

Similarly, attacks that have resulted in the killing and wounding of police officers were mostly attributed by our sources to the Taleban. Vindictive in nature, the perpetration of these attacks by the Taleban make some sense because they have followed large-scale operations against the Taleban (before the reduction in violence period) (for example, see this report by Etilaat Roz). In general, the UN has recorded an increase in ground operations involving both sides in Herat province as a whole over 2019 (the UNAMA report cited above).

Another factor of note is how criminal and security incidents often quickly become politicised (see for instance this Hasht-e Sobh report). This particularly occurs when some Herati elites use the occasion to argue that the provincial government is incapable of providing security and to demand a review of provincial administration leadership, including in the security sector. For example, Taha Sadeq has called for “the leadership of security institutions in Herat to be revisited” and for “Heratis to be appointed in security posts in Herat” – a demand echoed by Faruq Majruh, in the same parliamentary session in late December 2019. (9) These statements should be seen within the already-mentioned context of intense inter-elite rivalry for influence over Herat, locally and between the province and the centre. A local civil society activist said:

In Herat, we’ve seen time and again that to change the provincial government leadership, security gets disrupted and a furore gets raised. This happens to agitate the local people and put pressure on Kabul to change officials in Herat.

The provincial elites may disagree on who they say can get a job done, but they do not disagree on everything. For instance, a common call has been made for an increase in the size of the police force. (10) This resonates with the common local grievance that Herat gives more, in revenues, to Kabul than it receives from it. There has also been a call for the professionalisation of the police force and a pivot away from counter-insurgency responsibilities to greater law and order enforcement. (11) However, as most people inside and outside the provincial administration realise, even if the central government were to agree to an increase in the size of the Herat police force, which is unlikely, it will be difficult to achieve bureaucratically and may take years rather than months to enact, particularly in the context of a national dearth of security force personnel and the challenges in recruitment and financing of the police force. At issue, therefore, is the reform of the existing police force, which, as described above, is generally viewed as an instrument for protecting the elites and their interests and, worse, a force, a part of which might collude with criminals, drug traffickers and even insurgents. Given deep-seated, multi-layered and factionalised interests, police reform will be anything but easy and quick in Herat – as is also the case in other major cities across Afghanistan (see this recent AAN report on the Kabul police).

Unsurprisingly, the provincial government has rejected allegations that it is not competent enough to handle the security situation. “We have the strongest state sovereignty and authority in Herat,” the governor’s spokesman Jilani Farhad told AAN. Police spokesman Abdul Ahad Walizada told AAN how the Herat police force had been “detaining about 2,570 people on charges of committing various crimes, dismantling organised criminal gangs, arresting drug traffickers and clamping down on robbers since the beginning of the year 1398 [21 March 2019]” (see also these Afghan media reports on Herat police clashing with armed robbers, arresting a “terrorist” after he opened fire on a businessman’s bodyguard, the Herat NDS catching 20 kidnappers and discovering a hidden depot of stolen vehicles). “The recent increase in crime and insecurity is temporary and will reduce in the coming couple of months,” added Walizada. However, he did not provide details of how the police had dealt with the specific incidents that had taken place in the past months or why he was sure that violence would go down – and remain so – in the future.

Central Herat’s busy Chowk-e Gulha (Flower Crossing) before the Corona pandemics hit. Photo: Reza Kazemi (2018).

Government response

The recent security incidents in Herat city and the outcry it caused prompted the provincial government to act. After a series of meetings late last year, (12) Herat’s military council – that brings together the relevant government civilian and security institutions – issued an eblaghiya (proclamation) on 9 January 2020, announcing a ban on vehicles without legal documents and a ban on two people riding a motorcycle together. The move was intended to target the main means and tactics that have been used to perpetrate assassinations and evade detection (vehicles without papers, and hit and run motorcycle killings). The government also announced stricter inspections at entry points into the city; prohibited the carrying of unauthorised weapons and promised a tough response to those violating this prohibition; ordered police and NDS officers to coordinate more with municipality officers and wukala-ye gozar (neighbourhood representatives) and called for increased surveillance and investigation.

The eblaghiya mostly remained on paper, apart from greater practical police outreach to certain local communities. One example of this outreach is increased coordination to provide security for places of worship.

In the meantime, the confirmation of Afghanistan’s first positive Covid-19 case in Herat city on 24 February 2020 began to drastically change the situation in the city (AAN reporting here). The crisis is overshadowing recent security incidents by increasing fears about a potential large outbreak in Herat. Herat, particularly the city, has been placed under daytime curfew since 24 March.

Before the coming of the coronavirus to Herat in late February 2020, however, the provincial government response to recent security incidents was largely seen as an attempt to display to the local population that the government was doing something to address and manage security in the city, rather than a set of effective measures. “It’s just a manoeuvre. It’s just to show there’s a government in Herat, that the government takes insecurity seriously and that it’s doing something about it,” said a local journalist, echoing what AAN heard from other interviewees.

Concluding thoughts

It is difficult to be categorical about what or who could be behind the spike in security incidents in and around the city of Herat between October 2019 and January 2020, though it seems clear that political and economic interests have played a part­. This is not to deny Taleban involvement in attacks, particu­larly the ones on police officers as well as some of the targeted killings. Nor does it preclude foreign countries being implicated in insecurity in Herat. There seems to be little evidentiary basis for the scapegoating of vulnerable people like drug users and IDPs. Rather, it seems such finger pointing could be employed to divert attention from some inadequacies within at least parts of the provincial government.

A focus on provincial politics uncovers messy rivalries among the elites that have possibly played a role in recent insecurity. First, the fact that at least parts of the Herat police are busy protecting the elites and their interests, within what effectively are patron-client relations, has undermined their ability to effectively pursue and address crime and insecurity. It is also widely assumed that some police have been corrupted by their collusion with an array of actors, including criminals and drug traffickers. Second, some elites may have been indirectly implicated in violent acts to settle scores with rivals over politics and business, or to agitate public opinion against non-local top provincial government officials such as the recently replaced governor and the former police chief, especially when they acted against deeply-entrenched local interests. Toxic divisions in Herat are mirrored by those among officials in Kabul, who either failed to act or acted in a way that is seen as biased.

This is not an entirely bleak picture, however. Despite a toothless declaration, the provincial government has taken greater efforts to reach out to local communities to ensure better security, including for places of worship. But these reforms only scratch the surface of the problem.

In the meantime, the trend of increased violence does indeed seem to have abated since February 2020. It is not impossible that the recent measures and the outcry that preceded it have had an impact on the situation. The new dynamics of the Covid-19 virus outbreak definitely have. However, in the long term, in the absence of serious police reform and a decrease in factional co-option of government institutions, Herat is likely to continue to see fluctuations in instances of violence in and around the city.

Edited by Rachel Reid, Martine van Bijlert and Thomas Ruttig


(1) See, for instance: Somaya Walizada, “Edama-ye kabus-e qatl wa terur dar Herat [Continuation of the nightmare of killing and terror in Herat],” Killid Magazine, Issue 720, 14 May 2016, p24; Sune Engel Rasmussen, “Afghanistan’s model city is also its kidnapping capital,” The Week, 6 August 2015.

(2) Ettefaq-e Islam (Herat provincial government’s daily newspaper), 3 Qaus 1398/24 November 2019, p1.

(3) Hasht-e Sobh, “Terur, wahshat wa na-amni: dar Herat che migozarad? [Assassination, terror and insecurity: What’s going on in Herat?],” 26 Qaus 1398/17 December 2019, page 7; Hasht-e Sobh, “Wali-ye Herat: tarh-e jadid-e amniyati ejra mishawad [Herat governor: new security scheme to be implemented],” 2 Jaddi 1398/23 December 2019, p7; and this Azadi Radio report.

(4) On the importance of Herat province for Iran and on that country’s competition with Saudi Arabia over influence in Afghanistan including Herat, see for instance: Mohsen M. Milani (2006), “Iran’s Policy Towards Afghanistan,” Middle East Journal 60 (2): 235-256; and Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh (2013), “The Persian Gulf and Afghanistan: Iran and Saudi Arabia’s Rivalry Projected,” Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) Paper, Oslo: PRIO.

(5) In a conversation with AAN, an official in the provincial police headquarters who requested not to be named claimed that Afghan forces have arrested a number of Pakistanis from the battlefield and detected made-in-Iran ammunitions in some districts of Herat province.

(6) It is unclear whether and what kind of presence ISKP has in Herat. According to US media, US intelligence sources have recently indicated that the group had “strongholds” in Herat province as of March 2020 or, in June 2019, claimed that “in recent months, Islamic State cells have appeared in … the western province of Herat. A survey has reportedly found some “sympathy” for an Emirate or Caliphate as a form of government at Herat University. (The Islamic State favours a Caliphate.) Attacks against Shia Muslims are part of ISKP’s and its mother organisation IS’s modus operandi but, particularly given the weakness of the group in Afghanistan (AAN analysis here), a claim by ISKP for a certain attack, however, does not yet fully constitute proof that the group has really committed it (see also AAN analysis here).

(7) Hasht-e Sobh, “Maqased-e siyasi; posht-e parde-ye na-amni dar Herat [Political purposes; behind the scene of insecurity in Herat],” 9 Qaus 1398/30 November 2019, p7.

(8) Hasht-e Sobh, “Wali-ye Herat: tarh-e jadid-e amniyati ejra mishawad [Herat governor: new security scheme to be implemented],” 2 Jaddi 1398/23 December 2019, p7.

(9) AAN’s monitoring of Afghan parliament, 28 December 2019.

(10) MP Pedram for instance raised the issue that Herat, a province with an estimated population of four million, has a police force of only 4,000, a ratio of 1 policeman for every 1,000 people (source: Hasht-e Sobh, “Maqased-e siyasi; posht-e parde-ye na-amni dar Herat [Political purposes; behind the scene of insecurity in Herat],” 9 Qaus 1398/30 November 2019, p7). The provincial police headquarters gave slightly different numbers, but did not contest the central point that there was an insufficient police force for Herat. A source within the police who asked not to be named told AAN that police strength is about 4,500 members in Herat, of which about 50 per cent have been heavily engaged in counter-insurgency operations rather than law and order enforcement. (Both figures given above have not been broken down by gender, but insufficient numbers of women in the police force has also been a challenge for the Afghan government, even in Herat city where many women participate in public life). The source also suggested Herat’s population is now over five million people, given an estimated one and a half million internally displaced persons and returnees who have settled in Herat. In the absence of credible statistics, all figures should be taken with a grain of salt.

(11) Herat MPs such as Nahid Ahmadi Farid have called for the transition of the police force from counter-insurgency to law and order, and to develop and update its capacity, saying:

Our police force, which is trained for war, can’t deal with crime. They can’t handle organised crime such as assassinations, kidnappings, armed robberies, narcotics trafficking and money laundering. Herat MPs have been asking for an increase in the number of security forces in Herat for years. They’ve also been asking for professional and equipped security forces and police. Unfortunately, no one has listened to us yet… We need to have strong intelligence, a professional police force that is expert in criminology and modern technology, and improved coordination between security forces and the justice system.

Source: AAN’s monitoring of Afghan parliament, 25 December 2019.

(12) Ettefaq-e Islam, 4 Qaus 1398/25 November 2019, page 1; Ettefaq-e Islam, 14 Qaus 1398/5 December 2019, p1.

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inter-elite rivalry security situation Herat

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