Faryab province has turned, in the past few years, into an area of serious concern in Northern Afghanistan. Tensions between different factions still run high. The Jowzjan-Faryab highway faces a dire lack of security, and, except for a few areas, police only appear on it during daylight. The establishment of Afghan Local Police (ALP) units in the province and the appointment of provincial officials are perceived as unbalanced and unfair processes that yield negative impacts. The serial killings of influential figures in Maimana, the provincial capital, have created an atmosphere of fear even in the city. Finally, the release, through the mediation of the provincial Ulema council, of a religious scholar, who had been accused of having ties with the Taleban, rang alarm bells among the anti-Taleban jihadi commanders; as AAN’s Obaid Ali reports after travelling north earlier this month.
Faryab, an outlying province even by Afghan standards, was once a sleepy and remote area, known mainly in Afghanistan as the birthplace of Ghulam Muhammad Maimanagi (1873-1935), a famous painter and the founder of the first art school in Afghanistan in the early twentieth century. Nowadays the northern province registers instead a fast-growing number of security incidents and even more concerns for further deterioration along political fault lines.
The Jowzjan-Faryab highway, 330 kilometres of good road asphalted in 2010, connects Jowzjan’s provincial centre of Sheberghan with Qaisar in Faryab, passing through Maimana, and constitutes the province’s major communication line.(1) On the highway – a part of the countrywide ring road – the number of security checkpoints is rather scarce, with some sections of it monitored by police patrols only during daylight hours, from 8:30 am to around 4:00 pm. This is particularly true on the 45 kilometres from Andkhoi to Dawlatabad district, as well as on the western portion from Almar district all the way to Murghab in Badghis province; Dawlatabad, Almar and Murghab are also areas with consistent Taleban activity. Government and NGO employees, even at the lowest ranks of staffing, pretend, during the journey from Maimana to Sheberghan, to be farmers or shepherds by wearing dusty clothes, hiding their ID cards and avoiding all but the most strictly necessary interaction with other passengers, in order to pass on the highway safely. This atmosphere of mistrust, self-protection and loneliness reminds one of the civil war in the 1990s.
As insecurity on the highway increases, affecting the residents’ daily routines, locals slam the government for its failure to take strong security measures (see also two reports on Faryab highway security here and here).
On 8 August 2012, a police checkpoint on the highway, located inside the inner security belt around Andkhoi town, was attacked by armed Taleban at 11 am. The clash continued for more than half an hour; as a result two police officers along with the check post commander and one traffic policeman were killed and their weapons were taken away by the attackers who then managed to escape to the nearby valley of Shordarra (approximately 15 km away), where they enjoy safe shelters.
Members of the Faryab Provincial Council expressed to AAN their concern about the security on the highway. Al-Hajj Abdulbaqi, the secretary of the council, told AAN that he was ambushed on 28 August by armed Taleban while on his way from Maimana to Qaisar district. The ambush took place just one kilometre outside Almar’s district centre where the Taleban had blocked the highway. They fled only when the police arrived. Maimana-based human rights activist Ahmad Zobair Joya told AAN that the Taleban usually stay a few kilometres off the highway and that government forces and NGO employees travel exclusively during the middle hours of the day to avoid being attacked.
The waves of insecurity have even reached central Maimana, where the Taleban have targeted high profile figures in broad daylight. The assassination of Ahmad Rahmani, a former parliament representative affiliated with Jombesh-e Melli, on 19 August 2012 in the centre of the city just a few meters away from a security check post, spurred a number of his supporters to stage a protest demonstration.
Ahmad Rahmani was shot dead at the entrance to the house of another prominent Jombesh member, Najibullah Salim. The gunmen at first opened fire from a distance, and as Rahmani attempted to escape into the house they followed him and shot him dead. When AAN asked a policeman why the police did not protect Rahmani and did not open fire to prevent his assassination, the policeman, on condition of anonymity, said, ‘Why should we put our lives at risk. If we open fire then we would be targeted the next day and no one would support us.’ He added, ‘However, if we had captured the killer, he would have soon been released through the mediation of elders.’
Likewise, the killing some six months ago of commander Hamidullah Khan, a former Jombesh commander in Khwaja Musa village of Pashtun Kot district, shocked local residents. During the last years, Hamidullah had stood against harassment by the resurgent Taleban and pushed them out of his village. When he was injured in a traffic accident and brought to the civilian hospital in Maimana for treatment, he was shot dead there by gunmen who entered the building, again in broad daylight.
Interfactional rivalry and tensions contribute to the volatile security situation in Faryab. The province is mostly dominated by two political parties, Jombesh (for more details on this party, see our report here) and Jamiat-e Islami. Rivalry among the political parties started during the civil war in the 1990s when they were competing for the rule over the larger areas of the province. Political blood feuds originating from this era and tit-for-tat assassinations, as in the case of a mosque shooting in which five people were killed in Maimana in August (see a short Pajhwok report here), may again turn into a small-scale factional war.
The establishment of Afghan Local Police (ALP) units turns the volume of the Jombesh-Jamiat disputes in Faryab even higher. According to the spokesperson from the provincial police headquarters, ALP projects are active only in two districts of Faryab: Qaysar and Ghormach. However, members of the provincial council interviewed by AAN – and many locals – seemed to concur that similar units exist in Almar and Pashtun Kot districts, too. It appears these have not yet been officially launched but are nonetheless in existence. Each of the two political parties accuses the other of having received a larger share of posts in these units, as well as of acting in an ‘irresponsible’ way by protecting the interests of its particular faction.
Ghulam Sakhi Nawid, the deputy speaker of the Faryab provincial council, for example, alleges that his boss, speaker Rais Rahmatullah, a former Jombesh commander, is behind much of the insecurity and instability in the province. According to him, Rahmatullah released two prisoners who had been charged with murder and sentenced to 18-year prison terms and deployed them as ALP commanders in the Ghonda Sank area in Pashtun Kot district. The deputy speaker also accused the provincial religious council of facilitating the release of Taleban detainees like Qari Qeyam, who had been arrested by the international forces and jailed for 18 years but was later released through the council’s mediation and President Karzai’s intervention and had joined the insurgency again. (Qari was recently killed during a night raid in Pashtun Kot, see reporting here and here).
Rais Rahmatullah rejected all allegations about his involvement in releasing the prisoners when he talked with AAN. He stated that two prisoners were released because of suffering from an incurable disease. He rather emphasized that the reason behind insecurity in the province is the lack of good governance and rule of law and the existence of what he called ‘a mafia system’. He repeatedly accused the inner circle of the government in Kabul of misleading President Karzai in appointing provincial officials – like the governor, the chief of police and the head of National Intelligence Directorate – in a ‘factional’ and ‘unbalanced’ way, without considering ‘local demands’ so that it negatively impacted peace and stability of Faryab. (The mentioned officials belong to Jamiat, and Rahmatullah feels that his Jombesh party is underrepresented.) He added that the Ministry of Interior also only allowed Jamiati commanders to run ALP units in Faryab.
Furthermore, both political parties accuse each other of running laboratories for the production of narcotics in Faryab and of exploiting the establishment of ALP units loyal to them only to protect themselves and their assets. Local journalists who talked to AAN reported that most of the former commanders actually divided their armed men into two groups, one to enlist as ALP and the other to act as Taleban. As a proof, they point to the countless reports about armed clashes between Taleban and ALP in which, however, casualties or captures are rarely mentioned.
However, the deputy governor of Faryab, Abdulsatar Barits, when interviewed by AAN, surprisingly downplayed the claims of insecurity made by residents. He actually stated that he was satisfied with the security measures being enforced to protect villages and travellers. He argued that there are some politicians who spread groundless propaganda for their own political gains by describing the security situation in Faryab as being as bad as Kandahar’s. According to him, the government ruled ‘over every span’ of land of the province, while some robbers appeared only rarely on the highway to loot passengers. ‘The killing of Ahmad Rahmani is something unexplained yet, and the police launched its investigation to clarify it,’ he added.
Still, in the eyes of many local residents, the waves of insecurity are rising dramatically with every passing day. The withdrawal of the Norwegian PRT, which was completed earlier this month, and a reported decrease of the US special forces’ presence would also negatively impact the security situation, as their operations were considered effective in disrupting the ability of local Taleban to carry out more ambitious attacks.
No matter who is right, if the government fails to pay adequate attention to the critical situation developing in this once peaceful province, Faryab could easily sink deeper into serious insecurity caused not only by insurgents but also by its many armed groups and factions.
(1) The highway is the section of the ring road that connects Faryab province with Badghis and then with Herat and the west of the country. Paving of the remaining 237 km to connect Qaisar district (Faryab) to Herat just started (see report here); the project cost amounts to USD 400 million and is funded by the Asian Bank.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020