When General Mohammed Daud Daud, the highest police officer of the northeast and commander of the Pamir region, was killed by a meticulously prepared bomb in the Takhar governor’s office on May 28th, one thing at least seemed to be clear: who was behind it – in particular after the Taleban proudly announced their responsibility. But Spiegel correspondent Christoph Reuter found that things were not so simple in Taloqan.
Initially there were reports of suicide bombers dressed in ANA uniforms, but quickly forensic investigations concluded that there had been a bomb on the ground, hidden somewhere between a desk and a chair in the reception area of the building. In the governor’s office, there had been a high-ranking “key leader engagement” assembly. The explosives were detonated precisely when Daud and General Shah Jehan Nuri, the ANP commander of Takhar, were closest to the device. Both were killed, as were two German soldiers and two other Afghans. Markus Kneip, German Major General and ISAF commander of RC North, was severely injured, as was governor Taqwa.
There was no reason to doubt the Taleban’s responsibility – but within a day, already at the janaza (the first mourning ceremony) for the two “martyred” Afghan generals which took place in Taloqan, perceptions of reality had shifted. Thousands were chanting slogans of hate against “kharejis”, foreigners, blaming them for the death of their great general. According to several locals, including the reporter of ”Radio Takharistan” and the brother of Daud, Commander Ali, it was the female translator of the German general, who had detonated herself. Daud, the story continued, survived the bombing and was shot minutes later by “one of the foreign soldiers”.
Even the temporary director of the central 100-bed hospital of Taloqan, Dr. Said Amin, expressed doubts about Taleban being the perpetrators: “They can’t do such an operation themselves. There should be a proper investigation!” He had talked to the injured bodyguards and the local cameraman, when they were in the hospital, and they had all confirmed that there was no suicide bomber and that Daud was killed instantly, but he still didn’t believe what seems the most simple explanation.
Nobody does. The speed and the strength of the rumours that spread in Taloqan are an example of the increasing trend to interpret all incidents in the same way: that it is the fault of the “kharejis”, the foreign infidels – irrespective of their nationality.
Ten days before the bombing in the once peaceful Taloqan, a US Special Forces operation in the village of Gawmali close to Taloqan left two men and two women dead. The next morning a violent demonstration developed and a large crowd attacked the small German camp in Taloqan with grenades and molotow cocktails. Armed demonstrators tried to break into the camp, angrily claiming that the foreigners had raped the two women. The Afghan guards and the 40 German soldiers reacted in panic, shot back. Twelve demonstrators were killed and 75 wounded.
Two entirely different incidents – but interpreted in the same way: The foreigners have killed our generals. They have killed and raped Afghan women. They do this to spread terror and fear. This tendency to believe rumours and conspiracy theories, even when seemingly absurd to outsiders, has picked up speed and vivacity. ISAF and foreign organisations tend to dismiss and ignore such rumours, considering them to outrageous to take seriously. But anti-foreign rumours – particularly when alleging anti-Islamic actions – can turn a demonstration into a violent mob, that is out for the kill, as was demonstrated in Mazar-e Sharif on 1 April 2011.
It is difficult to analyse precisely the origin of these rumours. Subliminally, the suspicion has probably always been there, but it really started picking up with the constant reports of US helicopters allegedly shuttling Taleban fighters around the country. The most persistent rumour, that of US or UK helicopters moving Taleban fighters from the south to northern Afghanistan, was even mentioned by Karzai once in a press conference as something that needed further investigation.*
To blame foreigners has proven effective. The mix of bad experiences and general xenophobic attitudes resonates well with such populist blaming and feeds into the old propaganda myth that the foreigners have invaded Afghanistan to destroy the faith of the people and to loot Afghanistan’s natural resources and cultural heritage. The Taleban have used this myth since they regained strength, but other factions have followed suit as well – including President Karzai who recently announced that if there were any more cases of civilian casualties by foreign military, ISAF forces would be considered foreign occupiers.
Within the sphere of conspiracy, the idea of blaming foreigners for everything has gained momentum: from Kandahar to Helmand to the north, a rapidly increasing number of Afghans believe that the Taleban themselves are allied with, or even an invention of the foreign forces. For Taloqan, this translates into a belief that the foreigners killed General Daud, because he fought effectively against the Taleban and consequently had to be removed. In Kandahar, the German researcher Felix Kuehn noted that many people believe the Americans are actually assisting and financing the Taleban: “Nobody believes that the Americans are here to defeat the Taleban“, Kuehn quoted a student. The reasons are unclear to them, but it is “probably something with crude oil.” And in Helmand, there is the common view that the continued fighting is caused by the fact that the British-sponsored Taleban are fighting against the US-sponsored Taleban.
Whatever the sources of the rumours, whether spread intentionally or caused by the inability to understand the world in any other way, one thing is sure: no matter how successful ISAF may have been over the last twelve months in weakening the Taleban militarily, their gains are evaporating in the context of a growing conviction that their ultimate goals are evil.
* There are, for the record, no reasons to believe that US troops are providing Taleban with an air transport service, nor has there been any proof of such operations. It wouldn’t make much sense either, since nothing is more conspicuous than flying in and out by helicopter; the Taleban have managed, very successfully, to keep a low profile when moving across the country and travelling by motorcycle and do not seem to need help with this. Although US Special Forces that are dropped by helicopters may sometimes resemble Taleban, they certainly do not fight on behalf of them.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020