War & Peace

Government Rule Confined to District and Provincial Centres: Zabul’s capital under threat


A member of the Afghan security services looks at the devastation caused by a car bomb detonated by the Taleban on 19 September 2019 in Qalat, Zabul province. The bomb's intended target was the provincial NDS headquarters; it actually destroyed the city’s hospital and killed 15 people and wounded 66 others. (Photo: Jawed Tanveer/AFP)

A member of the Afghan security services looks at the devastation caused by a car bomb detonated by the Taleban on 19 September 2019 in Qalat, Zabul province. The bomb's intended target was the provincial NDS headquarters; it actually destroyed the city’s hospital and killed 15 people and wounded 66 others. (Photo: Jawed Tanveer/AFP)

The Taleban have not yet been able to fully capture any province in Afghanistan, but they have been very close to capturing, or have briefly held, the provincial capitals of Kunduz, Farah, Ghazni, Uruzgan and Helmand in the recent past. Zabul province also remains on the brink, with the Taleban in control of most of the northern districts and the civilian government barely present in several southern districts. The frontline has reached the outskirts of the provincial capital, Qalat. Meanwhile, internal disputes between MPs and the provincial administration have allowed for security in the already insecure Zabul province to worsen. AAN’s Ali Mohammad Sabawoon (with input from Thomas Ruttig) looks at the local security conditions in Zabul and the strategic importance of this province.

A short introduction to Zabul province

Zabul province was part of Loy Kandahar (greater Kandahar) province until 1964 when it officially became a separate province. The province has eleven districts, including the provincial centre, Qalat. Mizana, Arghandab, Daychopan and Kakar(an) (1) are its northern districts. Shumulzayi, Shinkay, Atghar and Nawbahar are located to the south of the provincial centre. Zabul connects Ghazni, Wardak and Kabul to its north and Kandahar to the south through Highway 1. It also borders Ghazni and Uruzgan provinces through its northern districts of Daychopan and Kakaran and shares a boundary with Kandahar through its southern district of Shinkay. Zabul also connects to Paktika province through the Lwargi area of Atghar district.

The residents of this poor and neglected province are all Pashtuns, with the Hotak and Tokhi tribes being the most prominent. (2) Zabul has three representatives in the Wolesi Jirga. Two out of three are Tokhis: Hamidullah Tokhi, the provincial governor of Zabul during the transitional government of 2003 and Zuhra Tokhi, the sister of Daud Hassas, the former spokesman of Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah during the first two years of the National Unity Government (NUG). The third parliamentarian is Abdul Qader Qalatwal, from the Maichankhel tribe. Prominent figures who do not hold political office include Daud Gulzar (Hotak), currently an advisor to President Ashraf Ghani and Dawa Khan Menapal, a deputy presidential spokesman for the president. (3)

Zabul’s residents are some of the poorest in the country. The province ranks fourth-worst in terms of both the incidence and intensity of poverty, according to the Afghanistan Multidimensional Poverty Index 2016–2017 published by the National Statistics and Information Authority (read it here). To seek economic opportunities elsewhere, some families move to Quetta city, or to Loralai, Kila Saifullah and Duki districts of Balochistan province in neighbouring Pakistan. These migrant communities tend to be thought of as religious conservatives, often inspired by the Afghan Taleban and by religious parties in Balochistan. Propaganda against the Afghan government is a common occurrence at social gatherings and meetings among Zabul’s migrant population in Quetta. There are many examples to be found online of Afghan and Pakistani mullahs from these areas inciting youth against the Afghan government, fuelling the worsening security in Zabul and in Afghanistan in general (see one example here).

Zabul was one of the provinces that received significant amounts of economic investment tied to the international military effort, which dropped sharply after the end of the transition period in 2014, when the ISAF mission ended and international military engagement, renamed Resolute Support, continued with far fewer resources. According to the World Bank’s “Afghanistan Development Update” in 2017, Zabul and the southwest region (with Kandahar its centre) saw poverty levels jump from 28 to 56 per cent from 2011/12 to 2012/14 (report here). As will be discussed below, with only a military presence in most districts, service delivery from the government is extremely weak.

Map: Roger Helms for AAN.

Security

Security conditions in Zabul province have deteriorated in 2019 compared to last year, with only one district (Shahr-e Safa) mainly under government control and nine mostly under Taleban control. In seven of those, the government has only a military presence and two more are fully under Taleban control (Daychopan and Kakaran). In the 2018 Wolesi Jirga election and in the 2019 presidential election, the government admitted it was unable to open polling stations in the two latter districts. (3) Overall the turnout was low in Zabul, at 21.3 per cent of registered voters, which was seven per cent less than other southern provinces (details in this recent AAN dispatch). Many residents of this province told AAN that security is getting worse by the day in all districts of the province and also in Qalat city.

As a sign of how weak the civilian government has become, on 1 August a security official, who asked to remain anonymous, told AAN that a defence ministry delegation came in a helicopter from Kabul and made an aerial assessment of Shumulzayi, Mizana and Daychopan districts. He said the delegation’s aim was to find suitable new areas for the district centres, as the government cannot secure the current ones (more about this below).

On 5 July, President Ghani visited Zabul province to assess the situation. In a meeting held in an ANA base, the president heard security assessments from the provincial governor and security officials and ordered the security officials to pay greater attention to six of Zabul’s eleven districts (Shumulzayi, Nawbahar, Atghar, Arghandab, Daychopan and Mizana) to prevent the situation from further worsening. He ordered the transfer or termination of those district police chiefs and district governors who have been in their positions for many years. The president said, “Government posts are not the inheritance of some special people. The police chiefs must be in contact with district residents and those people who are appointed to these posts should be dedicated to the people and to this country.” But a journalist told AAN that the district governors who were removed are also linked with politicians who remain influential. For example, he said, the district governors of Mizana and Shajuy are associated with Hamedullah Tokhi, and the district governor of Shamulzayi district is the brother of Zuhra Tokhi, an MP from Zabul from president Ghani’s camp. The district governor of Shinkay is aligned with Sadullah Kakar, the former provincial council member of Zabul province, and the district governor of Atghar district belongs to senator Hassan Khan Hotak’s family, a member of the upper house.

On 13 October BBC Pashto reported that the government has started new operation codenamed ‘Razeq’, in honour of the Kandahar police chief assassinated by the Taleban in 2018 (AAN reporting here and here, to target the Taleban in Shajuy and to clear the Kabul Kandahar highway around Zabul.

Qalat city

Residents of Qalat city told AAN that the security environment has been deteriorating more quickly since Asef Tokhi, the son of Hamidullah Tokhi was fired as deputy police chief by the interior ministry in July. Civil society activists told AAN that Asef has his own Taleban inside the Taleban in order to worsen security, an allegation that has been made against high ranking government officials in other parts of the country as well. They said that he tells the Taleban to increase attacks on government personnel, in order to show that he was the only one who could maintain security in the province. They said that Asef sometimes helped the Taleban by releasing their prisoners or providing financial support to them.

A local resident told AAN on 30 August that the Taleban had recently started targeting soldiers and government employees in the city. One resident said that on 28 August the Taleban killed two army soldiers in Qalat. He said, “These soldiers had come to buy bread from a bakery early in the morning when the Taleban shot at them and killed them both. The Taleban took their vehicle and fled.” The resident also said that three days previously the Taleban abducted a driver who was an employee of the Department of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. Two days later the corpse of the driver was found near the city. He also said that the Taleban abducted two employees of the Agriculture Department, whose fate is still unknown. Muhibullah Khan, a resident of the Babagak, a suburb in Qalat, told AAN on 31 July that the Taleban are now only two kilometres away from the city. He said, “Three weeks ago our family shifted from Bababak to Qalat city because of the fighting, but now we are back again because we have a very big household of more than 50 individuals and could not pay rent for the home and other costs in the city.” Another resident of this area said that the Taleban have told the people of his village to evacuate the area because the Taleban have plans to attack Qalat city.

Abdul Qadar Qalatwal, a representative of Zabul in the Wolesi Jirga, confirmed to AAN on 26 July that people were very concerned about the security of the province. He also said, “The front lines have reached the security gates of the provincial centre.” Provincial council head Haqbayan told AAN the same on 23 July and added that security is at a critical level in all districts of Zabul. A civil society activist in Qalat told AAN on the same day that the Taleban took a wounded police officer from the provincial hospital. He said that the militants had worn police uniforms and had police identification cards with them when they entered the hospital.

On 19 September the Taleban exploded a large car bomb, destroying the provincial hospital in Qalat, killing 15 and wounding 66 others in the hospital, most of them patients, one doctor, six cooks and cleaner and two of the hospital’s police guards. The Taleban claimed that they had targeted an office of the National Directorate for Security (NDS) – which is located right opposite the hospital (see BBC Pashto report here).

The Highway 1 districts – Shajuy and Shahr-e Safa

Highway 1 – the strategically important national ring road – runs through the province and is a focus of insecurity, with regular Taleban attacks on government checkpoints. The Taleban also set up their own roadblocks and inspect cars as they pass.

Apart from Qalat, which forms its own district and includes rural areas near the city, there are two more districts that are situated on Highway 1: Shajuy and Shahr-e Safa. Shajuy is located to the north-east of Qalat, in the direction of Kabul via Ghazni, and Shahr-e Safa is located to the south-west, in the direction of Kandahar. Shajuy is the more volatile district of the two, though there is also some fighting in Shahr-e Safa, mainly in the Tarnak area. The latter district is mostly under government control, and is the only one that is thought of as being broadly pro-government in sentiment, since most of the people are Popalzai, the tribe of the former president Hamed Karzai.

In early July, Muhammad Wazir Jawadi, the district governor of Shajuy district, told media that the Taleban have gathered there from different districts of Zabul, Ghazni and Kandahar provinces. He said that a Taleban group numbering about 200-300 were launching joint attacks on Shajuy district and “despite the repeated demands of military assistance from the centre, we have not received any help.” He demanded that the central government provide both air and ground support. Jawadi said, “If the district collapses, the Taleban will inflict high casualties.”

These examples illustrate the insecurity along the highway:

  • Provincial council head Haqbayan said that on July 9 the Taleban had overrun several police posts in Shajuy district, entered the district centre and killed 13 police. (see here and here.)
  • Nek Muhammad, a resident of the Shajuy, confirmed to AAN on 31 July that the Taleban had entered the town and were walking around it for three to four days. He added that the government only had a presence in the national army base.
  • Zabul Provincial Council head Haqbayan told AAN on 23 July that the seven security posts between Qalat and Shajuy district were overrun by the Taleban. However, the residents of Qalat city told AAN that the government had recaptured some of them, for example in Nawrak and Spina Ghbarga.
  • Gul Islam, the provincial governor’s spokesman, confirmed to Pajhwok Afghan News that the Taleban had stormed Spina Ghbarga security post but he did not know the number of casualties. However, Taleban spokesman Qari Yusef Ahmadi claimed that their militants had killed 15 policemen.
  • Officials in Zabul said that the Afghan Air Force had killed 28 Taleban insurgents in Zabul province on 28 July. Farhad Shinwari, the spokesman for the Zabul police headquarters, said that the air force attacked the insurgents when they attempted to overrun national police and army posts in Shahr-e Safa and Shajuy districts.
  • On 28 July the Ministry of Defence announced that a government airstrike killed 20 insurgents in Zabul province, in Shahr-e Safa district.
  • A civil society activist in Zabul province told AAN on 29 July that fighting takes place every day in the Tarnak area of Zabul. He said that the Taleban had overrun the military posts of Kakarano Chena and Tabaskhar Ghundai, and that the Taleban have full control over 60 kilometres of the Kandahar–Kabul highway, notably the area between Qalat and Shajuy centre.
  • On 4 August, a mortar shell hit a house in Shajuy district, which killed a mother and three children from one family. Gul Islam, the spokesman of the Zabul province governor, blamed the Taleban for firing the mortar.
  • Pir Muhammad, a driver who goes every day from Shajuy to Kandahar, told AAN on 25 August that the Taleban overran and burned down the security post of Spina Ghbarga on the road between Shajuy and Qalat. He said the Taleban killed all of the police at the security post before taking the ammunition and vehicles.
  • On 28 August Pir Muhammad told AAN that on 27 August unknown gunmen removed a passenger from a car driving on the highway between Zabul and Kandahar and killed him. He also said that unknown gunmen had taken two other passengers from their vehicle and killed them in the Bakorzo area of Qalat, on the road between the city and Shajuy district. One of the residents in Qalat told AAN that the passengers were killed by the Taleban and had been employees of the police headquarters in the provincial capital.
  • The governor’s spokesman Gul Islam Siyal told AAN on 3 September that on 27 August a special unit of the NDS for southern provinces undertook an operation in Shajuy district. He said that Al-Ghiyas Faruq, the military commander of the Taleban Red Unit for Zabul province had been killed, along with his deputy and many other militants.
  • On 29 August Abdul Samad, a resident of Shajuy district and an employee of the department of education in the province, told AAN that the national army announced to the people a day earlier that they should not open their shops and should not come to the district town centre, because fighting was about to start. Samad said that the town and the markets remained closed. He said, “people have been displaced from the areas around the city. The employees of the district have left the district centre and are living in the national army base, which is around one kilometre away from the city.” Shajuy’s district centre was under Taleban control up until the election, when government forces launched a military operation to push back the Taleban and provide an opportunity for residents to cast their votes. It was unclear, however, whether they really took this opportunity, as security was till precarious (see AAN’s Zabul election report here).

Southern districts of Zabul: Shumulzayi, Atghar, Nawbahar and Shinkay

Shumulzayi, Atghar, Nawbahar and Shinkay districts are near the border with Pakistan, where the government controls only the district centres with a precarious military presence and does not, or cannot, provide any public services for local residents. In Nawbahar and Atghar, the government shifted its civilian offices to the military base earlier in 2019.

Jahangir Shah, a resident of Shumulzayi district, told AAN on 28 August that the Taleban has tried to storm the district three times since March. He said that in the first two attacks the Taleban inflicted casualties on government forces, but in the latest attack, which according to him happened one month ago, ANA commandos were present and inflicted heavy casualties on the Taleban who were unaware of their presence.  The Defence Ministry said in a statement on 5 August, that government forces had pushed back the Taleban in these districts, killing 41 Taleban fighters in their failed attempt to take these districts. Local resident Jahangir Shah confirmed the Taleban attacks.

In Atghar, Nawbahar, Shumulzayi and Shinkay districts, the civilian government is barely present, with only the army remaining:

  • Abdul Malik, a tribal elder from Atghar, told AAN on 1 September that the district centre had already been destroyed in the time of the Karzai government, leaving it without any civilian government presence. He said that the employees of the government left the district centre and are now living in the ANA headquarters, about one kilometre away.
  • Rafiullah Kamran, a resident of Nawbahar district, told AAN on 2 September that there was no fighting in Nawbahar district, as the government barely exists there. He said they only have a military presence in the Lwargi area of Nawbahar district.
  • Jahangir Shah, a resident of the Shumulzayi district, said that the government controls only the district centre, plus an army base brigade in Kafirsa, a unit of border police in the Zanzir (border) area and two or three security posts.
  • The Taleban blocked the road between Shinkay district and Qalat city in late July and planted road mines in the area of Siyori. However, Haji Enayatullah, a resident of Shinkay, told AAN on 28 August that the army cleared the road of landmines for the residents two days earlier.

Northern districts: Mizana, Arghandab, Kakaran and Daychopan

The Taleban largely control all the northern districts, with a government presence in only a few of the district centres.

In Mizana, the district centre has been shifted to an area near Qalat city, after its original centre, also called Mizana, had been under Taleban siege for 20 days in late summer. It was then vacated by the army and police units based there, after tribal elders negotiated safe passage for them, a local source told AAN. The new district centre is in Takir closer to the provincial capital. The Taleban control all other parts of the district.

In Arghandab the government controls only the district centre, with the Taleban controlling the rest, a source working in the NDS in Arghandab district told AAN on 3 September. He said that they have only two ANA security posts in the district centre.

Kakaran has been fully under Taleban control since 2004. Members of the civilian government were living on a military base 200 meters away from the district governor’s compound until 11 October, but have since been evacuated. Mullah Dadullah, the famous Taleban commander, who was killed in Helmand in 2007, was from this district (for background about him, see this AAN dispatch).

  • BBC Pashto quoted Zabul’s provincial council head on 13 October as saying that Daychopan – bordering Ghazni and Uruzgan provinces – had been besieged by the Taleban for the last eight years. He said the government has now evacuated the district. This was confirmed in early October, but the government did not disclose the new centre’s exact location, only saying it was easy to reach for the local population. It has been moved out of the district and into neighbouring Arghandab, a practice also seen in other provinces. This has been confirmed to the BBC by the head of the provincial council. The Taleban told the BBC that they finally captured the old centre.

The following security incidents further illustrate the worsening security situation in the northern districts:

  • Zabit Kabir, a tribal leader in Mizana, told AAN on 3 September that security forces evacuated their posts in the district on 7 August. He said that the Taleban took 16 humvees, one ambulance and some ammunition. He said this attack was the reason why the district centre was moved to another location.
  • Haji Nazir, a resident of Daychopan district told AAN on 31 August that they have low-intensity fighting every day and that heavy fighting takes place every five to seven days in the district.

Why Zabul is insecure: its strategic importance

Parliamentarians, journalists and civil society activists gave several reasons why Zabul become so insecure:

  • its strategic location, connecting southern and western provinces to Kabul via Highway 1;
  • a lawless border with Pakistan;
  • internal disputes between representatives of the parliament and the provincial administration;
  • pro-Taleban tendencies in the population.
  1. The strategic location on Highway 1

Highway 1 connects Kabul with Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, Farah, Nimroz and Herat provinces. If the Taleban capture Zabul province, they can disconnect these southern and western provinces from Ghazni, Wardak and Kabul. That would mean that the Afghan government would only have access to the southern and western parts of the country by air, which would create great difficulties for the provision of military and other services to these provinces, further undermining the provincial governments in those six provinces.

  1. A porous border

Zabul also shares a 65-kilometre-long border in Shumulzayi district with Pakistan, a very porous part of the border across which military and financial support flow to the Taleban. There are three unpaved roads crossing this border region: in the Zanzir area, near Qala-ye Rashid at the border with Kandahar, from where a road forks off east toward the Pakistani town of Kila Saifullah and Sur Zangal and further north, from where a road leads through the Lawana and Mardanzayi areas to the Pakistani city of Zhob in Balochistan (see a map here). Kila Saifullah had already been a major weapons depot for all mujahedin organisations operating from Pakistan against the Soviet occupation (1979-89) and seems to continue this role for the Taleban. Ata Jan Haqbayan told AAN about Taleban militants commuting between Afghanistan and Pakistan on these routes and the Taleban taxing goods on them. Also, the Taleban receive taxes from the illegal trade in lumber from Paktika province’s forests that are illegally exported to Pakistan through Zabul’s border.

Haqbayan said that the Taleban have a reliable source of income from the border region, suggesting that “the Taleban receives Afs 7,000,000 (USD 90,000) every month by taxing goods from and to Pakistan.” He said that a government delegation made up of seven ministries came to Zabul in the spring of 2018, assessed the area and approved the construction of a customs facility, but it has still not been established. A resident of Qalat city also said that the establishment of the customs facility has been approved by the central government, with some employees already recruited and receiving salaries, although there has been no action to establish the actual customs post.

From a military point of view, the Taleban use the border to cross from Pakistan to launch attacks against the Afghan government. They also return the bodies of some their dead killed in combat to Balochistan’s capital Quetta (or areas nearby such as Kuchlak) (4) said to be the host city of the Taleban’s Leadership Council, the so-called Quetta Shura. Wounded Taleban militants are also taken to Quetta for treatment. This author has seen wounded Taleban being treated by Pakistani doctors in Quetta in 2017 and has also met a Taleb who was responsible for the management of Taleb patients in one of the Quetta hospitals. A pro-Taleban source told AAN that there were three private hospitals in Quetta contracted by the Taleban to treat their patients.

Taleban fighters cross the border and enter Shumulzayi district and from there they can go to all districts of Zabul province. The Taleban use this route to deploy their forces to Ghazni, Wardak, Paktika, Kandahar and Uruzgan provinces, as well as onward destinations.

  1. Local political infighting

The third main factor that has helped turn Zabul into an insecure province is said to be disputes between the Wolesi Jirga representatives and the provincial administration. Each party blames the other for corruption and interference in their affairs. The deepest differences, according to Pashtunmal, a journalist from Zabul, lie between the parliamentarians and the provincial governor. Pashtunmal said that the government blames the parliamentarians, Abdul Qader Qalatwal, in particular, for interfering in provincial administrative affairs and the appointment or removal of local government employees. Qalatwal, when talking to AAN, called provincial governor Rahmatullah Yarmal “the reason behind the insecurity.” He said his appointment “was a mistake” as he was “young and inexperienced.” He also accused the governor of corruption and mismanagement, of diverting his operational budget into the campaign “of one particular presidential candidate” (Yarmal is associated with Jamiat-e Islami, the party of Dr Abdullah) and that he spent most of his time outside the province (he is from Kandahar). Various residents, however, told AAN that the governor takes his duties seriously.

Qalatwal’s accusations might be motivated by political and personal reasons. Gul Islam Siyal, the spokesman for the provincial governor, told AAN on July 24 that the governor fired Muhammada Jan,the local head of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, who is Qalatwal’s brother. Siyal also said that the governor had fired the finance chief of the local police headquarters, a brother of MP Hamidullah Tokhi and two other officials associated with Qalatwal – a finance officer and a transport officer – for alleged corruption, an allegation that has been confirmed by residents as well. Qalatwal belongs to president Ghani’s camp in the on-going presidential election, while Hamidullah Tokhi belongs to Dr. Abdullah’s camp. He was a former Mujahed commander of Hezb-e Islami, but did not support Hekmatyar during the presidential campaign.

On 20 October a civil society activist, who did not want to be named, told AAN that the two of officials who had been removed were re-appointed in their positions after efforts in Kabul by Qalatwal nearly a month ago.

  1. Pro-Taleban tendencies

Another factor of insecurity is the relatively high levels of support for the Taleban among the people of Zabul. According to the Asia Foundation survey in 2018, 58.5 per cent of the respondents said they had “a lot of sympathy” for the Taleban. This is more than twice as high as any other province of Afghanistan. (5) At the same time, according to the survey, Zabul residents’ satisfaction with their provincial government, their perceived ability to influence government decisions and their trust in the ANSF and are the lowest of all Afghan provinces.

Local support for the Taleban might also reflect the fact that there are many Zabulis in the Taleban’s higher ranks. This includes Mullah Amir Khan Haqqani, the military head for 22 provinces in the southern half of the country, who is also member of the military commission; Mawlawi Nurullah Nuri, who was the provincial governor of Balkh province during the Taleban regime, a former Guantanamo detainee, and who is now one of main Taleban negotiators with the US (he is from Shajuy district, short biography of Nuri in this AAN dispatch); Qari Yusef Ahmadi, one of the spokesmen of the Taleban; Mullah Qayum, their governor of Ghazni; Ma’awin Jabar, their current minister for tribal affairs and borders and Muhammad Yunes Akhundzada, the current head of NGOs commission. Provincial council head Haqbayan confirmed that Zabul also contributes many Taleb fighters to their ranks. A report published by Radio Liberty emphasises that Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taleban, was from the Hotak tribe, one of the two major tribes in Zabul. (His family’s part of the tribe, though, had migrated to Uruzgan before he was born).

Haqbayan also told AAN that, apart from Taleban militants, there is some “Daesh” (ISKP) presence in Kakaran and Daychopan. He has been repeating this claim for nearly a year (see here for example). He said that Daesh is not militarily active in Zabul, but that supplies and equipment for its fighters have been collected there and sent to northern and eastern provinces. Gul Islam told AAN that the provincial leadership has not received any information to confirm the presence of Daesh in Zabul. However, he said the Taleban presence in Zabul includes foreign fighters.

Conclusion

As in a number of other volatile – and often better reported – provinces, security in Zabul remains on the brink. The frontlines with the Taleban have moved close to the provincial capital, similar to Kunduz, Farah, Ghazni, Uruzgan, Helmand, Faryab, Baghlan and Sarepul provinces. This makes Zabul’s provincial capital Qala vulnerable to Taleban incursions (which have already happened in Kunduz, Baghlan, Farah and nearby Ghazni).

As in those provinces, the government controls only a few district centres and the provincial capital. In Zabul, the civilian government from five districts has been evacuated and relocated to military bases in the district centres. They do not and cannot provide any public services to the residents. As for Highway 1 in Zabul, the Taleban can, at any time they want, set up temporary roadblocks to check cars and passengers and are even in a position to interrupt this key communication route. A current government offensive is designed to get Highway 1 under better government control by establishing additional check posts. But as the Taleban control extensive territory in the key districts along that entire part of the road, they seem likely to remain in a position to harass even these planned new check posts.

The situation is exacerbated by the ongoing disputes between the parliamentarians from Zabul and the provincial administration. This has undermined support for the government and might have contributed to push parts of the population towards supporting, or at least sympathising with the Taleban – on a level unprecedented in other provinces.

Edited by Christian Bleuer, Rachel Reid and Thomas Ruttig

 

(1) Kakar(an) district’s original name was Khakeran which was pronounced by some as Khak-e Iran (Iranian soil). Therefore it was renamed Khak-e Afghan (Afghan soil) and now is usually referred to as Kakar(an), the major tribe living there (see this official district list: no 174).

(2) Apart from the Hotak and Tokhis, there are other Ghilzai tribes living in different districts of Zabul province, such as the Sulaimankhel, Kakar, Naser, Kharoti, Andar, Taraki, Maichankhel and Ludin. In Shahr-e Safa and Mizana districts the Alokozai and Popalzai tribes of Durranis are also present. The Hotaks were the founders of an early Afghan empire, before that of the Durrani (founded in 1747). Its first ruler was Mir Wais Khan Hotak (1709-15), later followed by his son Shah Husain Hotak (1735-1736). Shah Mahmud Hotak (1722-24) and his cousin, Shah Ashraf Hotak (1725-29) briefly ruled Persia, after defeating the Safavids. According to the Afghan historian Abdul Hai Habibi (1910-84), Sultan Malkhai (who was the father of Nazo Ana, the mother of Mir Wais Hotak, the governor of Qalat in 1681 during Mughal rule), was officially recognised as the khan of all Ghilzai tribes by the Mughal Emperor Awrangzeb Alamgir (1656-1706). During Malkhai rule in Qalat, severe fighting took place between the Ghilzai and the Safavid Persians.

(3) The most well-known former commander from Zabul is Abdul Salam Rocketi (a Sulaimankhel), a famous Mahaz-e Melli mujahedin commander who joined the Taleban during their rise in the 1990s and served as a commander in Nangrahar province before renouncing his loyalty to the Taleban. When the Taleban government collapsed, he was arrested by US troops, but released after a short time through the efforts of the late Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, the head of Mahaz. Rocketi ran for election in Zabul and became a Wolesi Jirga member in 2005. In 2009, he stood for presidential election before dropping out and endorsing Karzai. In the 2018 election, he stood as a kuchi (nomad) candidate for Wolesi Jirga, but failed to win a seat.

(4) In a mosque in Kuchlak, a bomb in a mosque killed it imam, Hafiz Ahmadullah, the brother of Taleban leader Hebatullah Akhunzada, in mid-August 2019 (media report here). There was speculation that the Taleban leader himself might have been the target.

(5) The survey also asked about “a little sympathy” for the Taleban, but only gives nation-wide figures. In general, the high percentage of those expressing sympathy for the Taleban is also astonishing as the survey was conducted by an institution based in Kabul and respondents can expected to be careful about such statements.

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Thematic Category: War & Peace