War & Peace

On Commander Razeq again


AAN member JOANNA NATHAN draws attention to the recent “mistaken” killing of civilians by Kandahar’s border police, which has gone largely unnoticed.

So Commander Razeq is once again in the news with dead civilians on his men’s hands. TheNew York Times reports that seven people mistakenly thought to be insurgents were shot by the border police in Spin Boldak, Kandahar. The BBC says the men were said to be Pakistanis collecting firewood when they strayed too close to the border. In neither case is it pointed out that pretty much exactly the same “mix-up” happened when 16 men were shot during the 2006 Eid holidays.

At that time Razeq, a member of the Achekzai, tribe, was detained for what was widely understood to be the cold-blooded murder of members of the rival Noorzai tribe (see for instance this RFE/RL report). It was later reported that the men were actually picked up in Kabul and taken back south to Spin Boldak, where they were shot and the bodies dumped — their hands bound behind their back. Razeq was however soon released and back to work with the border police.

As an excellent recent profile in Harpers, subtitled “Undercover with Afghanistan’s drug trafficking border police”, reports how Razeq has been a darling of the international forces in southern Afghanistan for the “stability” he brings in his district. But with friends like this you wonder what we are fighting for. Even the underlying “pragmatic” premise that strongmen operating with impunity can impose peace must be challenged.

Operation Medusa in 2006 — a large operation on the outskirts of Kandahar in which it is claimed that over 1,000 Taliban were killed — was preceded by Razeq’s forces being sent into this largely Noorzai area (see here for more detail). The people seeing a rival force entering the area fought back, and because this was the face of the government they became by definition “anti government”. The Taliban has continued to leverage such alienation in which the government and foreign forces are seen to favour some communities over others. Many of its foot-soldiers in Kandahar are unsurprisingly Noorzai.

Amidst all the recent US talk of working with “local powerholders” it must be recognized that a strategy of picking winners and turning a blind eye to their abuses towards the losers has already been tried. Those who are being empowered are not traditional community leaders, many of whom have been killed or marginalized by the years of conflict, but a new generation of strongmen whose power arises specifically from access to guns, funds and foreign forces.

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Thematic Category: War & Peace