AAN Papers

The Networks of Kunduz: A History of Conflict and Their Actors, from 1992 to 2001


A new Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) report by author Nils Wörmer looks at networks of power in Kunduz province. Wörmer writes that when Germany’s political decision makers opted for Kunduz, in north-eastern Afghanistan, as the location for its future Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and soldiers and governmental development workers started to deploy in 2003, they were widely unaware of the highly complex web of conflict and power structures in that area. The author of this new AAN report adds that a German pre-deployment mission found the situation in Kunduz ‘largely calm and still fairly stable’. But as Wörmer points out in his paper the mission overlooked that the situation was charged with old factional conflicts that were only dormant in what still was the post-Taleban lull.

Wörmer explains that these underlying tensions were fuelled by ‘conflicts about land distribution, water rights, access to resources and political representation [that] occurred as a result of immigration waves throughout the last two centuries.’ ISAF’s mandate demanded a high level of cooperation with the central government in Kabul (and with its representatives on the provincial level) and appeared based on an assumption that the situation following the breakdown of the Taleban regime in late 2001 was a complete new start.

According to the author of this AAN paper, a retired officer of the German armed forces and currently a doctoral fellow at the Berlin think tank Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), ‘the Germans were insufficiently prepared when they started their mission in Kunduz province in late 2003. Inexplicably, this situation has not fundamentally changed since.’ In this new AAN paper, Wörmer addresses this gap by providing a detailed and extensive analysis of Kunduz’ main actors and their ever-shifting alliances.

Wörmer states that ‘Kunduz’ post-2001 power architecture cannot be explained without examining the province’s history of conflict’ which, between 1992 and 2001, ‘was marked by heavy fighting, atrocities, expulsions, looting and shifts of alliances as the region was a major battleground of the civil war’. He starts his analysis from 1992 when – after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 – the government of President Najibullah collapsed. In Kunduz, four mujahedin factions shared and fought over power then. When the Taleban administration in Kunduz province – the movement’s major stronghold in northern Afghanistan – collapsed in November 2001, the power vacuum was filled by structures that reflected the status quo as it existed between 1992 and 1997.

As Wörmer points out these power structures, however, were ‘strongly fragmented’ and ‘informal’. Many of the pre-Taleban commanders – linked to powerful figures in the new government in Kabul and at the same time vying for ‘support of some relevant religious or secular dignitaries’ locally – emerged as key figures. Wörmer concludes that ‘the personal backgrounds of individual actors – for example, their ethnicity, tribal affiliation, level of religious education, party affiliation during the 1978–92 jihad, reputation as a ‘warrior’, etc.’ – is of ‘great importance for understanding Kunduz province’s micro politics’.

Although the transition of authority from ISAF to the Afghan government in security affairs started in Kunduz on 11 July this year, German and other ISAF forces will still be present in the province. Wörmer’s detailed analysis thus continues to have high relevance for political and military decisions makers. Moreover, as Wörmer writes, ‘the province still has a strong potential of support for the Taleban […] The organisations participating in the Kunduz insurgency since 2007 mainly correspond to the actors that fought in northeastern Afghanistan between 1998 and 2001.’

AAN Thematic Report 02/2012



To read the report please click here.

To read the report’s executive summary click here.

Release date: 2 August 2012

Photo: Thomas Ruttig

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