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February 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 2)
the Taliban, Old Dangers Resurface
The Rise of Warlords
Joko Suyono and Zuhaid-El Qudsy, Tempo (independent),
Jakarta, Indonesia, Dec. 2, 2001
The blood of the
four journalists killed [in a Nov. 19 ambush] on the road between
Kabul and Jalalabad has dried up. But the street violence in
post-Taliban Afghanistan is only just beginning. A new chapter
of brutality has opened up.
The aforementioned journalists were killed at gunpoint when
their convoy was stopped. Those unfortunate press members were
Maria Grazia Cutuli from Italy, Julio Fuentes from Spain, Harry
Burton from Australia, and Afghan-born photojournalist Azizullah
Haidari. They were forced out of their seats, robbed, and shot
to death; then their bodies were dragged by a truck.
The murder of the four journalists is merely an example of the
Afghan warlords capacity for brutality, a phenomenon that
arose after the fall of the Taliban. Last week, World Food Program
truck drivers were fearful when they tried to enter Kabul from
Jalalabad. Those 60 trucks were allowed to continue the journey
only if they were escorted by the Northern Alliance forces.
They were armed with Kalashnikovs. Their faces were covered
when they robbed me, truck driver Waqif Khan Sinwari,
who had just arrived in Kabul, said to the Associated Press.
In the 1990s, before the Taliban era, Kabul-Jalalabad was a
notorious route. Many drivers were scared to use it. Armed squirrels,
as people called them, could easily jump on a vehicle from any
direction. Now, this route has regained its previous reputation:
It is controlled by the bandits of Jalalabad and surrounding
|An old adage has been reborn
in Afghanistan: Move slowly with warlords, because they
own every street corner.
Jalalabad is now controlled by Haj Abdul Qadir, the brother
of Abdullah Haq, an anti-Taliban Pashtun leader who was executed
by the Taliban. Qadir is among the elders of Jalalabads
warlords. He negotiated with three local lords to divide the
territory for security reasons. But his bargaining tactic was
not a guarantee of security. Tens of armed men kept invading
and robbing the region. They stole gasoline, oil, and wheat
that was intended for refugees. The crime rate escalated exponentially.
Bags of donated wheat were traded in the black market.
Their acts were so ferocious that they became intolerable. There
were no robbers during the Taliban era, starving Jalalabad
inhabitant Abdullah Omari said.
Ninety tons of food relief have been looted. Trucks have been
hijacked. Computers and telecommunication devices that belonged
to the food relief distribution organization have disappeared.
Offices of several nonprofit organizations have been destroyed.
Even residential windows have been stolen. Such occurences also
happened in Kabul, the capital city. As many as 14,000 camping
tents, which were kept at a UNHCR warehouse, disappeared along
with 185 tons of wheat. So many obstacles, U.N.
spokesperson Eric Salt said. The relief, apparently, was not
received by the intended parties.
Observers say that the costly price of the fall of the Taliban
is the rebirth of warlordism. Afghanistan can, indeed, return
to its previous pre-Taliban standing. An old adage has been
reborn: Move slowly with warlords, because they own every street
corner. A warlords strength varies from one troop to another.
Warlords run in families. He is my cousin. So is he,
Sinjeddarah warlord Khademuddin said when a reporter asked the
origin of his troops.
Even on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, particularly in the
tribal area (where Pakistani law does not apply), warlordism
has increased considerably. Abdul Halim Mahaly, Tempos
correspondent in Pakistan, said that when he walked along the
tribal area border last week, he saw many troops armed with
automatic weapons. This is surprising, considering that the
area was considered relatively safe.
Admittedly, the Taliban was relatively successful in decreasing
the number of warlords. The potential danger lies in the growing
tradition of vendetta against the Taliban. In 20 minutes,
the Taliban burned down 65 of our homes. They will pay now,
the Sinjedarrah warlord said.
The growth of warlordism supports the thesis that there was
never any central authority in Afghanistan to begin with. In
Ghazni Province, a warlord named Ismail immediately gathered
his troops together the instant he knew that the Taliban had
fallen. His troops were armed in as little as two hours.
On the surface, ethnic representatives [at the Bonn conference]
might look harmonious. But the appearance is far from the truth.
As soon as Kabul fell, for instance, Shiite Muslim militia from
Hazarajat [who include the Hazaras, the second largest Afghan
ethnic group] immediately showed up in the capital. They guarded
areas in Kabul where the Shiites reside. Apparently, they were
wary of the intentions of Burhanuddin Rabbanis Tajik troops.
These Shiite disciples were angry over Uzbek Gen. Abdul Rashid
Dostum, who had defeated the Taliban in Kunduz. They suspected
Dostum of ulterior motives.
Herat in northwestern Afghanistan used to be a relatively safe
province. But the fall of the Taliban restored the power of
renowned Herat Commander Gen. Ismail Khan. His reputation is
far better than that of the barbaric Dostum. Ismail Khan built
universities, opened jobs, and built asphalt roads for the residents.
We can have picnics, go to school, play music, said
Fazul Ragim, a Herat resident who is euphoric about the return
of Ismail Khan.
But Khan is a Sunni, while the Herat majority is Shiite. Therefore,
future conflict between his followers and the members of Hezb-i-Wahdata
Shiite troop led by Karim Khaliliis not unlikely.
It is apparent that the high-ranking commanders might not be
as reliable as they might seem in contributing to the success
of Loya Jirga [the traditional Afghan Grand Assembly]. Indeed,
mysterious armed warlords cannot be trusted for its success.
In Jalalabad, for instance, street bandits called themselves
the troops of Hekmatyar. According to former Pakistani air force
Colonel Mohammed Zaman Khan, most Uzbek and Hazara warlords
probably do not support Loya Jirga. Pashtuns will probably
support it. This tribe will still receive the largest representation
in the new post-Taliban government, he said to Tempo.
This will also encourage regional lords from the Pashtun ethnic
group to return to their previously abandoned region. The followers
of Arif Khan have claimed their piece of Kandahar. Yunus Khanis
has claimed his region of Torkam [a border-post town] as well.
Therefore, in order to realize Loya Jirga, the United States
may have to bribe these regional lords, which, history has shown,
works like a charm.
In the 1979 war against the Soviets, for instance, Gen. Zia
Ul Haq from Pakistan bribed the regional lords to fight against
Russia. The previous Taliban administration was also known for
being corrupt and under the influence of bribery of local troop
leaders by Osama bin Laden.
History repeats itself. Take Mohammed Musa Hotak and Ghulam
Mohammed, the two brothers known as big warlords from Wardak,
a province south of Kabul, as examples. Both of them have 1,000
armed followers, who have surrendered to Commander Abdullah
of the Northern Alliance. Of course, they did not do so without
reservation. As their wages, they demanded authority and a region.
These two brothers are nothing more than chameleons. When the
mujahideen fought against the Soviets, they became mujahideen.
When the Taliban was in power, they became Taliban. Now that
the Northern Alliance is in power, they have joined the Northern
Alliance. This is purely business, Abdullah said.
Not surprisingly, many observers believe that these business
relationships will not endure. It is hard for groups affiliated
with the Northern Alliance to defend togetherness, Kurasat
Istratijiya journal editor Jamil Mathar in Cairo said to
The other thing is the emerging controversy over whether or
not international troops are required in Afghanistan. This problem
will unquestionably trigger a conflict among regional lords.
Shir Takana, a commander, demanded that his region be free of
U.N. troops, even though the Northern Alliance has already agreed
Another factor that should not be overlooked is opium. During
the Taliban era, opium planting was forbidden. But Aghanistan
has a long history as an opium producer. The rise of the Taliban
was in some way a blessing in disguise for the Vienna-based
U.N. body that has been fighting for a drug-free world. In the
last five years, opium production and drug trafficking from
Afghanistan have been greatly reduced.
But the fall of the Taliban has given opium farmers opportunities
to replant the heavenly drug. A farmer from Nangahar,
Katib, had intended to plant his field with wheat, but has changed
his mind, since the profit from opium is 15 times that of wheat.
It is no secret that opium fields are money fountains for high
commanders and warlords as well. Harvest time is known to warlords
as a time to fight for expanded opium territory.