Saturday, October 03, 2015

An analysis of the deteriorating Security in Kunduz Province

In the series of analysis about the situation in Konduz I have set to look at factors that have led to the current precarious condition, in this post I going to have a brief look on the global political trends and its translation to Afghanistan situation and come to a conclusion based on the analysis offered in this series.  

International support for increasing local influence of the state

The state is the most effective way of organising the security and well-being of a population. International consensuses seem to emerge that identify lack of central authority as the obstacle to ensuring global security and prosperity. The challenge is to identify economic, military and political measure that can enhance the capacity of states in low-income countries to perform the functions that define them as states. Achieving well-governed sustainable states requires long-term preventive engagement with a wide range of policy instruments. One major policy challenge is to overcome the differences between a range of actors in understanding how to achieve the right balance between security, development and governance policies, through use of political dialogue, development assistance, trade agreements and military forces.[1]

International intervention in Afghanistan has primarily been concerned with security and has always taken that narrow approach to stability. In exchange for nominal control of regions international players have offered regional Strongmen key functions of the state. The Clientele state over time serves the interests of few and fails to meet its duties toward the public. The organisaiton of state was to maintain ethnic and tribal balance and provide roles for strongmen. The state in Afghanistan as built by the US led coalition is not intended to be a sovereign charged with the welfare of the public and establish monopoly of violence.


A strongman administers district and even village or cluster of villages since the fall of monarchy who is heavily armed and has replaced the traditional landowners. Strongmen are connected with the grassroots through informal and personal networks and affiliated to politico-military organization, generally organised along ethnic lines, but loyalties are shifting and elusive. The strongmen carries out and exceeds in what are the functions of Afghan state, services provided by external institutions include healthcare by INGO while administration of primary education is carried out by local elders. As such Afghan state is not a reality for Afghans living in the countryside. This sociopolitical environment sustains poverty and non-urban patchwork of fiefdoms that is tribal ethnographically and ultraconservative in character.

The strongmen regularly use a range of covert, coercive and agitative measures to obtain political and financial rewards from the state; strongmen also quarrel among themselves over financial, political and military interests. This game of survival of the fittest wrongs many and has huge collateral damage, such violations decree expiation for expedience and public concern of morality, but the state is unable to administer justice. The long-term impact of such dynamics creates community fragmentation, erodes national identity and prevents the creation of unitary nation.

The most successful institution to reign in the strongmen and stop them from tearing the country apart was Taliban. Their effort was spearheaded by disarmament and integrating the main body of militia into their ranks. The presence of foreign troops altered the dynamics and made the competition among strongmen less violent by means of military pressure, monetary and political reward and taking out the irreconcilable ones under the label of Taliban. The majority of strongmen targeted by the US and allies were Pashtuns and over the years they have gone after sub commander too. This vicious cycle of violence, ethnic conflicts, injustice and creation and propping of a new elite class has had destabablising impact, pitting some who seek vengeance against some who protect their interests.


Friday, October 02, 2015

An analysis of the deteriorating Security in Kunduz Province

following my last post on dynamics of power in Konduz and in the series of analysing the situation in this post I will be focusing on:

From Harpoon to Tycoon

Jihadi commanders now in charge of local governance are effectively controlling the state they have a say in earmarking, permission and certification of international development funds. Instead of using to procedure to enhance efficiency in private and non-profit sector implementation of development projects it’s used as a source of revenue by collecting kickbacks in exchange for permission to implement projects.

The strongmen was also directing international funding that was aimed at bringing anti-government forces or armed groups into the social fold. Hundred of millions of dollars was spent through programmes such as Commander’s Emergency Response Programme (CERP) or Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP), this money was used by the Strongmen to expand their patronage network.

The most viable source of strongmen is a drug trade which is likely to continue after most western aid has dried out. Many sources report that Kunduz strongmen run a lucrative drug network smuggling narcotics to Russia and Europe through Tajikistan.[1] In June 2012 the government of Tajikistan issued an extradition warrant for  Mir Alam and Latif Ibrahimi the governor of neighboring Takhar province to face trial for charges of drug trafficking, terrorism and other crimes.[2] Needless to say the government of Afghanistan is unable to effectively respond to the request.
The private armies the strongmen are funded to maintain are not only a revenue source but a security asset for the protection of narcotic business.

 In September 2012 after more than 12 civilians were killed in clashes between militia inside the provincial capital the attorney general office issued a warrant for Mir Alam to be presented in Kabul for questioning. Many sources put him at the scene of the killing and he was one of the prime suspects.[3] Thousands of people took to streets to protest against the decision and Kunduz governor downplayed the warrant which eventually died out.[4] The ability to insert influence with such impunity and in the face of states inability to curb strongmen power many

The strongmen as an effective anti government force

Another perspective into the debate would be to ask the question why is the state better than local strongmen?  It could be argued the role played by the strongmen in much of Afghanistan has convinced some that it was efforts to reform the corrupt and warlord-dominated Afghan state that kicked off the insurgency by weakening those who had been holding a lid on it and depriving the Afghan government of key sources of support.[5] US President Barack Obama acknowledged this in 2009 and dubbed a tactical errors, described as too few boots on the ground, disenfranchising the Afghan population and allowing corrupt elites too much leeway to develop clientelist structures of personal dependencies.[6] Obama remedied it by a “surge” strategy which was “clear, hold, build” and then “transfer” to local state authorities.[7] But there was no one to transfer to as Antonio Giustozzi[8] notes there are few professional police to go around same goes for district level civil servant. By 2010 the Obama administration was convinced that the Afghan state does not have the capacity to create responsive subnational governance and launched several projects to strengthen local governance with little success, key among them was an alternative to local governance and support for local strongmen to fill the void through Arbaki and ALP programs. Maj. Michael Waltz, a former Special Operations Forces officer told New York Times in an interview: “We can’t sacrifice security for this multigenerational effort to build rule of law.”[9]

Few can argue with Waltz on militia effectiveness, the mobilisation of these militias, often in agreement with local police forces already staffed by individuals linked to the same strongmen in the past, represented a turning point, where NATO, Afghan police, and the Afghan army had until then been unable to contain the expansion of the insurgency.[10]

Jamiat and its effective offshoot Shurai Nizar are wary of elements inside the Afghan government, which are willing to reach a compromise with the Taliban; this is perceived as a threat to security in the north. Amrullah Saleh leader of Afghan Green Trend, former head of Afghan spy agency (NDS) and prominent affiliate of Jamiat wrote on his Facebook page that there are elements in the government seeking to eliminate remnants of Jamiat in Kunduz province. [11] During a visit to Kunduz province Ahmad Zia Massood a counsel to the Afghan president, and brother of the prominent Jamiat figure Ahmad Shah Massood, said the former Jihadi strongmen are important in defeating the Taliban. This remark is more a rhetoric of Jamiat than the official line of Afghan government policy, it’s a curious case of where Mr. Massood allegiance lay. Given high level support of Jamiat for maintaining militia there are three policy implications.

First, high level of Jamiat influence on the government with coinciding hardliner American approach in seeking military solution to what is labelled as the Taliban problem prevented initiatives for political solution. Without a long term solution tensions in Kunduz as well as other parts of the north is a ticking bomb that would go off under certain situation.

Second, attempts to build support for a national state by addressing community grievance and insert sovereignty of state by monopolising violence will hit significant political and factional obstacles. Elders from Kunduz petitioned former President Karzai to address militia problem in Kunduz.[12] Anwar Jagdalik the former governor of Kunduz and Karzai nominee was sent to Kunduz from Kabul with the mandate to resolve the militia problem that was already causing headache in 2011. Karzai got the Americans behind the project by cutting funds for militia in Kunduz.[13] The task of dismantling, disarming and melding was left to Anwar Jagdalik, it did not take place.[14] Perhaps because the international mission was winding down its military operation and there was little interest or funding for what could potentially be a long-term strategy of disarmament and reintegration. The governor lacked the resources had less than 1500 national police at its disposal that clearly was not enough to take on the militia.

Third, the infighting within the Afghan government of unity on the one side Ashraf Ghani and his team and on the other side Abdullah Abdullah with support from Northern Alliance will lend itself for exploitation by anti government forces. Wall street Journal has argued that Taliban have already exploited the rift,[15] in an interview with Ashna Television Mirza Mohammad Yarmand former Deputy minister of interior has argued that the instability in Kunduz is caused by rivalries in Afghan National Unity government.

First of all support and funding militia is contrary to the aim of state building which was the US official state strategy for Afghanistan and against the doctrine of COIN, counter insurgency, which emphasises on political solution in addressing the root cause of war.

Organising a large-scale war effort on the basis of armed forces organised patrimonially is difficult and inefficient. The individual strongmen will demand rewards for their participation, which may constrain the ability of the government to make decisions and appoint officials as required by the political environment. In the North, sources in contact with several of the strongmen involved in the militia movement report that most of them have negotiated deals with the Taliban, carving out spheres of influence and focusing on the control of their home turfs.129 There is therefore a strong argument that, relatively unhindered by an inefficient repression, the Taliban kept spreading around Afghanistan.

The outlying districts of Kunduz are run by militia who are unpopular among the community, they do not provide an efficient repression force to keep the Taliban in check due to lack of command and control. The militia project the power of strongman and is a tool for the commander to pursue his interests; in exchange militia members are given a free hand in extorting from the population. For the population the Taliban provide a better alternative with proven record of stamping out thievery and criminality. The militia can only fight a war against another militia if they launch preemtive strikes and organise effective defences. The militia does not have the discipline to carry out force protection, guard duties and orchestrated battles with segmented group tasks. Pre-emptive strike and effective defences depend on good intelligence and surveillance for which the militia need to be well connected to the community, without strong community support the militia have no chance of fighting the Taliban.   

[1] Afghanistan News centre, who is controlling the drug routes,
[2] Roushd News Agency, Jihadi leaders are disturbing security in Badakhshan of Tajikistan,
[3] باز داشت ده ها تن در کنم کندز از سوی وزارت دفاع
  , Farsi.Ru 13,09, 2012
[4] Razaq Mammon, September 2012, Mir allam is accused of the Killing in Kunduz,
[5] For Karzai’s own opinion, see “Helmand Ex-Governor Joins Karzai Blame Game,” IWPR, 3 March 2008
[6] (A. Rashid, 2008)
[7] (Bowman, 2011: 154)
[8] Drivers of anti government mobilization in Afghanistan, AREU,
[10] Reuter, “The Northern Front.”
[12] Gul Rahim Niazman, ‘The Short Arm of the State’, Afghanistan Today, 17 January 2012, accessed 31 July 2013, http://www.afghanistan-
[13] Anand Gopal, The Wrong Afghan Friends, 30 May 2014,NY times,
[14] Gul Rahim Niazman, ‘The Short Arm of the State’, Afghanistan Today, 17 January 2012, accessed 31 July 2013, http://www.afghanistan-

[15] NATHAN HODGE and HABIB KHAN TOTAKHIL, Taliban Heat Up Battle in Kabul, Militants Exploit Government Infighting, Seek to Oust Foreigners. Nov. 30, 2014,

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

An analysis of the deteriorating Security in Kunduz Province

following on my last post on the summary of the situation in this post I will analyse:

The Dynamics of Power and Politics in Kunduz

The Northern Alliance which consists of Jamiat Islami, Ittahad Islami, Junbish Islami, Hizb Wahadat and smaller Tanzims[1] gained power after the fall of Taliban, on the insistence of the West and particularly the US Hamed Karzai was installed as the president but for the first few years he lacked any real power and all important official positions below the president on the national level was occupied by northern alliance.

One of the key challenges Karzai faced during his entire term was to make the government national by reducing the influence of military political faction, i.e. Northern alliance and make the government inclusive by giving place to Pashtuns in the government. Hamid Karzai installed a range of Pashtuns and Tajik technocrats at important positions in Kabul and Pashtuns to replace Northern Alliance at provincial level. Most Pashtuns were formerly members of Hizbi Islami or Taliban, the staunch enemy of Northern Alliance.

Kunduz traditionally have had strong Tanzim presence with strong local commanders, the provincial capital of Kunduz was overrun by Jihadists early in August 1988 right after Soviet combat troops withdraw from the city garrison but was recaptured by the government forces that only remained in control of the provincial capital.[2] Hizb, Jamiat and Ittahad have had military base in Kunduz, some of the strongest commanders such as Aref Khan, Arbab Mohammad Hashem,  Mirza Mohammad Naseri, Latif and Rauf Ibrahimi defected to Taliban and in the post 2001 climate where power was assigned by the US they remained marginalised or were killed. In addition, several hundred sub-commanders of Kunduz that surrendered to Northern Alliance with their 4000 men in 2001 were massacred by Dustom men in Dasht lailly. Two commanders of Jamiat Gen. Daud Daud and Mir Alam became the most influential strongmen of Kunduz after successfully reducing most opponents with assistance from the US military.
General Daud and Mir Alam run Kunduz like a fiefdom, this was not acceptable for the Kabul government, in an attempt to break their grip Karzai lured Gen. Daud to Kabul by appointing him as the national deputy minister of interior in 2004.
Mir Alam for his influence was not bestowed with a position in the government. A state position would greatly enhance his legitimacy and contact with regional, national and international powers. He started to cause trouble for the Kabul regime, for instance in 2005 Mir Alam men launched several attacks on Afghan police and security forces.[3] This is just before the parliamentary election when security is paramount; in order to ensure security Karzai’s most viable choice was to reward Mir Alam with a senior position in the government. Mir Alam was appointed chief of police of neighbouring Baghlan province in June 2005. To become the chief of police, he had to hand over a large cache of 765 weapons plus ammunition to Motaleb Beg as part of the deal.[4]  Mir Alam soon found himself in quarrel with another Jamiat strongman, the commander of the North and Northeast Highway Police brigade turned 20th AMF Brigade, Abdul Khalil Andarabi. According to US government information, they competed for the control of drug traffic routes[5]. Since Andarabi and his influential father, Juma Khan, originated from this province, he apparently gathered more supporters and edged out Mir Alam.

From 2009 with the US military surge and the accompanying worsening security situation Shurai Nazar faction and Jamiat Islami also successfully used efforts to contain the Taliban to improve their own power position.

In 2010 the Americans enlisted Mir Alam among others to run the Arbaki programme in Kunduz. He received millions in cash and weapon in exchange for fighting the Taliban, which very often meant his political opponents.[6] Given military power without any political strain meant that Mir Alam men had a free rein in looting the villagers with impunity.

In September 2010, the appointments of two other famous commanders of Jamiat also affected the security set up in Kunduz. General Daud returned as 303rd Pamir Police Zone commander to the north. The charismatic Sayedkheli became the Kunduz provincial chief of police. He had gained a legendary reputation in Shura-ye Nazar as the defender of his home area, Shomali near Kabul, against Taliban and Pakistani forces in the late 1990s. In Kunduz, Sayedkheli successfully sidelined the mayor of Kunduz City, Mohammad Ghulam Farhad, a Pashtoon who supported Taliban in the 1990s.

Bismillah, Daud, and Sayedkheli  all Shurai Nizar of Jamiat acted as trio in fighting the Taliban in Kunduz. From his ministerial position, Bismillah provided 1,125 ALP positions for the organisational chart (tashkeel) of the province in addition to the original 1,810 regular ANP officers. Of these ALP positions, 300 each went to Chahar Dara, Dasht-e Archi, and Imam Sahib, while Kunduz district received 225. In Kunduz, Sayedkheli therefore could use the ALP positions to establish a clientele. Mir Alam’s force, which was mainly in Khanabad, was not integrated. Since no complaints by him are known, it seems that he preferred to remain in the NDS-operated Arbaki programme. Nabi Gechi on the other hand, who had fought previously against Shura-ye Nazar got nothing.

In October 2010, Sayedkheli negotiated successfully with Taleban leaders in who had previously fought on the insurgents’ side. He persuaded them with positive incentives – assets in the form of ALP positions and goods from the internationally funded Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) to ‘reintegrate’ insurgents – and with threats – such as bringing down the wrath of the mighty US army on them. These successful negotiations allowed Sayedkheli’s ANP and US infantry forces, together with militias led by Mir Alam and another Shurai Nizar subcommander Nawid, to recapture Aliabad and the south of Chahar Dara district in October and November 2010.

The US surge of 2010 and the Afghan militia campaign delivered a serious blow to the Taliban in Kunduz; after 2010, they did not control significant territory anymore. However, they continued to exist as an armed group and successfully changed their strategy, refocusing on clandestine operations.

[1] A political and military organisation that is expanding since the demise of the monarchy.  A Tanzim is a conglomerate of local commanders who are loose loyal to the organization for foreign support and balancing regional power structure.

[2] Soviets Complying On Afghan Withdrawal, U.S. Says, August 16, 1988|By Thom Shanker, Chicago Tribun

[3] Schetter and Glassner, ‘Neither Functioning, nor Failing . . .’, [see FN 5], 145
[4] Radio Afghanistan, ‘Commander Surrenders Weapons in Afghan North’, BBC Monitoring South Asia, 25 June 2005; Stapleton, ‘Disarming the Militias . . .’, [see FN 123], 7–8.
[5] US Embassy Kabul, ‘Kunduz Politics . . .’, [see FN 142]
[6] Commander Rauf of the Ibrahimi family of Hezbi Islami Tanzim integrated surrendered Taliban fighters into his force and occupied the old fortress of Kunduz, Bala Hisar. Mir Alam group called in US warplane and bombed the fortress. Rauf had to move from his position, which was immediately taken by Mir Alam’s men.  Interview with police officer and former fighter of Jamiat, Kunduz, December 2012; International Crisis Group, ‘Disarmament and Reintegration . . .’, [see FN 72], 10