You are here

The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN)

Subscribe to The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) feed The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN)
Independent non-profit research organisation
Updated: 4 months 3 days ago

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (7): Dithering over peace amid a lacklustre campaign

Mon, 16/09/2019 - 03:54

One ticket has fallen apart and one candidate has withdrawn his candidacy in favour of another. This has reduced the number of presidential candidates from 18 to 16 and left the two incumbents, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr Abdullah, as the main contenders in the race. In this piece, AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili and Thomas Ruttig discuss the campaigns that started, the threats to boycott the election, the security concerns and the presidential tickets that have fallen apart. They conclude that the campaign that started on 28 July and will continue until 48 hours before election day has, so far, been uninspiring and marred by disbelief that the election will take place on 28 September.

Lacklustre start and uninspiring continuation of election campaign

When the official race for the Afghan presidency started on 28 July, two months before the polls, only three out of 18 candidates officially organised public campaign events. These included the two incumbents and main contenders, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and also Enayatullah Hafiz, a fringe candidate. Ghani’s electoral ticket, Daulat-Saz (State-Builder), was the first one. It launched its election campaign at the Loya Jirga tent in northwest Kabul. The president said that he had managed to undercut the “domination of gold, force and oppression” in Afghanistan’s political system during his first term and asked people to grant him another mandate to implement “law and justice.” Ghani said that he would put into practice “Omarijustice,” a reference to the second caliph of Islam and a shot at claiming religious legitimacy for his presidency. Ghani followed this by travelling to a few provinces, for example to Paktia on 8 August (media report here), to Herat on 23 August (media report here) and to Kandahar on 14 September (see the video here). Even before the official campaign started, he had toured the country to inaugurate infrastructure projects, which his opponents condemned as unfair and illegal electioneering. Abdullah and his Stability and Integration team was second, launching the campaign in the large Uranus Wedding Palace on the main road to Kabul’s international airport. This gave him the chance to refer to and criticise Ghani’s speech. He said, “Today, someone has said that he would implement Omari justice. Listen very carefully. . . . If our people think that Omari justice was like what happened in the last five years [of the Ghani presidency], their faith would be harmed.” Abdullah –a partner in the post-2014 National Unity Government (NUG) with Ghani – accused the president of double standards in fighting corruption. He referred to the corruption charges against former minister of communication and information technology Abdul Razeq Wahidi who had been acquitted two days earlier(he was acquitted by the appeal court seven days earlier, on 21 July, though, media report here) while someone being investigated by the attorney general had, again two days earlier, been appointed as acting deputy minister of finance for revenue and customs, one of the key revenue-raising positions in government. He was referring to Walid Tamim who announced his ministerial appointment in a tweet on 26 July. All this while waiting to receive India’s agreement to go there as Afghan ambassador (see AAN’s reporting here). Abdullah called it “appointing the wolf as shepherd.” The third candidate, Hafiz, chose a different method to open his run for the presidency. With a group of aides and supporters, he went to three areas in western Kabul predominantly inhabited by his Hazara ethnic community and cleaned roads there (see media report here). No other campaigns started on 28 July. Instead, as discussed below, the 13-member Council of Presidential Candidates decided to delay their campaigns and even warned they would boycott the election. Although some candidates finally began their campaigns, the campaigns have remained insipid and affected by insecurity and the uncertainties around the now stalled peace negotiations.

Boycott threats

On the same day the campaigns started, 28 July, the Council of Presidential Candidates issued a statement warning they might boycott the election, as they consider the poll “fraudulent, pre-engineered and crisis-generating.” The council comprises 13 candidates and was formed in April 2019 (then by 11 of the 18 presidential aspirants) in response to the delay in the presidential elections and what they saw as the unconstitutional extension of Ghani’s presidential term (see AAN’s reporting here and here). Its members gave the president and his team one week to address a number of problems, such as the protection of “the independence of the independent electoral institutions,” including those “related to procurement and recruitment”; the interference of “high-ranking government officials . . . in favour of the ruling teams”; threats against government employees who do not support the teams of the NUG leaders and “deliberate insecuritisation of areas where rival candidates to the ruling team are assumed to [receive] more votes.” If that did not happen, the council’s members would instead “focus on the struggle to make the peace process successful and build national consensus for developing an accountable administration so that such an impartial and national administration undertake the responsibility for holding a free and fair and credible election.” (1) On 1 August, the Council of Presidential Candidates met the Election Support Group, which comprises key donors (the European Union; Australia; Sweden, on behalf of the Nordic Plus group; Germany; Japan; the United Kingdom and the United States), NATO and UNAMA, to communicate their above-mentioned statement issued on the first day of the election campaign. (2) Ahmad Wali Massud, one of the candidates and a member of the council who shared the news of the meeting on his Facebook page, wrote that the council was determined to use all available resources for making the election transparent before launching their campaign, which fell short of a boycott declaration.

Facing a possible boycott by at least half the candidates, Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi, an IEC spokesman, told Hasht-e Sobh on 5 August that the IEC was prepared to hold the election even if it were between two candidates only. It did not come to a boycott. One by one, candidates began to launch their campaigns. Below is a timeline of the first campaign events of some of them:

  • Leader of Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is experiencing his first presidential election in post-Taleban Afghanistan after his deal with the government in 2016, launched his campaign on 1 August.
  • Former NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil launched his campaign at the Loya Jirga Tent on 3 August, 7 days after the official commencement of the race.
  • Sayyed Nurullah Jalili launched his campaign at the Loya Jirga Tent on 4 August
  • Massud –not seen as one of the election favourites – (video here) launched his campaign, also at the Loya Jirga Tent, on 9 August, 13 days after the race had officially started. At that point, Massud’s ticket could have been ranked third among in terms of including powerful leaders of Jamiat-e Islami party, after Abdullah’s Stability and Integration team and that of former NSC Hanif Atmar (which included former interior minister Yunos Qanuni, another leading Jamiati, as a vice-presidential candidate). However, after the Atmar ticket collapsed (more on that below) and Amrullah Saleh (who originally belonged to the same political camp) joined Ghani, a number of Jamiat heavyweights (such as Qanuni, former Balkh governor Atta Muhammad Nur, Herat strongman and former minister of water and energy Ismail Khan, and former defence minister Besmellah Muhammadi – who had been with Atmar) have been weighing whether to back Massud or Abdullah. The latter is still seen by many in the party as having squandered the political chances linked to his powerful position in the NUG and has drawn harsh criticism for it, for example by Ismail Khan, who had urged him not to run again. However, he might appear to be the more likely choice, given Massud’s low-key performance.
  • Shahab Hakimi also launched his campaign on 9 August. Instead of talking about the election, he said that “There is no peace nor the possibility for holding a general election. Inshallah, interim government is coming. This administration [NUG] cannot hold general, fair and acceptable elections.”
  • Latif Pedram launched his first campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel on 15 August in which he promised to create a “Federal Islamic Republic of Afghanistan-Khorasan” if he won the election.

The election team security factor

Hours after the inaugural ceremony of Ghani’s election campaign ended, the office of his first running-mate, Amrullah Saleh’s Green Trend movement (AAN background here) in Shahid Square north of Kabul’s city centre and near the airport, came under a complex attack. The attack included a car bombing followed by a gunfight involving at least four attackers. The attack left 20 dead, including 16 civilians, and as many as 50 wounded (media report here). No group, including the Taleban and the local Islamic State franchise, claimed this attack. It was widely condemned by officials and presidential candidates such as the president, the chief executive, Atmar and Nabil (see media report here) and UNAMA. The latter’s statement underlined, “Candidates are civilians. Violence has no place in Afghanistan’s presidential campaign.” However, it had a demoralising effect for the election campaign which had just kicked off. An attack by unknown gunmen on a Ghani campaign office in Mazar-e Sharif was also reported on 1 September 2019. It resulted in a 15-minute firefight, but no one was injured.

Ten days into the campaign period, on 6 August, the Taleban, writing in English, warned voters to “stay away from gatherings and rallies that could become potential targets,” saying that it instructed “all its Mujahideen to stand against this theatrical and sham of a process” and “prevent the enemy from succeeding in their malicious plans.” They also challenged the election’s legitimacy by saying voting would take place only in selected cities and even there most of the inhabitants would not be participating. They added that while negotiations were underway “to bring an end to the occupation and arrangements for intra-Afghan understanding are being put into place,” the elections would only serve to satisfy “the ego of a limited number of sham politicians, resulting in the waste of time, money and resources.” In reaction, on the same day the palace condemned “the Taleban’s threat against the people.”It argued it was the people’s legal right, including under Sharia, to elect their leaders (using the religious term “auli-l-amr) “through direct vote.” It said that the government had made “all the necessary preparations” to guarantee this through “free, transparent and general elections.” It also said that the country’s security forces were “instructed” and “fully prepared” and would not allow anyone “to stop their participation in determining their destiny.” Meanwhile, the commander of the US and Resolute Support forces in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, also assured his Afghan counterparts of their “full support and readiness to work with Afghan security forces in all areas, especially in suppressing insurgents.”

On the first day of campaigning, Nabil’s team had already claimed that most of the “enemy’s threats” were against it and complained that its “security package” had not “yet been implemented” by the government. Nabil said it did not “pay much attention, and this deliberate negligence has caused serious problem for our public gatherings and provincial travels of the leadership members of our team.” He did not specify who were posing threats or their nature. (3) Later, on 10 September, a source from his election campaign who did not want to be named told AAN that threat reports came from the government,  and were mostly against Nabil himself and his first running-mate Murad Ali Murad.

The Council of Presidential Candidates also complained about insufficiency in the security measures on 24 August, saying “Security measures for the candidates are incomplete and worrisome, and the government has not provided services in accordance with professional standards. In the event of any unpleasant incident, officials at the top and Ghani should be held responsible.”

Meanwhile, after his 23 August campaign trip to Herat mentioned above, President Ghani suddenly stopped campaigning in the provinces. Instead, he started “virtual rallies” where he speaks to supporters in different provinces on the phone or through video conference. No reason was given for this measure. The New York Times Kabul-based correspondent Mujib Mashal wondered in a 30 August tweet whether this shift was reflecting “good use of technology” or a reaction to higher security threats. He said, “Politicians who at least during election times went to meet people in far away districts (away from their blast walls and armored vehicles) now talk to gatherings via Skype.” Afghan journalist Harun Najafizada, editor with Iran International, answered that question in another tweet on 2 September: “In Afghanistan security does not allow actual rallies [before] the Sept. 28th presidential polls.” The chief executive has had no provincial campaign trip yet.

It is worth mentioning that some of the election observer organisations (eg Afghan Amputee Bicyclists for Rehabilitation and Recreation (AABRAR), Afghanistan Civil Society Forum-Organization (ACSFO), Training Human Rights Association for Afghan Women (THRA)) conducted a pre-election assessment before the start of the election campaign. AAN was invited to attend the meetings. One official from the Ministry of Interior who did not want to be named told the assessment team that, even in Kabul, they had informed the candidates that the security forces could only secure campaign events held at the Loya Jirga Tent and a few other specific venues, which he refused to name.

Elections versus peace

Apart from technicalities and security threats, the campaign has been so slow for a much larger reason: it was simply not clear to the candidates and their political allies whether the election would go ahead. This uncertainty emanated from the – now defunct – negotiations between the US and the Taleban in Doha. The US made it clear that election might stand in the way of the larger aim, ending the war. For instance, on 24 August, US ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass, while visiting Mazar-e Sharif, said that while both elections and a peace accord were “important for the United States . . ., [p]eace is our highest priority because it is also the highest priority of the Afghan people. And every day, we have Afghans telling us that peace is their highest priority.”

Campaign posters on the airport road. Apart from incumbent President Ghani’s campaign, other candidates started their campaign reluctantly and put up their posters around Kabul city. Photo: Ali Yawar Adili, 14 September 2019

The widespread assumption was that these negotiations would culminate in a cancellation of the election in favour of an interim power-sharing arrangement. This was fuelled by media reporting of rumours, such as al-Jazeera reporting almost a month into the election campaign, on 24 August, that the US and the Taleban had agreed to an interim government that would be in charge for 14 months (media report here). While both US Special Representative Zalmai Khalilzad and the spokesman for the Taleban’s Qatar office, Suhail Shahin, rejected the reports on the very day in separate tweets (see here and here), it did not dilute the suspicion that both sides might be hiding something. As AAN has already reported, even Chief Executive Abdullah, who had consistently supported the holding of the election and accordingly started his electoral campaign, modified his position – and increased his options – saying that he was “fully ready to render sacrifices before and after election to reach a durable peace in the country.” According to this report this included “quit[ting] elections for the sake of peace.” While the election looks to be the only option for moving forward after President Trump declared peace negotiations as “dead,” there are no signs to indicate that the election campaigns have picked up enough steam.

Moreover, there is a trust deficit in the election itself, resulting from the deficient previous elections. Ghani himself has called the 2018 parliamentary elections “a catastrophe” (AAN reporting here), while the EU election observation mission called the 2014 presidential election, from which Ghani emerged as the president but in the unloved NUG, a “disaster.” The findings of a survey released by Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA) on 8 August showed that only 42.87 per cent of the respondents (5,200 from all 34 provinces) said they would participate in the upcoming election and  the remaining 57.13 per cent of them had no interest in voting in the upcoming election. The reasons included: electoral commissions have no freedom or the required capacity to hold the election; citizens’ votes were sacrificed for a political deal in the 2014 presidential election; and severe security threats and challenges.  AAN has repeatedly reported that necessary electoral reform has remained embryonic, making the coming election as problem-ridden as the previous ones, with electoral institutions widely considered non-credible and partial, while reports surrounding the preparations for biometric verification suggest the likelihood of renewed chaos. In addition, the election has a significant problem with inclusiveness: many voters, particularly in rural Taleban-controlled areas, are already deprived of their right to vote due to lack of security, with 2,005 out of 7,378 polling centres remaining closed.

Out of the race

1. Collapse of Atmar’s team

Even before the start of the official campaign season, the ticket of one of three election favourites collapsed. Atmar’s candidacy would have transformed the duel between the two NUG heads Ghani and Abdullah (which repeated the one between Ghani’s predecessor Hamed Karzai and Abdullah in 2009) into a three-horse race with an unpredictable outcome.

Atmar (a Pashtun from Laghman who served as national security adviser to President Ghani until 2018 and before as minister of rural rehabilitation and development, education and interior under Karzai) had formed one of the strongest and most diverse tickets. His first and second running-mates were respectively former vice-president Muhammad Yunus Qanuni, a Tajik from Panjshir and a senior Jamiat member, and Muhammad Mohaqeq, the second deputy to Chief Executive Abdullah and the leader of Hazara-dominated Hezb-e Wahdat-e Mardom-e Afghanistan. Atmar had also fielded a third, informal, running-mate, Alem Sa’i, an Uzbek and a former governor of Jawzjan, to tap into the Uzbek voter base usually dominated by Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is supporting Abdullah. Sa’i is a member of the anti-Dostum New Jombesh party founded in June 2017 (AAN background here). In addition to Qanuni, Atmar had cultivated other influential Jamiat stalwarts who, Qanuni said on 18 January 2019, included Atta Muhammad Nur and Ismail Khan. (4) Qanuni particularly underscored Nur’s and Khan’s role in forming the ticket, without whom, he said, they would not have been successful (see AAN reporting here).

In the end, a row broke out in the Atmar ticket about Nur’s role and his claim to the future prime ministerial post. On 24 July, Nur told Tolonews in an interview that “I am the prime minister of this team.” Six days later, on 30 July, Radio Azadi reported, based on a source close to Atmar’s electoral ticket, that at the launch of the team’s election campaign Nur wanted to be introduced as the ticket’s candidate for this prospective position but that Atmar opposed it. The report said that Atmar wanted his plan to re-establish the prime minister’s post to be mentioned in his campaign charter but that it would be implemented only after being approved by a Loya Jirga after an election victory. Atmar had laid this approach out himself in an interview with Tolonews a few days earlier, on 20 July, in which he said:

The agreement of our team is that if we win, we will maintain the presidential system hundred per cent [but] under this system, for the betterment of governance affairs [and] considering the successful experience of His Majesty’s reign [referring to the same system in place under King Muhammad Zaher [1933–73], we will create the post of sadr-e azam [prime minister] by amending the constitution who will be appointed and dismissed by the president.

What really happened might have been a bit more complicated, at least according to Sayyed Muhammad Ali Jawid, the head of one faction of Harakat-e Islami party that was part of the Atmar team. In this position, he had some insight into the team’s internal dealings. In a Facebook post on 9 August, he alleged that Atmar had signed a secret agreement with Nur to create the post of prime minister and introduce him as his candidate to the post. According to Jawid, Atmar informed the leadership council about the agreement on 6 Asad (28 July), only after the disagreement between him and Nur became serious, and asked the council members to mediate. Jawid claimed that members of the team’s leadership council, including himself, tried to do so but to no avail. Jawid also said that Atmar had accepted to announce Nur’s prime-ministership but refused to yield to his demand that the prime minister also would pick his ministers after the election victory, which Atmar considered as rendering himself powerless as the prospective president. (5) Before, on 3 August, Jawid had announced his party’s separation from Atmar’s team, citing Atmar’s and Nur’s unrelenting stances regarding the prime-ministership issue, with the result that the credibility of this team in the public opinion had “decreased to zero.” 12 days later, on 15 August, Jawid announced that his party would support Ghani’s State-Builder team.

In any case, Atmar’s team declared its election campaign “halted and suspended” on 8 August. His statement gave three reasons, but did not mention the Atmar-Nur ruckus about the prime ministerial post and the imminent implosion of the team. It rather:

  • blamed the continuing “naked interferences by the Palace’s apparatus” in the election preparation and its own lack of “confidence in the transparency of the elections and guarantees for a free and fair setting” for it;
  • blamed the deteriorating security threats to the electoral teams and their campaign activities as well as the voters; and
  • said that it had prioritised “efforts at peace” over the election.

It also said that it would reserve all Atmar’s election ticket’s legal rights and would review its “role constantly and take necessary decisions in accordance with the future political situation and developments.” This hinted at a possible resumption of his campaign. This seems to be very unlikely, though, in particular as two weeks later, on 23 August, Atmar’s second running-mate, Mohaqeq, officially joined the Abdullah team (see the video here), though he still insisted there was no discord among the team members.

On 15 August, already, Ghani’s campaign manager, Muhammad Omar Daudzai, posted a photo of himself shaking hand with Sulaiman Kakar who had been Atmar’s deputy in the office of the National Security Council until September 2018 when he resigned ten days after his boss (media report here) saying that an “experienced and patriotic personality” joined Ghani’s State-Builder campaign. Kakar, he said, would work as the deputy campaign manager. Before, Kakar was crucial to Atmar’s team and had been described as the “executive arm” of his election team. This led to media reports (see one here) that Atmar would also join Ghani’s State-Builder team. However, five days after the suspension of his campaign, on 13 August, Atmar denied these reports. Atmar replied in his short media notice:

Since last night, reports indicating that the leader of the Peace and Moderation team Muhammad Hanif Atmar, senior members of the team and in general the Peace and Moderation team plan to join another electoral ticket have been published in the media and on social media. The news is absolutely inaccurate and untrue. The Peace and Moderation team pursues its goals and programmes with full strength.

However, AAN had heard that Ghani’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Moheb, had met Atmar to persuade him to join the president’s team and that Atmar had, instead, asked to be appointed as the chief negotiator in the possible upcoming intra-Afghan negotiations.

2. Withdrawal of Rasul

Meanwhile, Zalmai Rasul withdrew from the race and also announced his support for Ghani’s team in a ceremony held on 6 August in Kabul (media report here). Rasul, who served as foreign minister and national security advisor under Karzai, did not provide any specific reasons for his withdrawal. Rasul’s running-mates, Abdul Jabbar Taqwa (a Tajik from Farkhar district of Takhar) and Ghulam Ali Wahdat (a Hazara from Bamyan), did not follow his suit and, on the same day, announced their separation from him. Unlike in 2014, when Rasul was one of the most viable candidates and came third in the first round of the election (he supported Abdullah in the second round), this time around his team was not considered as among the frontrunners.

One IEC commissioner wrote in response to AAN’s written query on 4 September that no candidate had officially written to the IEC to withdraw from the race, the ballot papers had been printed and were now being dispatched to the provinces, and that all the (18) candidates who had been cleared to contest the election are on the ballot. According to the electoral law, candidates could withdraw until 25 April when the IEC published the final list of candidates. Should they want to withdraw from the contest after this date, their names will remain on the ballot, but any votes cast for them will not be counted and their deposits will not be returned (the money would go into state coffers).

With the collapse of Atmar’s team and withdrawal of Rasul, the number of candidates has decreased from 18 to 16, leaving the two incumbents, Ghani and Abdullah, as the main contenders in the race.

Some extra institutional arrangements

As Atmar’s ticket, with its busted plan to build up one of its key members as the prospective prime minister – a position not envisaged in the current constitution – Abdullah’s team also came up with some innovation. When he launched his election campaign on 28 July, Abdullah said (his video here) that his team’s leadership had decided that his ticket would include three, not two, deputies for the position of chief executive, the quasi-prime ministerial position invented under the NUG. He then introduced the Pashtun politician Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, a former finance minister and head of New National Front of Afghanistan coalition as chief executive candidate. He named a Hazara, Ghani Kazemi (the leader of one Hezb-e Harakat-e Islami faction) as his first deputy and Roz Muhammad Nur (a Turkman) as the second, while the third position would go to a – not yet announced – woman. (6) Abdullah’s move addressed what is seen as a necessity in Afghanistan’s highly factionalised and ethnicised political landscape: to have a representative of each major ethnic group on a ticket to appeal to voters of these particular groups. His ticket was still missing a Pashtun, while the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara slots were taken by himself, Enayatullah Babur Farahmand and Asadullah Sadati.

Ahadi’s acceptance of the position is remarkable insofar as he had broken away from a large political coalition, the Grand National Coalition of Afghanistan (see AAN’s reporting) in November 2018 in protest against exactly the same issue – the coalition’s plan to create the post of a prime minister.

Abdullah has also promised to form another political body, called the Supreme Leadership Council, composed of leaders of major political parties. This has in particular been reflected in his agreement with Hezb-e Wahdat-e Mardom leader Mohaqeq. When he left Atmar’s team and joined Abdullah’s, he was promised the post of deputy to the leader of the council. This council is to advise the president “about fundamental issues in the country,” according to Muhammad Nateqi, Mohaqeq’s deputy in the party, who himself has been promised a post as a special representative of the president in the case Abdullah wins.

Nabil appointed a Turkman, Abdul Majid Sattari, as his third vice-presidential candidate on 28 July. (7) In this, he follows Ghani, Atmar (see AAN’s previous reporting here) and Abdullah who have now introduced informal third vice-presidential candidates, so far introduced as “special representatives” of the president. These additional posts are not covered by the current constitution. According to article 60, only two (first and second) vice-presidents are envisaged and must be declared by the presidential candidates when registering to run, not during the campaign.(8) Consequently, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) warned in its 30 July 2019 decision that none of the candidates and electoral tickets could use titles such as prime minister, third vice-president or vice-presidential candidate in their election campaign.

Campaign violations

Two days into the campaign, the ECC, in its 30 July decision quoted above, issued warnings for the first electoral violations, which occurred during Ghani’s and Abdullah’s campaign launches. The ECC cited the illegal use of government’s money and facilities, such as using the Loya Jirga tent (a government venue), government equipment and vehicles and the participation of high-ranking government staff in the gatherings. The ECC said that this had violated article 98 (paragraph 1, section 31) of the electoral law, article 5 (paragraph 5), article 6 (paragraph 2) and article 7 (paragraph 1, sections 4 and 7) of the amended regulation regarding the 2019 election campaign as well as article 6 (paragraph 4) of the regulation for management of financial affairs of the election campaign of candidates. It said that the ECC members unanimously decided to issue serious warnings to both Ghani’s “State-Builder” and Abdullah’s “Stability and Integration” teams in accordance with article 30 of the electoral law (paragraph 1, section 3)and urged them to observe the procedures of the electoral commissions and other electoral regulations.

A day after the official commencement of the election campaign, on 29 July, Atmar’s team issued a “statement about illegal appointments by Dr Ashraf Ghani.” The statement said, “Former president and 2019 presidential candidate, Dr Muhammad Ashraf Ghani, in continuation of [his] illegal actions, has appointed a number of people to the important government positions . . . as heads of customs (from Herat to Nangrahar and from Kandahar to Farah) on the first day of the start of the election campaign.” It said that all these appointments had “political, electoral and campaign dimension and are in direct conflict with the electoral law, the principle of rule of law, political morality and sound competition which in turn can deal a heavy blow to the credibility of the government and irreparable harms to the election.” (9)The appointments came despite the Independent Directorate of Local Governance’s announcement on 21 July that it had halted all “new appointments and recruitments related to the agency until the end of the election” (AAN’s reporting here). Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqi, however, insisted on 30 July that all the appointments, firings and hirings that had taken place within the government institutions were “needs-based” and covered by law.

On 9 September, the Kabul provincial ECC announced that foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani had been charged with a cash fine of 15,000 afghanis (almost 200 US dollars) for participating in Abdullah’s campaign events. It also fined two presidential advisers, Abdul Rahim Azizi and Shah Hussain Murtazawi, and the chancellor of Kabul University, Hamidullah Faruqi, with a fine of the same amount for campaigning in favour of Ghani’s team. Murtazawi was also penalised with a ban from voting. Kabul-based Pajhwok News Agency also compiled a long list of examples of the use of “foul” and “aggressive” language, which is against the electoral law.


The campaign for Afghanistan’s 28 September 2019 election has been lacklustre because of the uncertainty resulting from the – now collapsed – US-Taleban talks and US pressure to further delay the poll to not stand in the way of an agreement on troop withdrawal and intra-Afghan negotiations envisaged for after the conclusion of the deal. This and the precarious security situation even forced the incumbent – the only candidate fully committed to the election – to suspend his campaign travels outside Kabul (which he resumed only on 14 September).

AAN’s count of the IEC’s official figures from the 2018 parliamentary election shows less than 3.5 million (3,467,541, to be exact) valid votes (in private meetings, election observers have been saying that the number was even much lower). With this uninspiring campaign, AAN has heard concerns that the turnout might be much lower, especially given that there is no local election to help get the voters to polls. It is feared that the election might fail to deliver a legitimate mandate to the next president.

Even so, the little campaigning so far has been marred by accusations of irregularity and manipulation which reflect the mistrust in the unreformed electoral institutions seen by his opponents to work in the incumbent’s favour.

With the disintegration of the Atmar ticket, the election is expected to become a two-horse race between the incumbent, Ashraf Ghani, and his estranged NUG ‘partner,’ Abdullah Abdullah. Together with the lack of electoral reform promised after the 2014 ‘disaster’ – an election without an official result and a compromise unloved by the two ‘partners’ who largely cancelled out each other – this constellation might increase the danger that the post-2014 election chaos might repeat itself. Under these circumstances, any result could easily be challenged – again.


Edited by Thomas Ruttig and Sari Kouvo


(1) Presidential hopeful Muhammad Shahab Hakimi, a member of the council, told a local newspaper, daily Hasht-e Sobh on 30 July that eight candidates had so far agreed to boycott the 28 September elections and that consultation in this regard continued. He did not provide the names of those planning to boycott.

The council’s statement listed the following as “plausible reasons of the Council of Candidates to boycott the presidential election”:

First: our recommendation for establishing a committee comprising representatives of presidential candidates, political parties and representatives of civil society organisations related to the election to assist and support holding a free and fair election to protect the independence of the independent electoral institutions and forge national and international cooperation to hold a free, transparent, fair and credible election in accordance with the law has been ignored.

Second: the organisational changes in the government not only were not cancelled but also two new ministries named State Ministry for Peace Affairs and State Ministry for Human Rights Affairs have newly been established. These have fully political dimensions and are against the basic state structure.

Third: the appointments and dismissals of senior government officials and employees which have taken place since the leaders of the National Unity Government registered as presidential candidates have not been reversed.

Fourth: the real independence of the IEC and ECC in decision-making related to procurement and recruitment of provincial staff and secretariats has not been clearly and transparently ensured. Non-transparent appointments have not only not been cancelled but have also been maintained.

Fifth: high-ranking government officials in the centre and provinces directly interfere in the election affairs in favour of the ruling teams. New posts are created in districts for this purpose.

Sixth: the head of the National Unity Government and the ruling team in the centre and provinces have launched cosmetic and campaign activities by using government resources such as inaugurating projects and celebrating independence, which are considered fully political and campaign activities.

Seventh: the National Television of Afghanistan and other government media have been provided to the ruling candidates unfairly and against the legal documents.

Eight: abuse of the national budget, especially codes 91, 92, and 95 and operative money, for campaign activities of the leaders of the National Unity Government, especially of the president intensely continue.

Ninth: abuse of government projects by the head of the National Unity Government, especially by the first lady and her office which has in essence been created against the law continue.

Tenth: Abuse of the National Procurement Commission and signing contracts through single-source method, including the contracts signed by the Presidential Protection Unit not only have not been cancelled but have also continued.

Eleventh: the relevant government institutions have not provided the necessary and appropriate resources to meet the legal and legitimate needs of other candidates and their team members, including security facilities, in accordance with the law and their needs.

Twelfth: psychological and career threats against government employees who support non-ruling electoral teams have not been prevented.

Thirteenth: unfortunately, deliberate de-securitisation of areas where the candidates rival to the ruling team are assumed to have more votes continues.

Fourteenth: unfortunately, the IEC has not had the necessary coordination with electoral tickets about the purchase and maintenance of biometric devices, training of staff in how to use the devices, cleaning the fake tazkeras, cleaning the voter list, questionable mobile polling centres and existence of hundreds of polling centres in insecure areas and other important instances which has caused serious concern for the candidates.

Fifteenth: rejecting the recommendations by credible international organisations to improve the 2019 presidential election.

(2) The commencement of the election campaign received only a lukewarm welcome from the international community. The European Union Delegation in Afghanistan tweeted on 28 July, “Today starts the presidential election campaign.” It called on Afghans to “seize this historical opportunity [and] make candidates accountable of their vision of post-conflict” Afghanistan. It also called on “candidates to make this campaign a moment of transparency [and] integrity.” A day later, on 29 July, UNAMA issued a statement saying that “all candidates and supporters are expected to engage in a fair campaign as outlined” in the electoral law, IEC’s code of conduct for the candidates and other regulations enacted by the IEC. It also called on all the stakeholders to “work toward building trust and confidence in the election process.” UNAMA reiterated its “continued commitment and support for an Afghan‐led and Afghan‐owned election” and acknowledged “the efforts made by electoral management bodies, the government and other stakeholders to hold a timely, transparent and credible presidential election.”

(3) In its statement, Nabil’s “Security and Justice” election ticket accused the government of “double standards.” It accused“the government led by the Palace” of acting “in an extremely biased, narrow-minded and selfish way in the management of the election.” Later on the same day, Nabil repeated his accusations, saying a in tweet that they were worried about “the interference and engineering of the upcoming election by the ruling team and Ashraf Ghani.” However, he said that his team would not boycott the election “at this stage.”

(4) Others include Kalimullah Naqibi, deputy head of Jamiat; Abdul Satar Murad, head of the political committee of Jamiat and former minister of economy; Engineer Aref Sarwari, former head of NDS; Abdul Malek Hamwar, former minister of rural development and rehabilitation and Baz Muhammad Ahmadi, deputy minister of interior for counter-narcotics.

(5) Jawed also gave other reasons for the disintegration of Atmar’s team:

  • broken promises, including to pay those officials of the Ghani administration who had joined his team and were subsequently fired by Ghani who also cancelled their benefits;
  • Atmar inaccessibility: “I . . . tried for more than one month through different ways to meet Atmar but he did not take time to meet. So I said to myself: He ignores people while he has not even become the president yet; if he becomes the president, meeting him would be impossible”;
  • broken relations with two former mujahedin parties, the National Liberation Front of Afghanistan of late Professor Sebghatullah Mojaddedi and the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan led by Sayed Hamed Gailani;
  • Atmar forming a special circle of close aides, “mostly” Pashtuns, where all main decisions were taken and not sufficiently shared in the leadership council.

(6) Below are short bios of candidates for chief executive and its deputies under Abdullah’s ticket. We only provide biographical detail of politicians who newly appeared on the presidential tickets. For the originally 18 tickets and their members, refer to this AAN dispatch.

  • Ahadi, a Pashtun born in 1941 in Kabul, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economy and political science from the American University of Beirut, a master’s degree in financial and administrative affairs and a PhD in political sciences from Northwestern University, US. He served as the head of Afghanistan’s central bank from 2002 to 2004 and finance minister from 2004 to 2008 (see his bio on the Stability and Integrity website here). Ahadi backed Ghani in the 2014 presidential election, but in January 2016 established an opposition group called the New National Front of Afghanistan (see AAN’s reporting here).
  • Kazemi, born in Lashkargah of Helmand province on 26 April 1963, has served as a military commander of Hezb-e Harakat-e Islami-e Afghanistan in Helmand, head of the party’s provincial council in Helmand and member of the central council of the party, representative of Harakat to the Supreme Military Council of Islamic State of Afghanistan and United Front. With changes to the structural organisation of the party, he was elected as the head of the central council of the party on 15 Jawza 1388 (5 June 2009). After entry into force of the amended political party law in 2009, he registered Hezb-e Harakat-e Islami based on the new conditions enshrined in the law. Kazemi has also served as deputy secretary general (2004) and then secretary general (2005–2010) of the Afghan Red Crescent Society. He worked as presidential adviser on disaster management from 2012 to 2015 and as an adviser to the chief executive from 2016 onward (information is extracted from his bio shared by one of his campaigner with AAN).
  • Roz Muhammad Nur was born in 1339 (1960) in Mardian district of Jawzan province. He graduated from Balkh Agricultural High School in 1359 (1980) and holds a bachelor’s degree in economy from Turkey. He served as second secretary at the Afghan embassy in Turkey from 1373 to 1381 (1994-2002), governor of Jawzjan from 1381 to 1384 (2002-2005), and then as the councillor in Afghan embassy in Turkmenistan until 1388 (2009). Since 1389 (2010), he has been active in political activities and is now picked as the second deputy to the chief executive in Abdullah’s Stability and Integration team (information is taken from his short bio shared by one of Abdullah’s campaigner with AAN).

(7) Sattari, ethnically Turkman, was born in Qurghan district of Faryab province in 1977. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economy from Selcuk University, Konya, Turkey. He has worked with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (2002–2003), international military forces (NATO) (2011–2014), civilian trainer for officers of the Ministry of Interior (2015–2016) and Turkish consulate in Jawzjan (2016–2018) and as logistics officer and then acting head of RET International (2018–2019). He has now been nominated by Turktabaran (Uzbeks and Turkmans) as the third vice-presidential candidate on Nabil’s election ticket (the information is obtained from his biography which AAN received from one of Nabil’s campaigners on 4 August).

(8) Article 60 of the constitution says:
The President shall be the head of state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, executing his authorities in the executive, legislative and judiciary fields in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

  • The President shall have two Vice-Presidents, first and second.
  • The Presidential candidate shall declare to the nation names of both vice-presidential running mates.
  • In case of absence, resignation or death of the President, the first Vice-President shall act in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
  • In the absence of the first Vice-President, the second Vice-President shall act in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

(9) This statement apparently referred to a letter of appointment which was posted (see here) on social media on 29 July. The letter number 3710 was issued by the recruitment section of human resources of the Ministry of Finance and signed by the acting deputy minister for administration on 6 Asad 1398 (28 July) to the Customs Department of Herat Province. It approved the following appointments:

  • Muhammad Akbar, head of Kandahar customs, as head of Herat Customs (replacement)
  • Feruz Khan as head of Nangarhar customs
  • Zaherullah Jilani, son of Abdul Dayan, employee of general department of customs, as head of Kandahar customs
  • Ahmad Nawid as head of the general department of customs for operation
  • Sanaullah Ibrahimi, the technical head of the general department of customs, as head of Farah customs
  • Shams Alekozai, the head of the general department of customs, as airport customs officer.


Categories: Defence`s Feeds

Searching for the Afghan Snowfinch: Memories of a birdwatching journey fifty years ago

Fri, 13/09/2019 - 03:42

The bearded vulture, the rich diversity of wheatears and, above all, the Afghan snowfinch – found nowhere else in the world – are what drew a young ornithologist, Voislav Vasić, to travel from Yugoslavia to Afghanistan in the summer of 1972. In this guest dispatch, Vasić, now the retired head of the national Natural History Museum in Belgrade,* recalls his journeys in search of birds, by bus, truck, taxi, jeep, as well as on a bicycle, horse and camel through almost all parts of Afghanistan. He recalls the birds he saw, the actor-friend he made and the ornithological scandal he heard about.

Why Afghanistan?

Ever since AAN published a dispatch on the lizards of Afghanistan based on a collection of lizards I brought back from Afghanistan to Europe in 1972, I have felt the need to write about the main purpose of that journey – to discover more about the birds of Afghanistan. I also wanted to share some recollections about my journey, which was in itself highly unusual. The ‘hippy trail’ through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India was well-trodden by youngsters from western Europe in those years, but few from Tito’s Yugoslavia made that journey. Moreover, I was not a hippy. I was a naturalist driven to head east by a desire to see the particular and very special birds of Afghanistan. I knew there would be exciting birds, but in 1972, there was no pocket field guide with illustrations of the birds of Afghanistan or the region.

At the time, I was passionately interested in ‘zoogeography’, the branch of zoology that deals with the geographical distribution of animals. I had graduated in biology from the University of Belgrade in 1967 and was working at the Institute for Biological Research, Siniša Stanković. I thought that traveling from the Bosporus to the heart of Asia would give me a great opportunity to get to know and truly understand the wildlife of ‘real’ steppe and desert. Up until then, I had only encountered its miserable and modified fragments in the Balkan Peninsula. In addition, although I had climbed almost all the highest mountain peaks in Yugoslavia, my mountain climbing record was Triglav peak in Slovenia, barely 2,870 metres high. In Afghanistan, the Hindu Kush, which averages an altitude of 4,500 metres, was awaiting me.

My choice of destination was greatly influenced by the emergence of a remarkable book – a handbook on the birds of the Middle East, “Les Oiseaux du Proche et du Moyen Orient” by two famous French researchers, François Hüe and Robert Daniel Etchécopar, with incredibly good illustrations by Paul Barruel. It encompassed Afghanistan, but only to a certain extent. This book inspired me to see what more I could find in this, for bird-lovers, under-researched country. There was more, of course. My classical secondary education meant the idea of visiting cities founded by Alexander the Great, which still lay scattered like a strange constellation, and the prospect of being in the presence of the great Greco-Buddhist monuments only fed my curiosity to travel more. My decision to embark on this rather uncertain zoological exploration was buoyed up my having just finished my year-long national service in the Yugoslav People’s Army. I felt strong and confident.

Voislav’s visa, issued in Belgrade, 1972. Photo: Author

Three great expectations

Of my many ornithological ‘great expectations’, I will name just three – and how I came to see them all in Afghanistan. Third-ranking was my desire to observe spectacular birds of prey, above all, the Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), also known as the Lammergeier, which I had only seen once before in Macedonia, the most southerly of the six republics then making up Yugoslavia. Even 50 years ago, such large predators had already become rarities in most of Europe. In Afghanistan, on the contrary, I was to encounter a few more species of eagles and falcons that I had never seen before. Before setting out, I carefully wrote notes and glued thumbnail pictures of the raptors I hoped to see into one of my two field notebooks (the grey notebook).

Afghanistan was to be full of ornithological surprises and I was certainly not disappointed by the raptors. After the Egyptian Vulture, the Lammergeier was the most common type of vulture throughout Afghanistan, and was especially common in the central mountainous areas, where I saw it daily. It was somewhat less frequent in the lower parts in the districts of Qala-ye Naw and Bala Murghab of Badghis province. By any measure, the Lammergeier is a huge, amazing bird that feeds almost exclusively on the marrow bones of dead animals. It is attracted to carcasses that have been previously gnawed away at by jackals and feathered scavengers.

However, the most abundant vulture in Afghanistan was the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), which was found especially around villages and nomad camps, as it feeds on the worst kinds of waste. Once, in the Dara-ye Ajdahar, the Dragon Valley in Bamyan, two men suddenly appeared before me with rifles and one freshly-killed Egyptian Vulture. They offered it to me to buy. They mimed and gestured to say that it would taste great when cooked. I instantly recalled the street urchins in Kabul who had gathered around me as around any other stranger, mocking me with: “Mister Kachaloo, Mister Kachaloo!” (Mr Potato), for reasons I could never discern. Likewise, I believe these vulture murderers also thought strangers were completely ignorant and worthy of any sort of deceit. (1)

The vultures Voislav hoped to see in Afghanistan as seen in his Grey Notebook. Photo: Author

My second great desire was to get acquainted with as many as possible of the species of wheatears of the genus Oenanthe. Central Asia is the centre of diversity of these largely desert-steppe dwelling passerines (ie birds with claws adapted for perching)  with their characteristic white rumps. Every wheatear species looks similar to at least one other and it is especially difficult to identify females and youngsters in their transitional seasonal plumages. I was to encounter this problem throughout Afghanistan. I had to deal with an extraordinarily wealth of varieties of wheatear and cope with the serious problem of how to reliably identify them without a guidebook.

That is why as soon as I got to Kabul (overland from Herat), I went to the Kabul Zoo that then and now hosted a small zoological museum. It was founded by the German zoologist Jochen Niethammer, son of the even more famous Günther Niethammer, the curator-zoologist of the Berlin, Bonn and Vienna Natural History Museums. Niethammer Jr was in Kabul from 1964 to 1966 as part of collaborative programme between Bonn and Kabul Universities, where he studied mammals and birds. (2) At that time, the museum had a collection of birds whose specimens had been identified personally by Niethammer Jr.

When I got there, the zoo and museum were being run by two other German zoologists, Günther Nogge (assistant professor at the Kabul University and later long-time director of the Cologne Zoo, author of “Afghanistan, Zoologically Considered”) (3) and M Bokler (about whom I know nothing), to whom I had previously announced myself by a letter. They welcomed me in and allowed me to inspect the entire collection of birds in detail and to use the museum’s library.

A ticket to the Zoo. Photo: Author

For two weeks, I studied the stuffed birds of Afghanistan held by the museum and learned how to identify the living ones in the field. I recorded all of the information in the first of my two notebooks, the grey one, from which I was never parted. My companion for those weeks was an orphaned chimpanzee who, while I was studying birds, sat on my lap, embracing me tightly with her long arms. Thanks to that self-study at the Kabul zoo and the museum in July 1972, I was able to identify as many as eight different species of wheatear in the field. That might sound easy, but those eight species appeared to me in at least twenty different ‘morphs’, ie having different physical features, such as variations in colour and pattern of plumage, but belonging to the same species.

Voislav’s grey and red notebooks. Photo: Author

Finally, the third and most important reason for me visiting Afghanistan was my desire to see the Afghan snowfinch (Pyrgilauda theresae), a species endemic to Afghanistan. I should say here that birds fly long distances with ease so, compared to animals and plants, bird species whose overall distribution remains within the borders of one country, particularly one as small as Afghanistan, are rare. This is true unless the country is an island when the barrier of the ocean encourages distinctive evolution. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Afghan snowfinch is the only endemic Afghan bird. However, Afghanistan is a place where two biogeographical regions meet, regions known to biologists as the Palearctic, which stretches across all of Europe and Asia north of the foothills of the Himalayas, as well as North Africa and the northern and central parts of the Arabian Peninsula, and the Indomalaya, which extends across most of south and southeast Asia and into the southern parts of East Asia. It Is such places that biodiversity is born. (4)

About the Afghan snowfinch and a wicked historical, ornithological scandal

The Afghan snowfinch is a grey-brown passerine bird that lives in the mountains about 3,000 meters above sea level. Despite its standard English name, it is not a finch but a species that belongs to the sparrow family, the Passeridae. It is very similar to the White-winged snowfinch (Montifringilla nivalis), which lives in the summer snow zone of the high mountains of southern Europe (Pyrenees, Alps, Apennines, Balkan Mountains), as well as in Afghanistan.

Perhaps a better alternative name in English would be the Afghan ground-sparrow, since the most striking feature of this species is the way it nests in the burrows of rodents, most commonly, ground squirrels. As it makes its nest of hairs and feathers deep underground, at the end of the tunnel farthest from entrance, we can really consider it a subterranean sparrow.

For science, the Afghan snowfinch was a relatively late discovery. It was identified in 1937, on the Shibar Pass between Kabul and Bamyan, and described under the name Montifringilla theresae that same year by a British army colonel, Richard Meinertzhagen (1878–1967). Meinertzhagen was a controversial character, not only a miles gloriosus, a ‘boastful soldier’, a master of espionage and an adventurer, but also an ornithologist-researcher. Such combinations are not uncommon among ornithologists and other naturalists.

At the time, 47 years ago, Meinertzhagen was considered one of Britain’s greatest ornithologists, finding many new species and subspecies on expeditions across continents, around the world. However, he has since been exposed as a fraudster, a writer of fake diaries and reports, a forger of findings and a thief of bird skins from other people’s collections. One by one, all his scientific discoveries were discredited. The only one that has actually been authenticated is our Afghan endemic, the snowfinch, which he named ‘Teresa’s sparrow’.

But who was Theresa? She was also a zoologist (and according to some sources, also a member of Britain’s intelligence service during the Second World War). Theresa Rachel Clay (1911–1995) was Meinertzhagen’s cousin, thirty years his junior. She became his favourite and goddaughter at the age of fifteen, and after the mysterious death of his second wife, also his housekeeper, caretaker, associate, secretary, confidante and inseparable companion. Meinertzhagen dedicated many of his false ornithological discoveries to his cousin Theresa, including the only one that was genuine – the species known as Afghan snowfinch.

I had the opportunity to see the endemic ‘Theresa’s sparrow’ in several places along the massif of the Hindu Kush. On 8 August 1972, I also sighted it on the Siah Koh mountain in Herat province, on a 3,000 metre-high pass between Shahrak and Jam. This was then its most westerly-ever sighting. My happiness had no end and I boyishly believed that, with this discovery I had done a great thing for Afghanistan and ornithology. However, as will be seen below, I was mistaken. (5)

Minaret of Jam near where Voislav sighted the Afghan snowfinch in 1972, then the most westerly-ever sighting. Photo: Author

The red notebook

I recorded everything I observed about birds that summer into another notebook, my ‘red notebook’. This was my field diary. I then published my observations in French in an article for the international ornithological journal “Alauda” (Skylark). (6) The editor-in-chief at the time was a French ornithologist Jacques Vieillard. Like some other French and Germans of the time, Vieillard himself was also interested in the birds of Afghanistan. (7) Alas, like many ornithologists, he died of a disease while birdwatching – in his case, malaria caught in Brazil in 2010. Publishing in English scientific journals back then was not as compulsory as it is today. So, my choice to publish the article in French was not surprising at the time. (8) However, now I see that my paper “Observations Ornithologiques en Afghanistan” (Ornithological Observations in Afghanistan) and that exciting, then most-westerly record of the Afghan snowfinch is almost forgotten, and that today’s authors almost exclusively quote English sources.

Thanks to the Afghanistan Analysts Network, many memories from that journey to Afghanistan have returned to me. I took a peek at my notebooks and diaries for the first time in many years. I remembered the first bird that caught my eye. On my very first day in Afghanistan near the border with Iran in Herat province, I was fascinated by the common mynah (Acridotheres tristis). This lively, curious and noisy, colourful bird of the starling family is, as its name suggests, familiar to many, but I had never seen a living specimen before. Mynahs were originally Middle Eastern residents, but have invasively spread across the subtropical and tropical zones of the world.

I also remembered my then companion asking me what the common mynah’s Latin name, ‘Acridotheres tristis’, meant. I said it was actually a Greek-Latin name that translated as ‘Sad locust-hunter’. “Why did it hunt grasshoppers?” she asked. “It feeds on them,” I replied. “It eats them.” Ah,” she said, “Now I see. If it has to eat grasshoppers, I understand why it’s so sad.” During July and August of that year, I managed to travel to the most important (for me) parts of Afghanistan, observing and keeping notes on birds everywhere I went. I also collected some specimens of reptiles and amphibians to take back to a zoologist colleague in Belgrade. I took paths that none of the earlier naturalist explorers had travelled, not even my predecessor and unofficial role model, Knud Paludan of Denmark. (9) By all accounts, none of the ornithologists had traversed the vast Black Mountain (Siah Koh) in Herat province or visited the Hari Rud Valley, upstream of the village of Farsi, in the same province, or explored the surroundings of the minaret of Jam in neighbouring Ghor province. By bus, truck, taxi, jeep, as well as on bicycle, horse and camel, I travelled through almost all areas of Afghanistan except the Wakhan and Nuristan, which were prohibited zones at that time. At the Yugoslav Embassy in Kabul, I had been warned that almost all rural parts of Afghanistan were unsafe and it would be better to give up some of the remote stages of my planned itinerary. But at 27, not every warning can be taken seriously.

Some observations of daily life

While riding Afghanistan’s busy highways, but also the roads less travelled, I could not help noticing, as in neighbouring Iran, the striking presence of armed ‘askars’ (soldiers) both from army and the police. This fitted my general impression that the crown had difficulties managing the entire country. The soldiers had interesting hats with some sort of ears or horns on the side.

Everywhere outside the cities, I saw groups of turban-wearing civilian men, not only armed but also proudly decorated with bandoliers and cartridge belts. I liked the fact that, since the traditional costume does not have any strap over the shirt, revolvers and pistols were worn on a belt slung over the left shoulder. I was less comfortable with how they sometimes treated strangers and travellers. Typically, instead of a ‘hello’,  these men, with looks of hatred, bulging eyes and bared teeth, made two hand gestures: the first was a hand cutting the throat with the edge of the palm and the second was a sudden movement with the same hand extended upwards – meaning “There goes your head!” Later, I stopped paying attention.

In those seemingly still relatively-peaceful times in non-aligned Afghanistan, the influence of the great powers was visible to the naked eye. In Kabul and in the north of the country, along the border with the USSR, the streets were dominated by Soviet GAZ-24 Volga cars, while in the south, especially around the US hydropower plant construction site on the Helmand River, large General Motors vehicles prevailed.

A teacher acting as a taxi driver took me in his huge 1960’s Chevrolet from Lashkar Gah to Kajaki, where the Americans were then building the famous Kajaki Dam. The taxi driver asked me for 1,500 Afghanis (then the equivalent of 40 US dollars), a huge amount. The driver boasted that he was a serdar, meaning he was a tribal leader. As soon as we hit the road, he stopped by his house to bring three of his relatives with him, just in case. They all sat in the front seat, next to the driver. My companion and I were sitting in the back. Yet that trip, which started so strangely, also brought me, among other things, my first encounter with the most beautiful species of swallow – the wire-tailed swallow (Hirundo smithii) chasing insects above the waters of the Helmand River.

A straw hat for Afghanistan

Finally, I must mention my great driver-mechanic-interpreter Matin who, for three weeks drove the Toyota Land Cruiser I had rented from Hertz in Kabul. He found the things I did very strange and it was hard for him to grasp why I would expose myself to so much expense, effort and risk. Initially, he was suspicious of me, keeping a close eye on my every move. It happened once, somewhere in the middle of a mountain desert, that I sneaked cautiously, hidden behind rocks, actually towards some very timid lizard I had never managed to catch before. I was so focused on my potential prey that I was not even aware that the planned path of my attack was passing right next to Matin who was standing in the shade, resting against a boulder. Matin, however, followed my slow advance and wrongly concluded that I was preparing to strike him. Of course, he had not even noticed the lizard. I later learned that he was remembering our sharp debate that morning about the direction of that day’s journey and thought I wanted to settle accounts or just get rid of him without a witness.

Voislav’s “great driver-mechanic-interpreter Matin.” In 1971, Matin took part in John Frankenheimer’s The Horsemen, starring Omar Sharif (photo taken at the Noh Gumbad, Afghanistan’s oldest mosque, in Balkh). Photo: Author

When I estimated that the unfortunate lizard had moved far enough from his retreat among the rocks, I rushed at it with all my might. The stones at my feet shattered, and poor Matin thought his darkest fears had come true. Believing it was his doomsday, he screamed and started running away. I only became aware of all this when, after a goalkeeper’s dive, I found myself on the ground, covered in dust, but firmly holding the wriggling lizard in my hand.

Later, when I explained everything to the good-natured Matin, he felt bad. For a while, he was upset and refused to answer even basic questions. I then presented him with my straw hat which I knew he longed for. It was a perfect fit for him. In return, he gave me a shirt. It was too tight for me, but it had a secret pocket under a sleeve. What was it for? “For the hidden dagger (khanjar),” Matin answered.

It was unequivocally established and recorded (10) that for several years, Matin remembered the eccentric young man chasing and catching lizards, snakes, geckos and frogs, while only watching birds with binoculars. Matin, in his own words, was an actor. In 1971, he took part in John Frankenheimer’s The Horsemen, starring Omar Sharif, a movie based on the French novel, Les Cavaliers, by Joseph Kessel.

I am not sure, if, beyond one straw hat, I left any trace on Afghanistan. However, Afghanistan, for sure, left a very deep impression on me.

Edited by Jelena Bjelica and Kate Clark


*Voislav Vasić is a Serbian ornithologist and former head for over 20 years of the national Natural History Museum in Belgrade. He is an expert in biodiversity, editor and the author of the first book on biodiversity in Yugoslavia, published in 1995, as well as of The Red Data Book of Birds in Serbia in 2018. He is specialised in the biogeography, taxonomy and the faunistic study (distribution) of birds. He is also still teaching ornithology, ecology and zoology and writes television scripts, popular books and articles on natural history and the environment. He regularly publishes about his travels and adventures on a blog (in Serbian).

(1) Note from the editor: Such scams continue, as we reported in 2013 in the dispatch “The ‘Bagram Duck’: Migrant bird killed north of Kabul and offered as game

(2) That programme resulted in these publications. 1966: Der Zug von Kranichen (Gruidae) bei Kabul, Afghanistan. Vogelwarte 23: 308–309. 1967: Zwei Jahre Vogelbeobachtungen an stehenden Gewässern bei Kabul in Afghanistan. J. Orn. 108: 119-164. 1967: Störche in Afghanistan. Vogelwarte 24: 42–44. 1967: Neunachweise für Afghanistans Vogelwelt. J. Orn. 108: 76–80. 1967. Hochgebirgs-Vogelzug in Afghanistan. Zool. Beitr. 13: 501–507. (G. Niethammer & J. Niethammer) 1970: Die Flamingos am Ab-i-Istada in Afghanistan. Natur und Museum 100: 201–210. 1976: Die Vögel auf den Basaren von Kabul und Charikar. Afghanistan J. 3: 150–157. (G. Nogge & J. Niethammer).

(3) Afghanistan zoologisch betrachtet, Scientia Bonnensis, Bonn 2012. Revue internationale d’ornithologie.

Again a note from the editor:

We mentioned another article by Nogge, “Beobachtungen an den Flamingobrutplätzen Afghanistans”, (Observations at Afghanistan’s Flamingo Breeding Grounds), in this dispatch from 2010, “Afghanistan Bird Watch.

(4) For more on Afghanistan as a centre of plant diversity notes the editor, see our two dispatches “Plants of Afghanistan 1: Centre of Global Biodiversity and Plants of Afghanistan 2: the Koh-e Baba Foraging Top Ten”.

(5) Note from the editor: On Meinertzhagen’s frauds and his relation with Theresa Rachel Clay, read this fascinating story from the New Yorker, “Ruffled Feathers.”

(6) Revue internationale d’ornithologie.

(7) Données biogéographiques sur l’avifaune d’Asie occidentale, I. Afghanistan. Paris: Alauda 37: 273–300.

(8) Paris: 1974: Alauda 42: 259280.

(9) Knud Paludan: On the birds of Afghanistan. Zoological results, The 3rd Danish Expedition to Central Asia, 25. Videnskabelige Meddelelser fra Dansk Naturhistorisk Forening i København, bd. 122. København: C.A. Reitzel, 1959.

(10) In the book: Tout Sur l’Afghanistan by Anne Yelen. Guide reportage Nathan. Fernand Nathan, Paris: 1977.

Categories: Defence`s Feeds

Taleban attacks on Kunduz and Pul-e Khumri: Symbolic operations

Wed, 11/09/2019 - 04:04

In the last week Taleban have attacked and entered three provincial centres, Kunduz city, Pul-e Khumri in Baghlan and Farah city, before being pushed back. This dispatch focusses on the offensives against Pul-e Khumri and Kunduz, considering them in the context of the regional security of northeastern Afghanistan. It finds that key lessons from earlier attacks on Kunduz were not learned. The dispatch was largely written before President Trump decided to scrap the talks with the Taleban. AAN’s Obaid Ali and Thomas Ruttig had thought that, whether or not it was the Taleban’s intention, it seemed they were sending a strong signal that they would not stop fighting even after a deal with Washington. With talks now – according to President Trump – off the table and the future seeming even more uncertain, it seems that an assessment of how the Taleban have been able, yet again, to menace provincial capitals seems even more pertinent.

For the first time during the post-2001 conflict, the Taleban simultaneously attacked, entered and held positions in two provincial centres of Afghanistan, Kunduz, the capital of the eponymous province, and neighbouring Baghlan’s capital Pul-e Khumri. Both attacks were also the first large scale offensives against any provincial capital in 2019.

A few days later, the Taleban staged a third attack, on Farah city, in the west of the country, also not the first such occurrence there. There, the Taleban made a large-scale attack in 2018 (see AAN analysis here and here). The last fighting in Farah city was reported on 6 September 2019 near the provincial police headquarters, since when government forces managed to push the attackers back. On 7 September, however, the Taleban took most parts of the Anardara district centre of in the same province, including the governor’s compound and the police headquarters while the government forces held on to an army base. According to local sources, the Taleban attack on the base was ongoing.

The first of the provincial capital attacks was launched on 31 August in Kunduz, followed by Pul-e Khumri on 1 September. In Kunduz’s case, it was the third attack in a span of four years (read AAN’s previous analysis here, here and here). Both of the recent attacks occurred during the final stages of diplomatic wrangling to finalise a US-Taleban withdrawal agreement that had been negotiated since October 2018 (AAN analysis here) but seem to be off the table now, and, notably, during the presence of US chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad in the Afghan capital. In Pul-e Khumri, some fighting was still on-going on 4 September, while the Kunduz clashes continued only for a day. The Kunduz offensive, however, was followed by a suicide attack on a police station two days later (more about this below). In both provincial centres, as well as in Farah, fighting continued in the outskirts and then moved to the districts.

How the attack unfolded: Kunduz

In Kunduz, Taleban fighters entered the city from three different directions and began targeting security forces. They moved from positions to the immediate north (police district (PD) 2), northwest (PD 1) and west (PD 3) of the city where they have maintained a strong presence over at least four years. Those areas administratively are part of Kunduz city, but are rural in character. The Taleban enjoy backing from the mainly Pashtun population in those areas. Taleban attacks from the west usually receive reinforcements and logistic support from Chahrdara district of Kunduz, where they have strongholds.

The Taleban started their attack in PD 1, in the early morning of 31 August. Their large presence in Zakhel-e Khomdan and Alikhel villages, in the west of PD 1, had helped them swiftly overrun police checkpoints and enter close to the city’s main chowk (roundabout), which is the acknowledge symbol of controls the city, and areas around Kunduz’s main hospital. They reportedly took control of that hospital; the defence ministry in Kabul accused them of taking the patients “as hostages.”

Attacking from PD 2 to the north of the city, the Taleban targeted police checkpoints in the city’s ancient castle area, the Bala Hessar, one kilometre to the north of the provincial governor’s office. The Taleban also have a strong presence in the outskirts of this police district and were able to quickly gather forces from Qala-ye Kow and Hazrat Sultan, rural areas further to the northeast of Kunduz city that are largely under Taleban control.

The third prong of the attack was directed against the PD 3 compound, located one kilometre to the west of the provincial governor’s office, but this offensive failed. There, the Taleban fighters had come through the Bagh-e Sherkat and Old Zakhel areas, both part of the provincial centre and located three to five kilometres away from the main chawk. These two areas have been largely controlled by the Taleban since 2015.

On the same day, 31 August, acting defence minister Asadullah Khaled, who had hurried to the city, said in an interview for Tolo News (video here) that security forces had carried out clearance operations and the Taleban had been pushed back from the city as well as from areas around it. However, Haji Zaher, a local resident from PD 2, said the Taleban had already left the area before the Afghan forces started their operations.

After the 31 August offensive on the city ended, the Taleban changed their attack plan. Instead of face-to-face fighting, they used suicide attackers to target security officials and installations in the city. In the evening of 31 August, when the security forces had almost fully cleared the city of Taleban fighters, a suicide attacker targeted Manzur Stanakzai, the provincial police chief, when he was briefing the media. As a result, at least three members of the police media section, including Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, the police chief’s spokesman, were killed, along with six other civilians. The police chief and dozen others, police and civilians, were wounded. On 1 September, another suicide attacker targeted a police check-post in the north of the city, killing six police and wounded a dozen others (media report here).

Initially, the Afghan security forces failed to prevent the Taleban from entering the city. Local journalists and civil society activists told AAN that the Taleban managed to take control of some parts of the provincial centre for at least several hours. There were, however, no reports of house searches to capture government officials or of Taleban edicts ordering people to attend mosque prayers and to avoid working in the government offices as they did in 2015 when they ruled the provincial centre for two weeks. Zabihullah Majedi, a local journalist and civil society activist in Kunduz, told AAN that by mid-day the Taleban had taken control of some parts of the city in the west and northeast, where the provincial departments of anti-narcotics and mines and petroleum are located. He confirmed that they were pushed back after several hours only.  Speaking to AAN, Haji Abdul Aziz, a school teacher in Kunduz city, said the situation quickly turned unusual; the city was empty with the only noises heard shooting on the ground and helicopters in the air.

AAN contacts in Kunduz, including journalists, stated that the Taleban continue to surround the city and remain a serious threat to its security. There were reports of continued skirmishes in the rural outskirts of all four Kunduz police districts between 3 and 8 September, of anti-Taleban airstrikes and of further fighting on 10 September to the east of the city, halfway to neighbouring Khanabad district. On 5 September, fighting in PD3 lasted several hours.

Starting on that day, fighting also moved to the province’s districts. There was heavy fighting reported near the district centre of Khanabad, some 20 kilometres east of Kunduz city, temporarily closing the roads to the northern Kunduz district of Imam Saheb and to neighbouring Takhar province. Next day, on 6 September, the centre of this district fell to the Taleban after government forces had to abandon it due to a lack of supplies, while on 8 September, the district centres of Qala-ye Zal and of Dasht-e Archi also fell to them. Government troop reinforcements took both back the following day but fighting in both areas continued. Imam Saheb’s district centre was attacked by the Taleban on 9 September.

AAN’s contacts also said that the Taleban continue, after the offensive, to set up frequent mobile check points on various parts of the highways that connect Kunduz to Takhar province to the east and Baghlan province to the south, searching vehicles for government officials. This happened as close as four kilometres to the east of Kunduz city’s main chawk, on the Kunduz-Takhar highway, and to the south of the city, in Angur Bagh village, about six kilometres away on the way to Baghlan.

Landscape at the Kunduz-Qala-ye Zal road with grazing flocks.

How the attack unfolded: Pul-e Khumri

A day after the Kunduz attack, in the early hours of 1 September, the Taleban followed up with an attack on Pul-e Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province and one of Afghanistan’s major industrial hubs. The city is located on the main highway between Kunduz and Kabul, at a point where the strategic route leading north from Kabul over the Salang Pass forks into two major roads, one leading northeast to Kunduz and the other leading northwest to Mazar-e Sharif. Fighting, including in residential areas, lasted several hours and then continued to flare up over the following days.

Taleban fighters attacked security posts in two areas, Band-e Du, in the west of the city, and Diwar-e Madan in the southwest. Jawed Besharat, the spokesman for Baghlan police chief, said the Taleban attacks were repelled and the Taleban had suffered serious casualties (read media report here). Afghan media quoted an interior ministry official admitting that “security forces have surrendered the area [singular in the original].” According to Safdar Mohsini, head of Baghlan’s provincial council, “the whole city [was] closed” by the fighting. An Afghan media report said that armed residents had supported government forces against the attackers. According to AAN sources, the armed residents were members of several different local popular uprising groups led largely by Jamiat-e Islami affiliated-commanders.

Local journalists in Pul-e Khumri said it took almost two days to repel the Taleban from the city. Fighting to the north went on even longer, till 5 September, when several Afghan Air Force raids pushed the Taleban out of positions there. There was still sporadic fighting reported on 10 September.

Speaking to AAN, Rahmatullah Hamnawa, a local journalist in Baghlan province, stated that during two days of fighting, ten people, including three policemen, were killed and 35 civilians and security forces wounded. On 4 September, another Afghan journalist reported that, similar to Kunduz, the city was “still surrounded” by the Taleban. Also, traffic north to Kunduz was partly interrupted by Taleban check-posts in Baghlan-e Jadid district, at least for government reinforcements. The insurgents reportedly allowed civilians to pass. On 8 September, the Taleban claimed the capture of Baghlan’s Guzargah-e Nur district, on the border with Badakhshan; there was no independent confirmation of this report, and claims it had been recaptured by government forces.

Kunduz river, south of Pul-e Khumri.

Regional context

Both offensives followed Taleban attacks and Afghan security forces conducting what are called ‘clearance operations’ and dubbed “Operation Pamir 207”  in neighbouring Takhar and Badakhshan provinces (see interior minister Andarabi speaking about this here). The government forces’ operations had commenced in mid-June and are still on-going, also as a result of Taleban attacks on several districts centres. In Takhar, government forces concentrated their efforts on areas around the provincial capital Taloqan and the district centre of Baharak over several weeks. As a result, the Taleban were pushed back in both areas but remain a threat to Baharak’s centre (read media report here).

Only on 30 August, the Friday prior to the Kunduz and Pul-e Khumri attacks, Taleban fighters took over Chahab district centre in Takhar for a few hours, before they were pushed out again by government forces – but not before they set fire to the district compound. Fighting continued in the area, and another airstrike was reported on 4 September. There was also fighting in Baharak and Darqad districts on the same day and in Yangi Qala district on 3 September. Earlier, on 10 August, an airstrike was reported from Eshkamesh district, allegedly killing 15 Taleban, continued by more fighting that forced 400 families to flee the area. UNOCHA spoke of over 4,000 newly-displaced persons from this area in the last week of August alone.

In early September, Taleban forces attacked the districts centres of Khwaja Ghar and Yangi Qala, according to government sources. Khwaja Ghar was apparently partly captured during the third attack on 9 September. Government sources denied that the Taleban had taken the entire town while they said they were sending additional forces and that the situation would “soon be back to normal.” Yangi Qala was reported as taken by the Taleban on 10 September.

In most parts of Takhar province, the Taleban have expanded their presence over the past few years and, in 2019, carried out several offensives against security forces to further expand their territorial control towards the provincial centre, Taloqan. In June 2019, reports emerged in the media that the Taleban were active in Qulbarz, 12 kilometres north of the provincial centre of Takhar. In the same month, the Taleban targeted the district centre of Baharak, 15 kilometres to the north of Taloqan, but failed to overrun the district centre. On 28 August, a suicide bomber was reportedly caught before he could blow up the district compound of Rustaq.

In neighbouring Badakhshan, Operation Pamir 207 aimed at recapturing the Taleban-held districts of Warduj and Yamgan before the arrival of winter. The two centres were taken in the first week of September but, according to analysts, not without a preceding “massive US bombing campaign“ that forced parts of the local population to flee (see here and here). Both districts had been in Taleban hands for the past four years; they were captured on 1 October 2015 and 18 November 2015. In mid-July 2019, the Taleban captured a lapis lazuli mine in Keran wa Munjan district, and then the district centre. Keran wa Munjan was also targeted by airstrikes in late August. (More AAN background on the Badakhshan Taleban here, here, here and here.)

Leading up to the Taleban attack in Kunduz, Afghan and US forces killed a number of Taleban commanders in drone attacks and night raids. (1) These operations scattered the Taleban in the province, as they forced key commanders to change their locations several times per night in order to avoid becoming targets. The government believed these security measures sufficiently reduced the Taleban’s ability to gather forces and carry out large-scale operations, at least temporarily. It is possible that this contributed to the Afghan government forces feeling too secure, and therefore underestimating the Taleban ability to regroup and strike against the provincial capital.

Casualties and disruption of people’s lives

The Taleban attack on Kunduz caused serious casualties to members fighting on both sides, as well as to civilians. According to the Ministry of Interior, 20 security service members and five civilians were killed and 80 others wounded on the first day of the fighting (see media report here). Local journalists in Kunduz told AAN that 30 security forces and six civilians were killed and 90 others wounded during the fighting in the city.

Local sources confirmed that most casualties were the result of the two suicide attacks reported above. For the Taleban, local journalists in Kunduz said most casualties were caused by Afghan and US forces airstrikes that, in order to minimise civilian casualties, targeted only those Taleban fighters who were clearly visible in the streets. For example, a school teacher from PD3, told AAN that an airstrike targeted a group of Taleban in his area killed 14 fighters and a civilian on the first day of their attack. A local journalist said that, altogether, 40 Taleban fighters were killed and 30 others were wounded.

During the fighting, Taleban social media activists circulated video footage of a group of Highway Police that had surrendered to the Taleban in the north of Kunduz city, in an attempt to psychologically affect the security forces and locals’ morale. But in fact, apart from one security checkpoint, the rest of the forces in Kunduz successfully repelled the Taleban attacks.

Local sources in both provinces told AAN that the Taleban attacks had severely disrupted people’s lives. In Kunduz, shops, schools and government offices were shut. There was neither electricity, nor water and mobile networks were down for two days. Speaking to AAN, a local journalist from Kunduz said he had faced serious difficulties reporting about the situation because telecommunication networks were disconnected and the internet was down. Another journalist said that many people had fled because of their fear that the city could fall to the Taleban once again, as in 2015 and almost again in 2016 (read AAN’s previous reports here and here).

Hamnawa, a journalist from Baghlan, described a similar situation in Pul-e Khumri. He said the Kabul-Baghlan highway was blocked, schools and shops shut, electricity and water cut off and the prices of food items had shot up sharply. Ajmal Popal, a taxi driver in Pul-e Khumri, told AAN he had to pay 40 afghanis (USD 0.50) for a piece of bread that usually cost 10 afghanis (less than USD 0.10).

How were the attacks assessed?

The initial Taleban attack on Kunduz city continued for more than ten hours. Only Afghan special forces reinforcements, including NDS units, and possibly US special forces, tipped the balance. But Taleban groups were still holding out in parts of the north and south of the city for another half day.

Abdul Hadi Jamal, the spokesman for the Pamir Corp 217 based in Kunduz, insisted when speaking with AAN that the Taleban had failed to take over parts of the city for anything more than a brief moment. He said he considered it “more of a guerrilla attack than an attempt to take over the provincial centre.” The Minister of Interior said in the Tolonews interview already quoted above that the Taleban targeted Kunduz city to reduce the pressure on Taleban forces in neighbouring Takhar and Badakhshan.

The fact that the acting ministers for defence and interior, Asadullah Khaled and Masud Andarabi, and top US/NATO commander General Austin Miller visited the city on the first day while clashes were ongoing in other parts the city showed the enormous importance the government attached to repelling this attack and to demonstrating that all was well there. Their statement in a joint press interview with Tolo News, that security forces had been aware of the Taleban’s attack plan and security forces had been ready to defeat them, sounded hollow,  however, given the time taken to move in reinforcements and go on the counter-offensive.

The government official quoted above said the attack on Pul-e Khumri was not as heavy as the one on Kunduz. Initial casualty reports from the government side on 2 September – four civilians, two members of the security forces and 21 Taleban fighters killed, and 20 more civilians and two members of the security forces wounded– and an Afghan media report saying it was a group of only 30 to 40 Taleban who had launched the attack seemed to confirm this assessment. However, fighting there stretched over five days.

Whatever the size of this attack, it was special insofar as – in contrast to earlier attacks on Kunduz – the Taleban not only blocked the Kabul-Kunduz road in Baghlan province (usually this is done only their stronghold, Baghlan-e Jadid district), but also attacked its provincial centre.

Kunduz main road and chowk (in the background). Text photos: Thomas Ruttig (2007)


It is not clear whether the Taleban attacks on Kunduz and Pul-e Khumri (and later on Farah) were aimed at capturing the cities or rather were regular harassment attacks of the hit-and-withdraw type. The latter are often undertaken to keep defenders of government-controlled districts or provincial centres under pressure while avoiding the larger-scale concentration of forces necessary for a permanent occupation of an urban centre, that would likely provoke a powerful backlash, involving airstrikes and large-scale damage. This was seen, for example, in Ghazni in August 2018 (AAN analysis here and here). The attacks can also be read as a signal that the Taleban capabilities to launch effective attacks have not been diminished by airstrikes on their commanders and by government clearance operations.

Kunduz, a strategic province in the northeast, whose provincial capital also serves as the centre of this region of five provinces (together with Baghlan, Takhar, Badakhshan and Samangan), has also been the most insecure province in this region over the past five years. The Taleban took control of Kunduz city for two weeks in 2015, overran most of the city in 2016 (read AAN’s previous analysis here and here) and launched another, albeit weaker attack in 2017. However, this was not the beginning of the province’s troubles; security in the province began to erode around 2010 (see our 2015 dossier on this). In 2017, the US government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) categorised Kunduz as the Afghan province with the largest percentage of districts under Taleban control or influence (five of seven); by October 2018 – the last time such data was provided – all seven districts of Kunduz, including its provincial capital, were in that category (here,  p246).

Baghlan followed in this same pattern, with only some delay; it has been plagued by insecurity since at least since 2013 (see also here and here).

Looking at the recent Taleban attacks on Kunduz and Pul-e Khumri, it is become clear that both cities remain vulnerable and that the Taleban presence in their outskirts, just some kilometres away, both was underestimated by local officials – and this presence has not diminished after the recent counter-attacks. If minister Khaled’s claims that he had information about the pending attack was true, preventive measures had clearly not been taken quickly enough. Lessons from earlier attacks had still not been learned, including the lack of, or ignorance of, the Taleban presence around the city, as well as weaknesses in the security belt surrounding  the city with its  insufficient number of soldiers. The major issue, however, appears to be the lack of coordination – yet again – among local security forces, the national police and army, the public protection forces and the provincial National Directorate of Security. That lead to insufficient measures being taken that could have preempt edTaleban attacks in the first place.

The recent offensives indicate that Taleban forces are still well-placed in Kunduz province and continue to pose a serious threat to the local Afghan security forces. As the two surprise attacks showed, their abilities must not be underestimated.

Farah is following the negative security trend of Kunduz and Baghlan. Abdul Samad Salehi, a member of its provincial council, told the German Press Agency (dpa) on 5 September, that government forces only control security forces bases in three districts of the province outside its capital while there was no even a check post in seven others. In the January 2019 SIGAR report (with data from October 2018), only six of 11 districts in Farah were considered ‘contested’ – the middle one of five SIGAR categories – with the other five under government influence or control. Baghlan then had 13 out of 15 districts as ‘contested’, one under government influence and one with ‘high insurgency activity.’

The attacks were also perceived by most media as a show of strength during what was expected to be the final stage before a US-Taleban withdrawal agreement. They underlined the Taleban’s repeated statement that even the then about-to-be signed agreement with the US, which was reported to include a ceasefire with the western forces, would not have covered Afghan government security forces. Now that talks with the Taleban are off, there are fears about a possible intensification of violence and a continuing uneasiness about the lack of preparedness among Afghan government forces to protect the population.

Edited by Christian Bleuer and Kate Clark


(1) Reported examples were of Qari Wasem, in Khanabad district, in August 2019 (media report here); Qari Muhammad and Mullah Najibullah, in March 2019, and Mullah Abdullah, in November 2018 in Dasht-e Archi. On 3 September, government sources claimed that the Taleban’s general commander for the province, Qari Mansur, had been killed in an Afghan commando operation. However, we use these reports with caution, as there have been cases of misreporting (see for example this AAN analysis).

Categories: Defence`s Feeds

Trump Ends Talks with the Taleban: What happens next?

Sun, 08/09/2019 - 21:27

United States president Donald Trump has called off talks with the Taleban and cancelled signing of an agreement with them. The trigger, he said, was a suicide bomb which killed one US soldier and “11 other people” carried out “seemingly [to] strengthen their bargaining position.” However, voices against the ‘agreement in principle’ deal had already been mounting in Washington and Kabul, especially since the Afghan leadership was shown the text of the deal last week. Trump’s cancellation of the agreement has allowed the Taleban to promote themselves as peacemakers, and President Ghani to restate his vision of elections followed by ‘wise and precise’ peacemaking. Kate Clark (with input from the rest of the AAN team) has been looking at today’s events and their implications. She observes that, even though the prospective US-Taleban deal did not look very promising as a path to lasting peace in Afghanistan, the collapse of negotiations has left everyone wondering – what now?

After almost one year and nine rounds of negotiations between President Trump’s special envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taleban, with a deal talked about as ‘imminent’ for weeks, President Trump has now tweeted the cancellation of the deal:

Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday. They were coming to the United States tonight. Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to..

….an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations. What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they….

….only made it worse! If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway. How many more decades are they willing to fight?

As we recently reported, talks to finalise the last details of an agreement between the Taleban and the US had been ongoing since January. In the last few weeks, it had seemed the deal was almost in the bag: on 30 August, AAN quoted several news agencies saying the deal was at the stage of  language-checking, as well as Taleban spokesman Suhail Shahin saying, “We hope to have good news soon for our Muslim, independence seeking nation.” Then, on 2 September, Khalilzad told TOLOnews the two sides had reached an “agreement in principle,” although contingent still on Trump signing off on it.

Last minute twists and turns

Then, on Thursday (5 September), the US general in charge of international forces in Afghanistan, Scott Miller, flew to Doha with Khalilzad to talk to the Taleban negotiators and the following day, it was announced that a trip by President Ghani to the US for a meeting with Trump on Monday (9 September) had been cancelled, with no explanation given (see reporting here and here). Matters appeared to be coming to a head, but it was not clear which way they were going. What Trump’s tweet has now revealed is just how far along things were, at least from an American point of view. He divulged that a secret meeting had been planned for today (8 September) at the president’s retreat in Camp David between himself and “major Taleban leaders” and “separately” with Ashraf Ghani.

That the suicide bombing in Abdul Haq Square on Thursday (5 September) claimed by the Taleban (reported on here), the second in the capital in two days, was the proximate cause of the cancellation of the deal is seemingly matched by events: the sudden trip by Miller and Khalilzad to Qatar immediately afterwards, and the cancellation of the Afghan president’s trip to Washington. Taleban violence has indeed sharpened in the last week. In a forthcoming dispatch on the Taleban’s attacks on three provincial capitals last week, (Kunduz, Baghlan and Farah), a publication which has been delayed by today’s events, we wrote that whether or not it was intentional, the attacks were “a strong signal” sent by the Taleban “that they will not stop fighting even after the pending US-Taleban agreement.”

Yet, US and Afghan government forces have not let up or diminished the ferocity of their fight, either, especially air strikes and night raids. Both sides have fought and talked. Moreover, Afghan civilians and soldiers and, albeit in far fewer numbers, members of America’s armed forces, have all continued to be killed throughout the negotiations, including in egregious attacks. So, Thursday’s attack as the trigger for calling off the deal would have to have been either the straw that broke the camel’s back, or a result of President Trump suddenly noticing what was happening on the ground, or a pretext if he had got cold feet about the nature of the deal.

It seems probable that the last possibility is the correct one. Concerns and opposition to the deal in Washington have been mounting. Prominent among those voicing fears were nine former ambassadors (read the text of their letter here). They said they “strongly support[ed] a negotiated peace in Afghanistan,” but expressed doubts that the current deal would actually lead to peace. They pointed out that the Taleban had made “no clear statements about the conditions they would accept for a peaceful settlement with their fellow Afghans, nor do they have a track record of working with other political forces.” Following on from that, the ambassadors warned about the possibility of a situation far worse than the status quo, a return to civil war, as in 1992:

… [C]ould follow a breakdown in negotiations if we remove too much support from the Afghan state. If the State totters, those with nasty memories of life under the Taliban will fight on. That disaffected group would include Afghanistan’s minorities, which together comprise a majority of the Afghan population.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had also, Kim Dozier for Time reported, declined to sign the agreement because of concerns that it would amount to him effectively recognising the Taleban as a legitimate political entity, given that they were reportedly named the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ in the text.

A somewhat different version of why the deal was ditched has been reported in The New York Times by Mujib Mashal. Blaming Thursday’s suicide bombing was a pretext, he reported. “The main sticking point was the Taliban’s resistance to the American terms for how a peace deal should be finalized and announced.” Trumps’ plan, reported Mashal, according to Afghan, Western and Taleban officials “with knowledge of the peace talks,” had been to fly both Taleban and Afghan government teams to Camp David, have separate meetings with each team and then “have a grand announcement” of the deal by Trump. The Taleban had reportedly compared this proposal to “political suicide.”

The movement’s response to Trump’s tweets, more on which below (see AAN translation of their statement in Annex 2 of this dispatch) does say that after receiving the invitation to the US, they “had delayed the mentioned travel to the US till after the signature of the agreement in Doha.”

What was in the agreement?

What exactly Khalilzad and the Taleban had agreed between themselves is still not known because the text of the putative agreement is not public. However, Khalilzad had four topics for the talks, which he had said (earlier AAN analysis here) all had to be agreed for a deal to go ahead. However, as AAN reported in August, they were by then already watered down. They were:

  • withdrawal of US (and other foreign) troops;
  • anti-terrorism guarantees by the Taleban;
  • inclusion of the Afghan government in the negotiations; and
  • permanent, Afghanistan-wide ceasefire.

While topics one and two have apparently remained in the deal, although it is not entirely clear in what form, topics three and four were downgraded to a second set of negotiations which would be conducted, in Khalilzad’s words, “after we conclude our own agreements” and would involve “an inclusive and effective national negotiating team consisting of senior government officials, key political party representatives, civil society and women,” rather than specifically the Afghan government (tweets from Khalilzad on 28 July here and here).

According to Khalilzad speaking to TOLOnews on 2 September, the US would withdraw 5,000 troops from five bases in Afghanistan within 135 days if conditions in the agreement were addressed by the Taliban. That withdrawal, it seems was to be the start of a full, gradual of all US troops, although the exact details of what was agreed is still unclear. That two-stage timing was potentially very problematic, as the nine ambassadors’ letter concluded:

[A] major troop withdrawal must be contingent on a final peace. The initial US drawdown should not go so far or so fast that the Taliban believe that they can achieve military victory. In that case, they will not make compromises for peace with other Afghan political forces. 

Because Khalilzad has kept his cards close to his chest, it is not known what he said or promised to the various parties, the Taleban in Doha, President Trump and President Ghani, or whether he said the same things to everyone. It may be that when the text of the deal was available to all the principals, this is when it came unstuck. Various potential problems with the deal (from an American and Afghan government point of view) have been made public since it was shown to the Afghan leadership on 2 September (reported here and here).

They include, according to Time, quoting an Afghan official, that the agreement “doesn’t guarantee the continued presence of U.S. counterterrorism forces to battle al Qaeda, the survival of the pro-U.S. government in Kabul, or even an end to the fighting in Afghanistan.” The New York Times, also quoting a government official, reported that the agreement: “would not have assured national elections on Sept. 28, as Mr. Ghani has demanded. Rather than requiring a nationwide cease-fire, it calls for a reduction of violence in Kabul and Parwan.” The Taleban were also apparently reluctant to specifically name al-Qaeda in their guarantee that Afghan soil would not be used by foreign jihadist forces to launch attacks. They were also reportedly insistent that any agreement would name them the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’, which, for some looked to be a step too far in legitimising the movement.

If Khalilzad had conceded any of these points, possibly after failing to force enough concessions from the Taleban (as officials told The New York Times), that could have upset his boss. It certainly upset the presidential palace, as the anti-deal briefings to journalists show. Ashraf Ghani spoke out strongly against the agreement on Thursday after seeing the text and after the Abdul Haq Square bombing: “Seeking peace with this group who is still pursuing the killing of the innocent people,” he said in a statement “is meaningless.”

Responses to the ditching of the agreement

Trump’s cancellation has allowed the Taleban to present themselves as peace-makers. In a statement, they said they had been intent on a peace deal all along, and had been about to sign the agreement and were preparing for intra-Afghan talks on 23 September. Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement had shown the Americans to be untrustworthy and would only bring them more financial damage, more casualties and a ‘jihad’ until the invasion ends.

In the Palace, meanwhile, there must be a strong sense of relief that a deal which the president was so against has been scuppered by another party. (See the text of Ghani’s statement in Annex 1 of this dispatch). After reiterating his stance that Taleban violence is the main obstacle to peace, Ghani must feel he has regained the upper hand: the deal is off, all talk of an interim government will be off and elections can now go ahead untroubled by the peace process:

The government of Afghanistan reiterates its stance on holding the presidential elections on September 28 to make sure the establishment of a legitimate government through the ballot box and to move forward the ongoing peace process with full wisdom and precision.

Structural problems with the talks

Whatever the facts of who was responsible for the scrapping of the agreement and the end to the talks – although it is still not clear from all sides’ statements whether they are indeed completely over – it seems there were always structural problems with them. There are three direct parties to the Afghan conflict and three parties which have to make peace. Only two were involved in the talks. It has also seemed all along that negotiations were driven primarily by the US and its president’s desire to get troops out of Afghanistan ahead of US elections in 2020. Meanwhile, those in the ‘Islamic Republic of Afghanistan camp’ – the government, opposition figures, women’s activists and others – were marginalised from the start because of the US decision to accede to Taleban demands for a two-way-only negotiation.

Yet, it was also never really clear that the Taleban, especially those in the Quetta Shura and field commanders were ready to make the compromises needed for peace. Certainly, there have been none of the preparations with cadre on the ground that one would expect of an organisation negotiating an end to fighting. US interlocutors told AAN that the Taleban speaking in Doha appeared to see the current negotiations through the prism of the 1980s and believed the US, like the USSR before it, was toppling in the face of a concerted Afghan ‘jihad’. The possibility was always that getting a deal for the Taleban was a way of getting rid of their main adversary on the battlefield and that they believed they could then walk into Kabul as military victors. This may have remained their main aim all along, rather than negotiating peace with their fellow Afghans.

In the ‘Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’ (IRA) camp, meanwhile, many fears have been voiced, but there has been no real effort to rally behind a unified stance to try to give their side more clout. Apart from the president’s stage-managed peace jirga (analysis here), designed mainly to stop calls for an interim government, President Ghani’s main actions have been to push for elections. All this means that, although the Palace may be breathing a sigh of relief that the US-Taleban talks are over, there is little unity or consensus on the IRA side of what should happen next.

It was always difficult to see how the agreement, or what we have seen of it, would lead to peace, but what follows now is even less clear. It is not certain, for example, what Trump does next: double down on the war or order unilateral troop withdrawals. The Taleban still have the upper hand militarily but it is difficult to see anything certain arriving via the battlefield with the exception of more violence. Presidential elections should now go ahead. However, Khalilzad’s talk of an interim government has dented confidence that the poll would actually happen. The result is that most candidates have yet to really start campaigning. Whether it can even approach being a representative and fair election is questionable.

Most importantly, what looks to be the failure of these particular talks makes a negotiated end to the war, for now, less likely. Trust has been lost; finding a way for the parties of the conflict to talk to each other again has been made more difficult. No wonder many Afghans are confused about what they should think about the Trump tweets and the apparent end to the ‘peace deal’ – and fear that a further intensification of the violence will be the major result.

Edited by Jelena Bjelica


Annex 1: The Government Of Islamic Republic Of Afghanistan’s Statement Over The Peace Negotiations

8 September 2019

The people and the government of Afghanistan pursue a dignified and sustainable peace and are committed to putting any effort into ensuring peace in the country. However, the government considers the Taliban’s obstinacy to increase violence against Afghans as the main obstacle to the ongoing peace negotiations. We have consistently stressed that genuine peace is possible when the Taliban stop the killing of Afghans, embrace an inclusive ceasefire, and enter into direct negotiations with the Afghan government.

The government of Afghanistan as the main initiator, advocate and executor of the peace process, respects the decision emanated from the Consultative Loya Jirga on Peace and is responsible to follow its mandate with the Afghans playing the central role and the government owning and leading the process. 

The government of Afghanistan praises the earnest efforts of its allies and is committed to working together with the United States and other partners to ensure honorable and enduring peace in the country.

The government of Afghanistan reiterates its stance on holding the presidential elections on September 28 to make sure the establishment of a legitimate government through the ballot box and to move forward the ongoing peace process with full wisdom and precision.

Annex 2: The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Declaration about the Tweet of Donald Trump Regarding the Negotiations

8 September 2019

We had fruitful negotiations with the American negotiation team and the agreement was finalised. The American negotiation team was happy with the progresses made and we ended the talks in a good atmosphere. Both teams were busy with preparations for the announcement and signing of the agreement. We had selected 23 September as the first day for the intra-Afghan talks [to begin] after the agreement had been signed and announced.

The region and the countries of the world and international organisations have backed the process. Now, the announcement by the president of the United States, Donald Trump, of an end to negotiations with the Islamic Emirate will harm America more than anyone else; it will harm its credibility, and further expose its anti-peace stance to the world; it would [result in] an increase in financial damage and casualties to its forces; it would demonstrate its political interactions as untrustworthy.

Keeping going with the negotiations, the Islamic Emirate has proved to the world that the war was imposed by others on us, and if the way of understanding is chosen instead of war, we are committed to the end of this [the negotiations].

Reacting to just one attack, just before the signing of the agreement, shows neither patience nor experience. Despite that, a little time before the mentioned attack, the US and its domestic supporters [the Afghan government], martyred hundreds of Afghans and burnt their properties. Doctor Khalilzad, gave us the invitation of Donald Trump in late August. We had delayed the mentioned travel to the US till after the signature of the agreement in Doha.

The Islamic Emirate has had a constant policy and a consistent stance. We have voiced understanding 20 years ago, and we have the same stance today as well. We believe that the American side will turn back to this stance [of negotiations]. Our past eighteen-year long policy would have proved to America that, without a complete end to the invasion and so long as the Afghans are allowed to make their own decision, we will not be satisfied by any other thing. We will keep going with the jihad because of this big aim and believe in our final victory.


Categories: Defence`s Feeds

One Land, Two Rules (8): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected insurgent-controlled Zurmat district

Wed, 04/09/2019 - 03:43

The Taleban’s military dominance in Zurmat district of Paktia province has allowed them to assert their will over how government and NGO-provided public services are delivered. Their motivation varies from ideological control (education and media) to revenue generation (taxes on telecommunications and public infrastructure projects). In this district, the Taleban have expanded into tax collection to fund minor roads and irrigation canals in rural areas. Despite these Taleban advances into governance and public service delivery, they have left the hardest and most expensive work – health and medicine – to the Afghan government and NGOs. Here, AAN’s Obaid Ali, Sayed Asadullah Sadat and Christian Bleuer have conducted ten interviews with individuals and groups in Zurmat district to provide an up-to-date analysis of this specific form of Taleban governance (with input from Thomas Ruttig).

Previous publications in the series are: an introduction with literature review and methodology, “One Land, Two Rules (1): Service delivery in insurgent-affected areas, an introduction” by Jelena Bjelica and Kate Clark; four district case studies: on Obeh district of Herat province by Said Reza Kazemi; Dasht-e Archi district in Kunduz province by Obaid Ali; Achin district in Nangrahar province by Said Reza Kazemi and Rohullah Sorush and Nad Ali district by Ali Mohammad Sabawoon; Andar district in Ghazni province by Fazal Muzhary and; a case study on polio vaccinations by Jelena Bjelica; 

The context

Zurmat district is located to the southwest of the provincial capital Gardez and borders: Kharwar district of Logar to the north; Shwak district of Paktia to the south’ Mata Khan district of Paktika and Deh Yak district of Ghazni to the west; and Barmal and Sar Hawza districts of Paktika to the southwest. The district is ethnically dominated by Pashtuns from a variety of different tribes and sub-tribes, such as the Daulatzai, Suleimankhel, Salukhel, Mamozai, Ander, Uryakhel, Dzadran, Stanikzai and Mangal. They make up 90 per cent of the population, with the remaining ten per cent known as ‘Tajiks’, from the Marsangkhel and Khodayarkhel tribes. These are formerly Farsi-speaking Mohsenkhel Pashtuns who relocated from Ghor province some generations ago (for more background details read this and this AAN report). (1) Zurmat district , with its district centre, Tamir, has 164 villages, 55 of them large. According to Afghanistan’s Central Statistics Office, it has a population of 94,865, 51,000 male and 43,865 female.

The Taleban have a very strong presence in Zurmat, with the government only in control of the district centre and some areas close to it. The Afghan National Police (ANP) is largely based in the district centre while the Afghan National Army (ANA) has a main base there, too, as well as a presence in areas close to the district centre, such as Sahak, seven kilometres to the north; Mamozai, around five kilometres to the east and Sorkai, ten kilometres to the south of the district centre. TheCIA-led Khost Protection Force (KPF) and NDS-supported local Uprising Forces have posts along the Gardez-Tamir road (AAN reporting here). In 2018, the government disbanded the Afghan Local Police (ALP) unit in Zurmat after they committed abuses against local civilians. For defensive purposes, local government officials live close together in one particular area of town, called Khwajagan village, near the ANA base in Tamir (for a longer description, see AAN’s 2018 election dispatch from Zurmat). In mid-2018, the government also closed an ANA base in Kulalgo as part of its strategy to give up scattered bases and concentrate on securing district centres.

Background and History (1980 to 1990s)

Zurmat is one of the Taleban’s regional strongholds, as it was during the Emirate, described in a 2018 AAN dispatch, thus:

For historical reasons, Zurmat is sometimes called Little Kandahar, as a number of prominent Taleban leaders came from the area. For Greater Paktia – the three provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost – Zurmat was as important for the insurgents, as Kandahar was for southern Afghanistan. Two different networks of the Taleban are active in the area: the Haqqani network, led by Qari Shams, and the Mansur network, locally called the ‘Mansurian’ – led by Abdul Latif Mansur, a member of the Taleban leadership and relative of the network’s founder, the late Nasrullah Mansur.

Map: © Roger Helms for AAN

The local power structures in Zurmat are an exception to elsewhere in the province of Paktia. Conrad Schetter and Rainer Glassner (2) argued that:

In Paktia most of the tribes aim to stand apart from the conflict between the insurgents and the government and international troops. The tribes had successfully followed the same strategy during the Soviet occupation, whereby they allowed the insurgents and the government (as well as the international actors) to cross their tribal territories as long as no one challenged the tribal order. […]  In general, most tribal leaders just observe this ideological conflict and maintain their networks with influential actors on all sides. […] In other words, the tribal system in Paktia obstructs or at least constrains the emergence of warlordism as well as the influence of the state.

Schetter and Glassner, referring to the work of Sébastien Trives, then contrast the rest of the province to the district of Zurmat (3):

By contrast, in the southern district of Zurmat, where the tribal system with its myriads of tribes and clans is rather fragmented and tribal codes are weakened, the insurgents have gained more support than in those parts of the province, where tribal structures are more stable.

The Zurmat exception could be seen in the emergence of the powerful Mansur family network. Maulawi Nasrullah Mansur, an Andar Pashtun was born in a small village in Zurmat. He rose to prominence after he received a “religious education at Nur ul-Madaris, the madrasa founded by the Mojaddedi family, one of the best-known (and conservative) abodes of Muslim learning in Afghanistan.” (4) The Mansurs were elevated beyond their local power base in 1995 when they joined the Taleban. Their reward became evident in the number of high-ranking Taleban posts given to family members and others from Zurmat, most prominently Abdul Latif Mansur as Minister of Agriculture. He had followed in his brother’s position as the network’s leader after the latter’s assassination in 1993. In the post-2001 insurgency phase, he was reportedly appointed to the first post-Taleban regime Leadership Council in June 2003 and later,from early 2009 till mid-2010, was the head of the Taleban Political Committee, responsible also for peace talks. Subsequently, he was reported to be acting as the Taleban provincial governor for Paktia. It is also believed that he is a member of the Taleban Leadership Council (Rahbari Shura – more in this AAN paper). Currently, he serves as a member of the Taleban political office in Doha and is taking part in the ongoing Taleban-US talks there(5) Beyond the Mansur family, two other Zurmat locals have served at different times as Taleban ministers for Finance, Economy and Agriculture, and four more served in deputy minister posts. (6)

RFE/RL journalist and author Abubakar Siddique argues that the power of this family, and the way in which they have “enriched” themselves, has “undermined tribal solidarity.” (7) In terms of their relationship with the Taleban, the Mansurs and allied Zurmat locals have maintained their autonomy, run the district independent of the overall Taleban hierarchy and locally are rooted well enough to keep other Taleban branches among them the Haqqani network, out of ‘their’ area. (8) According to sources close to the Taleban, the group remains strong enough to maintain a large presence in northern parts of the district, such as Dawlatzai, Haibatkhel, Abikhel, Durunk and Muqarabkhel areas. The sources said that the head of the Taleban’s military committee for Paktia province and the shadow district governor post for Zurmat are in the hands of Mansur family members. The Mansur and Haqqani networks jointly run other posts in the Taleban’s structure at the local level.

Conflict and Security 2001-19

Saif ur-Rahman Mansur, the elder son of Nasrullah Mansur, was a leader in the fight against US troops immediately after the overthrow of the Taleban regime. In 2002, he led the resistance of over a thousand fighters, including his own men, those from the Haqqani networks and al-Qaeda-linked Arab and probably Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan-linked Central Asians, against a large US military operation, codenamed Anacondaaimed at ‘cleansing’ the mountainous Shahikot area of Zurmat from what the US considered to be forces allied with al-Qaeda, and he gained fame in the process. (9) But it was not until three years later that the Mansur network again became relevant locally. In 2005, the leaders of the Mansur family reignited the insurgency. Family leaders directed operations from across the border in Pakistan, ordering operations as far away from Zurmat as Ghazni and Logar. (10)

Local Shura discusses security-related issue in Surkai village of Zurmat province

By 2007 the Mansur network was causing serious problems for the Afghan government and the US military. Thomas Ruttig, citing a UN official, gave the following reasons for the growing success of insurgents in Zurmat: “the corruption in local government, the district’s function as a major transit corridor for Taleban fighters moving from Pakistan to Ghazni province and more central Afghan areas, intra-tribal conflicts, and the strong position of conservative ulema in the area.” (11) Corruption has continued to alienate many tribes and their leaders from the provincial and central government. Meanwhile, local intra-tribal conflict has opened the way for the Taleban to support certain tribal elements against others, while ulama from within the large number of madrassas, among them some prestigious (and conservative ones) both in Paktia and neighbouring Ghazni, have given them ideological backing.

However, the Mansur network has only had a sub-regional presence, not a national one. Its operations have been confined to north-eastern Ghazni, south-western Paktia and parts of Logar province. (12) By 2009, local observers believed that the power of the Mansur network, relative to overall Taleban command, had diminished as they lost many of their best commanders. (13) However, the power of the insurgency in Zurmat has not followed the same trajectory of the Mansur network. By 2019, the Taleban’s various local sub-networks had gained control of the entire district outside of the district centre.

There have been repeated abuses by government and US forces of Afghan civilians in the district. They include a night raid in December 2018 against a prominent local family that had been part of local, non-governmental forces that had repeatedly blocked expansion by the Haqqani network and their foreign allies from the network’s base in the Shahikot highlands into the rest of Zurmat district (the Khost Protection Force, accompanied by a least one American, killed six family members, see this AAN dispatch from January 2019). In another night raid in Zurmat in August by NDS special forces, which like the Khost Protection Force appear to answer to CIA command, eleven civilians were killed.

Afghan government forces have also killed civilians during their operations against Taleban forces, afterwards accusing the Taleban of using civilians and their homes as human shields (see accounts of civilians casualties in 2018 here and here).

The Taleban continue to easily exploit the locals’ resentment towards the Afghan government and international forces. One schoolteacher interviewed by AAN complained of the worsening security and gave government forces’ “fruitless night raids” as an example of bad government actions (see AAN reporting the latest case in Zurmat here). Another interviewee noted how quick the Taleban are to respond after this type of event, stating that they “meet elders when there is a night raid or drone attack in Taleban controlled-areas. This is largely to gain locals support and sympathy.” The civilians affected do not always follow the Taleban’s suggestions, as was the case after the Kulalgo killings.

Security and Governance Provision

A Zurmati elder described the Taleban’s powerful local presence in late 2018, adding that the insurgents control the majority of territory in the district:

Power lies in the hands of the Taleban. The government controls the district centre and some villages near the district centre. The Taleban are active in all other areas and they attend to all people’s problems. The Taleban have an active district governor. In their power structures, they have different kinds of committees that are active in every sphere.

The same elder remarked on the limited numbers and weakness of government forces in Zurmat. All other informants described the power balance similarly (Taleban control at ‘about 80 per cent’ of the territory), with two interviewees adding that the government had recently created five security checkpoints on the Zurmat-Gardez road. The exact government area of control in this district is a mere few kilometres’ radius around the district governor’s office.

The power of the Taleban and the relative weakness of the Afghanistan government was seen in the 2018 elections, when voting was only possible in the district centre (19 of 22 polling stations in Zurmat remained closed). The Taleban’s threats against potential voters worked, and the only people voting appeared to be members of the security forces, government workers and shopkeepers near the voting station in the centre (for a long voting election analysis of Zurmat, see AAN’s 2018 dispatch)

The interviewees described Taleban fighters and officials as being mostly local. One local civil society activist noted that the Taleban have been able to recruit even well-educated local young men, due to hopeless employment prospects in Zurmat.

Interviewees agree that Taleban from outside the district make up a small number of their forces, mostly from Paktika, Logar and Ghazni, with some Waziri kuchis from the border areas. However, they said it is some of the higher-ranking Taleban who are the outsiders, while the lower ranks are local. This is in clear contrast to the era when the Mansur network dominated the ranks of the insurgency from top to bottom. Almost all the interviewees described the ‘outsiders’ as being from neighbouring districts or provinces, but two noted that there are also some foreigners among the Taleban, including Pakistanis, Arabs and some Central Asian fighters.

Service Delivery

Public services in Zurmat district are delivered and monitored by the Afghan government and by NGOs, such as the International Rescue Committee, Medical Refresher Courses for Afghans (MRCA) and Hewad. In 2019, Hewad took over MRCA’s part, after it ended its presence. Respondents agree that the Taleban, controlling most of the district, have a very strong role in controlling how these services are delivered. A school teacher described the Taleban shadow administration as having “established a parallel government system that operates in the district. The Taleban’s district governor and heads of the military, education, and public outreach committees operate outside the district centre.” He said there were also are Taleban offices in the Kulalgo bazaar, Sahak, Koti Khel, Dawlatzai, Makawa and Haibatkhel areas, as contact points for the population. However, the main base for the Taleban, where most of the decisions are taken place, is in Spin Jumat (White Mosque) located in Makawa area in the north of the district that borders Kharwar district of Logar province. This means decisions largely take place in Mansur’s territorial areas.

One local elder described the arrangement:

The Taleban have various committees, each separately functioning in different spheres. Some are active in the health sector, some in education, some in conflict [resolution] and politics, and some are active in the development sector. When the government wants to implement a project, it has to have the Taleban’s permission and cooperation. The Taleban have to be involved in the project, but most of the time they prevent the implementation of projects. They do not give permission because they demanded a huge amount of money, and the government gave up and transferred the project to another district.

One key source, a local tribal elder in Zurmat, described how the Taleban allow or do not allow, government projects to implemented:

Elders and Taleban meet each other and discuss the project. If the Taleban get money, then they allow the government to implement the project, but leave their men to monitor its implementation. If they do not get their money, then they do not allow the project to be implemented.

As an example of what the Taleban do not allow to be implemented, the interviewee mentioned the Citizen’s Charter programme, which funds projects for water, sanitation, tertiary road construction and renewable energy through grants and implemented by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development implement). Another local tribal elder gave an example of a specific type of project:

Some small projects, which are initiated by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, for example, the restoration of water canals in the agriculture sector, are controlled and monitored by the Taleban. Elders always have a mediatory role between government and the Taleban insurgents.

Almost every interviewee agreed that the Taleban are regularly available for the public to meet to air their concerns. A few respondents added that the Taleban do not meet any shuras. They told AAN the Taleban do not have any respect for them, even though these shuras are local and not government initiatives, but prefer to communicate directly with community elders.

As for the failure to deliver services, a tribal elder in Zurmat stated that the government claims they cannot deliver services in many parts of the district due to insecurity. Meanwhile, the Taleban say they cannot deliver services because they have no money for development projects.


Respondents put the number of schools in Zurmat district at about 63 to 64, a number that includes primary, secondary and high schools, plus a teachers training centre. Out of these schools, 36 (20 primary schools and 16 secondary schools) are without buildings. In these cases, the students study either in the local mosque, or private houses that serve as schools, or in tents or in open areas. One informant, highly placed in the local government, noted that this number includes 13 girls’ schools that are all permanently closed. As for the boys’ schools, one teacher reported that the Taleban control most of these schools.

Ongoing construction work of a school building in Zurmat district

The Afghan government provides education services (salaries, school construction, as well as text book and stationery), while the provincial and district government, as well as the Taleban’s Education Committee, monitor the system. Several informants stated that the district government monitors schools in Taleban-controlled areas only with prior Taleban permission. As for the teachers, one key informant in the district government said “without the Taleban’s approval it is impossible to serve as teacher in most parts of the district. Before attending the education department’s exam for teacher appointment, one has to get the Taleban’s approval and agreement to serve as teacher in their areas of control.”  The Taleban have their own monitoring and control system, as described by one school teacher:

Their monitoring system is similar to the provincial education department. However, the Taleban have their own attendance records for school teachers. They interfere in school curriculum and replace school books with [others on] religious subjects. For instance, the Taleban replaced the culture study classes (based on a government-provided school book) with [Islamic] jurisprudence. They also replaced another school subject, sport, with religious studies. In general, there are no [alternative] school books for these additional subjects. In fact, it depends on teacher’s skills and knowledge of religious norms to teach the Taleban-supported subjects in schools. In a few cases, the Taleban have assigned their own mullahs to teach students.

One key informant in the district government described the work of the Taleban Education Committee:

The committee is made up of local Taleban religious figures. […] The Taleban’s education committee monitor the schools sometime once a week and some other times once a month. The committee looks at teachers’ and students’ attendance records, teaching mechanism, and the curriculum. The Taleban interfere in the curricula and appointments of teachers. For the curriculum, the Taleban added additional religious subjects. When it comes to teachers’ appointments, they also interfere in it and without their approval it is not possible to serve as teacher in Taleban controlled-areas.

Another interviewee revealed that the Taleban monitors teacher attendance and deduct teachers’ absent day’s wages. This money is allocated against their own accounts. Another key informant in the district government described something similar: “If a school teacher doesn’t appear for a day, the Taleban deduct (a day’s salary) from their monthly salary, this amount then goes to school expenses or is kept by the Taleban.” He added that the Taleban’s education committee made its own attendance records for school teachers in areas they control. He added that, usually, the local education department’s representative distributes the salaries to teachers at school in the presence of a member of the Taleban’s education committee. If a teacher’s attendance record shows that he missed classes, then the Taleban’s representative deducts a day salary immediately after the distribution of the teachers’ salaries. The same informant stated that the Taleban “regularly encourage younger students to Jihad. They sometimes carry out propaganda against the government during school visits.” Another key informant also stated that Taleban monitoring visits to schools serve another purpose, and that they “use this as a platform to talk with students and to encourage them to join the Taleban.”

There were schools for girls in Taleban-controlled areas of Zurmat up until 2016 to at least the third grade. In 2015, a local teacher predicted the Taleban would totally ban girl’s education the following year. (14) But whether or not the closure of girls’ school was a Taleban order or not, the education of girls faces many cultural and practical obstacles in Zurmat. The government informant stated:

There are a number of issues that prevent families from sending children to schools. For example: schools are far away from some villages, the lack of female teachers, some schools are out in the open, the culture issue, the negative campaign against girls’ education by some mullahs. These are the issues that have dissuaded families from sending their girls to schools.

One local elder noted that the lack of girls’ education is not the only problem. The quality of boys education is also low and “there is a lack of professional teachers.” Other informants stressed the low quality of buildings, the lack of good textbooks and, in some cases, the lack of buildings.

For graduates, there are few prospects to use their education. One well-educated interviewee said that “Zurmat has many educated youths,” but that they have few employment opportunities in the district. In most cases, the educated people either leave the district to search for jobs in Gardez, the provincial centre, or Kabul. Those that remain work as farmers or are unemployed.


According to local health workers and other informants, Zurmat district has one 50-bed hospital in the district centre, and, elsewhere in the district, two Comprehensive Health Centres (CHC), three Basic Health Centres (BHC) and one sub-centre. A local elder stated that the Afghan government (the Zurmat Heath Department) and one NGO, MRCA/Relief International deliver and pay for these health services. In December 2018, after MRCA’s contact ran out, Hewad took over this task. The NGOs currently supporting medical services in Zurmat, according to a local hospital administrator, are ICRC and Hewad.

A local elder and another key informant said that the Taleban do not interfere with the clinics and hospital, but that the Taleban’s Health Committee visits the health centres in Taleban-controlled areas. A local doctor described the relationship with the Taleban:

The Taleban don’t interfere in our work. We are allowed to run the health clinic without any issue. In fact, if there is an issue of concern, the Taleban’s health committee and the provincial health department help us out.

A local elder described a more one-sided relationship, while mistaking NGO-delivered services for government services: “health services are delivered by the government but the Taleban should be informed because without their permission nothing can be done.”

This relationship can be seen in the polio vaccinations campaigns. A local civil society activist described the situation:

The Taleban banned the polio vaccination in August 2018, for more than a month. This was only for those mobile teams that carry out the door-to-door campaign. The health centres, however, were open for those who could bring their children for vaccination there. After elders’ mediation, the Taleban allowed the polio campaign in the district, but this was only for few months. The Taleban banned the polio vaccination again in the end of April 2019 in Zurmat (read AAN’s analysis on polio vaccination here).

Women’s access to health services is problematic in Zurmat due, not just to “traditional issues”, as stated by one informant, but also due to an insufficient number of female medical workers. A local doctor said in an interview that there are 80 health workers in the district that include twenty female ones working as midwives, nurses and vaccinators, but that there is no female medical doctor in the district. The same doctor claimed that men and women have equal access to health care. However, a local elder emphasised the lack of a female doctor in the district, and that “in the absence of gynaecologists, most of the time either patients die or they face major issues.” The best that can be done, according to one interviewee, is for the female patient to be transported to Gardez for treatment. However, the lack of a good road to Gardez and the absence of an ambulance make this a difficult operation.

Electricity, media and Telecommunication

Zurmat district is not connected to the national electricity grid. Residents rely mostly on solar power and, to a lesser degree, on generators. The solar power is enough only to light rooms, charge mobile phones and watch TV. However, those who own televisions are mostly in the district centre, as the Taleban prohibit watching TV in their territory. A school teacher from the Taleban controlled-area described the Taleban’s TV policies:

Most people watch TV programmes. They use satellite dishes because of the variety of channels the dishes can broadcast. They watch news, political debates, sports and other entertainment programmes. In most cases, people hide their dishes and TV antenna from the Taleban because the Taleban prohibit watching TV programmes. If the Taleban notice that people place dishes or TV antenna on the top of their roofs, then they search the house and smash the television.    

Radios are far more widespread, with almost every household having one. The available stations broadcast news, music, cultural and entertainment programmes. The Taleban make use of the population’s radio use, broadcasting the Taleban’s official “Voice of Jihad” station.

Mobile phone ownership is widespread throughout Zurmat. Smart phones are only used by those few educated youths who can afford them, as they are, according to several interviewees, too expensive and complicated. Mobile internet is described as very slow and, in some cases, non-existent.

The mobile phone signal only works in the daytime as the Taleban force the mobile companies to turn off their services between 6pm and 7am. Roshan, Etisalat and Afghan Wireless all operate in Zurmat. MTN also had a presence until last year when the Taleban destroyed one of their towers. The Taleban have completely prohibited the state-owned Salaam Network from operating. For all other companies, they need to follow the rules (turn off the service at night) and pay the Taleban tax. A key informant described the relationship:

… telecom companies pay tax to the Taleban. If they do not pay the tax, then the Taleban will shut down their network coverage. For example, sometimes ago, the MTN Company did not pay tax, so the Taleban set its towers on fire.

Agriculture, Water and Irrigation

As might be expected with a rural Afghan district, most of the key informants cited – unprompted – the importance of the agricultural sector.

One key informant credited the government and what he called an ‘NGO’ (in fact, the World Bank-funded National Horticultural and Livestock Project) with providing services in the agriculture sector, including the provision of higher-quality seeds, seedlings, storage facilities and the digging of new wells. However, he noted that all of these projects can only be implemented with the Taleban’s “cooperation and permission.” An elder described also that projects implementedthrough the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Developmentare controlled and monitored by the Taleban. For example, some construction projects, such as bridges, irrigation water canals and cold-storage rooms for fruit, were funded by the government, but monitored by the Taleban. He added that the local Taleban even suggest through local elders to specify places where the project should be implemented. He said that, “Without the Taleban’s approval the government won’t be able to implement these projects.”Another informant noted that this is also the case with maintenance and construction of irrigation canals, which are paid for by the locals and implemented with permission from the Taleban.

There are also some other smaller construction projects for water irrigation canals in Korchi, Makawa and Menzi villages that the locals funded and constructed, but which the Taleban designed and monitored.


In 2011, the US military, based out of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Paktika, cited the economic and security benefits of high quality roads in the region and announced the imminent completion of several key transport corridors, including a road connecting Zurmat to Gardez. This asphalted road was never constructed, but is still being demanded by the local population. Nearly every interviewee in Zurmat cited the need to asphalt the current low-quality road. Several key informants stated that the Taleban had prohibited its improvement, but that they would allow construction of smaller village roads and bridges, in some cases even collecting taxes to fund the construction.

The Taleban do not have a special team to implement construction projects. Therefore, projects are implemented based on traditional construction methods and with the support of local elders. In general, these projects are of very poor quality and they need maintenance every month. In most cases, the local Taleban only monitor the implementation of such projects, rather than providing technical assistance.

The Taleban also sometimes organise public services projects. In these cases, they mobilise local financial and human resources, ie they call on locals to donate money or to provide construction material, such as cement, sand, stones or construction machinery. Then, the work is mainly carried out by locals, but monitored by the Taleban.

The largest construction project in the Taleban controlled-areas of Zurmat was the rehabilitation of parts of the 52 kilometre-long Gardez-Ghazni road. This road, leading through the Sahak area, was the main link between the two provincial capitals in the past. When US forces had a base in Sahak, they asphalted a 20 kilometre stretch between Gardez and their base to make it easier to supply it. After the US withdrawal, the base was handed over to the ANA who also use only this part of the road. The Taleban and locals also use the old road’s remaining 32 kilometre stretch that leads from Sahak via Dawlat Khan village on to the border of Ghazni’s Deh Yak district and further to Ghazni city. The Taleban organised funding by local population and called on them to take part in the primary construction work, ie using soil, sand and stone aggregates, but not yet asphalting it. The completion of this project enabled the Taleban to collect taxes from truck drivers transporting goods from Paktia to Ghazni.

Another example of a Taleban public works project was the primary construction of a 30 kilometres road that connects Sahak and Kulalgo villages, again funded by locals.

When it comes to taxes in general, the Taleban collect ten per cent of farmers’ income at the end of harvesting season. For businessmen, such as shopkeepers and market owners, taxes are payable at the end of the year or in advance at the beginning of the year. This depends on the Taleban financial committee’s decision. The Taleban’s financial committee estimate the amount payable based on the income of their business. However, the money collected is not allocated to construction or public services, but instead used to cover the Taleban’s own operational costs.


An interviewee described the justice sector as the only area that is fully controlled and implemented by the Taleban in their territory: “The only service that Taleban provide is justice. People register their cases in a Taleban court – because it is fast and without corruption.”

In September 2014, the Taleban sentenced to death and executed three men who kidnapped and murdered a child after failing to receive their ransom demand in a high-profile case. The Taleban made the execution a public event, and over 1,000 people in Zurmat watched the sentence being carried out. The Taleban ordered the bodies to be displayed for three days as a warning to others. There are no reports of other similar cases. (15)

Over the course of a few years, the Taleban have provided a much wider array of court services and justice. One local government committee member stated that the Taleban courts play “a key role in the district, where different cases are registered daily in their court.” Interviewees described most cases as being either land disputes or family conflicts.

Two interviewees, one highly placed in the district government, stated that, if a local Taleban court fails to reach a resolution or, if they refer the case to a local religious scholar and he fails to issue a verdict, then the case can be referred to a Taleban court based in Pakistan. One interviewee added that this usually does not happen as local Taleban courts resolve most disputes that come before them. Sometimes, smaller cases, such as disputes between two families, are referred to local Jirga for a solution. In these cases, if the Jirga fails to solve or if the Jirga’s decision is not acceptable, then the case can be registered to the Taleban court.


It is clear from the interviews conducted for this project that the Taleban have a powerful local presence in Zurmat that has translated into a control over public services that is stronger than that of the government. The Taleban’s presence in more than 80 per cent of the district has marginalised the government to a role as a monitor in certain sectors. This is particularly notable, for example, in education. Here the Taleban assert its will over this government-funded service, but still need the input of funds, materials and the know-how of the government-trained teachers. Here, the Taleban play a dominant ideological role – influencing the education curriculum – and a ‘law-and-order’ role – checking the teachers’ attendance records and, if necessary, deducting salaries for non-attendance. Their influence also allows them to appoint their own members as school teachers, to deny girls the right to an education, and to recruit students as fighters, as well as to deliver anti-government speeches in a state-run education centres.

The only public service that the Taleban fully deliver is the justice sector – an important part of asserting their control over the population, and also not an expensive public service (compared to the health sector, for example). The Taleban also have begun to collect money in support of public works, such as minor secondary roads and agricultural irrigation canals. This is usually project-related and not a regular payment used to build up a steady revenue from which funding could then be allocated for future projects. This demonstrates that the Taleban are in an on-going process of evolution from an all-out insurgent group to an operational quasi-government administration, also locally.

The Taleban have turned other sectors into revenue generation activities to fund their operations. Several telecommunications companies pay taxes directly to the Taleban, while improved road quality is used as a justification to collect taxes from truck drivers. Furthermore, projects must not just provide revenue to the Taleban, but this must take a form that the Taleban will not object to.

The extent of their control also has enabled the Taleban to decide where infrastructure can and cannot be constructed and to impose rules on telecommunication companies as to what times their service may be scheduled and provided.

The Taleban in Zurmat have created a system in which they can control and monitor when they need to for ideological reasons, to extract revenue for their operations, and to collect taxes to fund smaller construction projects that are important to the rural populations, such as minor roads and irrigations canals. The Taleban do all of this, while avoiding responsibility for the more expensive and complex public services, such as health. This leaves in doubt the ability of the Taleban to function in the future as a full-fledged government that is capable of delivering a full spectrum of public services without outside funding and technical assistance.


Edited by Thomas Ruttig and Kate Clark



(1) The use of this term here is controversial. Some former Dari speakers, for example, in the large village of Kulalgo, called ‘Tajiks’ by other local groups – and ‘Dehgan’ (village dwellers) by others –, insist they are originally (Mohsenkhel) Pashtuns who relocated from Ghor province some generations ago.

(2) Conrad Schetter and Rainer Glassner (2011), “Local configurations of violence: Warlords, tribal leaders and insurgents in Afghanistan,” Sicherheit und Frieden, Volume 29, No. 4, p235.

(3) Schetter and Glassner, “Local configurations of violence,” page 235.

(4) Thomas Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, in Decoding The New Taliban: Insight from the Afghan Field, ed. by Antonio Giustozzi (2009) London: Hurst, p78.

(5) Abubakar Siddique (2014), The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key to the Future of Pakistan and Afghanistan, New York: Hurst, p175.

(6) Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, pp79-80.

(7) Siddique, The Pashtun Question, p175

(8) Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, pp79-80.

(9) Siddique, The Pashtun Question, p175.

(10) Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, pp79-80; Siddique, The Pashtun Question, p175.

(11) Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, p79.

(12) Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, p78.

(13) Ruttig, ‘The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity’, p78.

(14) Barnett Rubin and Clancy Rudeforth (2016), ‘Enhancing Access to Education: Challenges and Opportunities in Afghanistan,’ Center on International Cooperation, New York University, p14.

(15) Vasja Badalič, The War Against Civilians: Victims of the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, p243.

Categories: Defence`s Feeds

US-Taleban talks: An imminent agreement without peace?

Fri, 30/08/2019 - 03:00

News coming out of the latest round of US-Taleban negotiations suggest that an agreement is imminent, but that in the desire to meet the White House’s 1 September 2019 deadline, the US have made concessions that may well complicate an actual peace agreement in Afghanistan. It appears that the US have dropped the “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” principle and have relegated two of the four original topics of the negotiations to future “intra-Afghan negotiations” including the all-important ceasefire. The on-going dilemma of what should come first – peace negotiations or presidential election – continues to complicate matters. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig and Martine van Bijlert lay out what can be gleaned so far from the fog of leaks, rumours and conflicting statements.

There are indications that US-Taleban negotiations in Qatar’s capital Doha have been finalised and a bilateral agreement will be announced soon. In this ninth round of the Doha US-Taleban, which started last week and went into its fifth day on Wednesday (28 August 2019), involved heavy wrangling to solve what Washington’s special peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, had called “remaining issues” to be “closed.” In January 2019, both sides had reached a “framework” agreement about the withdrawal and the anti-terrorism guarantees, and stated that only details needed to be hammered out. This took seven more months.

According to several media reports (here a summary of AFP, AP and Reuters reporting), the agreement has been finalised and is now going through a last round of language checking. (When Afghan politicians, Taleban and civil society activists met in July 2019 for an intra-Afghan dialogue, there had been inconsistencies in the different versions of the final declaration, see here). The document is expected to come out in English and the two official Afghan languages, Pashto and Farsi/Dari. Taleban spokesman Suhail Shahin said on 28 August that “We hope to have good news soon for our Muslim, independence seeking nation.”

Khalilzad is expected to travel to Kabul, and then to Islamabad, to familiarise the Afghan and Pakistani governments with the latest version of the agreement. The Afghan government has not been party to the Doha talks, as the Taleban refuse to hold direct negotiations with the government of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr Abdullah and rejected the US plan to bring it into the on-going talks. According to a Taleban source quoted by AFP (see media summary linked above), all members of their Leadership Council (Rahbari Shura, also known as ‘Quetta Shura’) “have received the draft and they are reading it carefully [while]no go-ahead signal has been given to the Taliban negotiating team” in Doha yet.He said their response may “take a day or two.”

There are indications that, if all goes as planned, there will be two ceremonies to mark the conclusion of the agreement and to present it: one in Doha or Oslo and one in Kabul, possibly as early as the coming weekend of 31 August/1 September (see here).

This would mean that the 1 September 2019 date set by the White House could still be met. The date – set as former US negotiation team member Barnett Rubin put it, in a “rush to make Afghanistan’s peace process conform to the U.S. electoral calendar”– was most recently communicated by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Contours of an agreement

So far, only contours of the agreement have emerged. The talks have been accompanied by a whirling rumour mill, particularly since US diplomats started to indicate during the eighth round of talks in the first half of August that the agreement was nearing finalisation. Expectations of an imminent deal have recently been raised twice before: once in the run-up to Eid al-Azha (11-13 August) and once before Afghanistan’s independence centenary a week later. TV teams, which had already travelled to Doha before Eid al-Azha, found that they had travelled for nothing. The expectations may have been raised in an attempt to put additional pressure on the Taleban, although they seem to be unfased by such considerations.

The nature of the talks, which were held behind closed doors, meant that there is still very little solid information. Both sides have agreed on confidentiality, and have largely stuck to this agreement. Much of what has been officially stated came as scattered snippets on social media, in particular Twitter (the favoured means of communication for both the US president and his Afghan envoy). Details that are leaked often muddy the water rather than provide clarity and sometimes seem geared to either mislead or paint an overly positive picture of the talks and their progress. More confusion is created by media chasing and quoting sources “close to the negotiators” or anonymous Taleban sources, who may or may not be informed about the talks.

The picture is further complicated by the likelihood that – despite denials – talks have included subjects that both sides do not want to publicly admit to (for instance the issue of an interim government which would include the Taleban, reports which both sides have denied, see here and here).

A further key feature in these negotiations was that the Afghan-born US envoy has not kept allies, the Afghan government or the Afghan public fully abreast of the proceedings (despite assurances over the last decade that peace talks would be “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led”). This is partly due to the sensitive nature of such negotiations and partly due to the immense time pressure Khalilzad had been put under by his president. President Trump’s desire to end an involvement he considers too expensive and his impatience to withdraw US troops was echoed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a 20 August TV interview where he said:

Our desire is to create conditions on the ground where we can achieve what President Trump laid out, which is to reduce what is 30, 35 billion dollars a year in taxpayer money and the loss of American lives…

It now appears that this pressure, to swiftly come up with something to show for, has pushed Khalilzad to shepherd in a deal that does not meet the criteria he set out in the beginning.

A “four topic package” becomes ‘everything – minus two’

Khalilzad’s stated position at the beginning of the negotiations was that there were four topics to discuss and that these topics were tied into a package. The principle was reflected in the phrase “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” (earlier AAN analysis here).

The four topics were:

  • withdrawal of the US (and other foreign) troops;
  • anti-terrorism guarantees by the Taleban;
  • inclusion of the Afghan government in the negotiations; and
  • permanent, Afghanistan-wide ceasefire.

The first two topics would be a quid pro quo: US withdrawal in exchange for Taleban guarantees that it would not allow groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) – including its Afghan franchise, the ISKP – to operate from Afghan soil against other countries (and implicitly in Afghanistan). While Khalilzad has indicated that he is satisfied with the Taleban’s guarantees (on which no details are available yet) and is discussing ways for the US to verify them, there are serious doubts that the Taleban would be in a position to deliver on them, as well as to the viability of close monitoring (see here and also this New York Times op-ed).

With regard to the withdrawal, it has always been clear that this was as much a wish on the side of the US, as on the Taleban’s. (In late 2018, it even appeared that the US President had to be persuaded not to announce a unilateral troop cut in Afghanistan, see here.) It is however on the details that they differ. The Taleban insist that the withdrawal must be complete and that the agreement must include a timeline – which indicates that it will probably be phased. They have apparently also asked for some form of international third party guarantees and/or monitoring. AAN heard from sources in contact with the Taleban team that this may involve a combination of technical and on-the-ground monitoring from Afghan, Pakistani and Central Asian territory. Within the US however discussions are on-going as to whether, and in what shape, to leave behind a ‘residual force.’

The Taleban have never publicly subscribed to Khalilzad’s principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” Over the months following the January ‘framework agreement’ – a term that sounded more and more euphemistic – they consistently refused to make any concession on the remaining two issues that the US wanted as part of the agreement: direct talks with the Afghan government (before signing an agreement with the US), and ceasefire. Khalilzad intended to discuss a “comprehensive”, ie countrywide, and “permanent” ceasefire, including the armed parties to the conflict – ie both US and Afghan government troops and the Taleban (but not ISKP which is not involved in the negotiations). The Taleban however has insisted that after this agreement there will be a ceasefire only with the US troops. (1) Reuters quoted a “diplomat who has monitored the Qatar talks” as saying, “The U.S.-Taliban agreement will stop U.S. from conducting air strikes on the Taliban, and the Taliban will stop insider attacks on the U.S. and other foreign soldiers. … A ceasefire between the Afghan forces and the Taliban requires a separate agreement and deliberations are yet to begin.”

It thus seems that practically, Khalilzad has bowed to the Taleban blockade and has relegated two of the original four topics – Afghan government participation and ceasefire – to a second set of negotiations: the “intra-Afghan negotiations.” It also seems he has agreed on US, not Afghan priorities.

The idea of intra-Afghan negotiations builds on the intra-Afghan dialogue, which was jointly organised by Germany (2) and Qatar in Doha in July 2019 and – without Afghan government representatives – in two rounds in Moscow in February and May 2019. Khalilzad has also suggested, in response to the Taleban’s refusal to talk to Kabul, that these negotiations should not be carried out by a team of the Afghan government alone, but by an “inclusive and effective national team” (quoted here). This team would comprise of government, opposition and civil society, including women’s representatives, as in the Moscow and Doha ‘dialogues.’

Such a construction, on one hand, realistically reflects the fragmentation and notorious disunity among Afghanistan’s political forces (even within the government), and the fact that the post-2014 National Unity Government never managed to create a genuine national consensus about the contents and direction of peace negotiations with the Taleban (see AAN analysis here and here). A negotiating team only made up of government representatives would not be able to credibly speak for all of Afghanistan’s political and social forces.

Relegating a final peace deal back to the Afghan ‘factions’ also formally restores the West’s previous mantra that peace talks with the Taleban must be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.” But if such intra-Afghan talks happen while the troop withdrawal (or a substantial part of it) is already taking place, this obviously deprives the Afghan government of guarantees that it is protected during these complicated negotiations and leaves them with little to bargain with.

Such a two-negotiation or two-deal construction also puts a large question mark behind the credibility of Khalilzad’s reassurances about the US intentions with the upcoming agreement, despite his tweet on 19 August that “We [the US] are not cutting and running. We are not looking for a withdrawal agreement. We’re looking for a peace agreement.” (see here)

A government in the margins agrees to a 15-member team

The shift in Khalilzad’s approach further undermines the position of the Afghan government, which in the original idea of the four-topic package deal would have come into the Doha talks as a full third party.

The position of the government had already become precarious due to internal political wrangling and mounting controversy with the US over the place of the presidential elections, scheduled for 28 September, in the current process of talks. Starting in late 2018, Khalilzad repeatedly said the election could stand in the way of peace, since a peace deal would require changes in the political system (this based on the idea that the Taleban would view joining the existing political system as an unacceptable form of ‘surrender.’) Ghani, in response, offered the Taleban ‘reform’ of the system, in his speech at the February 2018 Kabul Process meeting (AAN analysis here). When Ghani insisted on still holding the elections, Khalilzad called the government the ‘biggest obstacle‘ to peace.

The idea of intra-Afghan negotiations through an ‘inclusive team’ has watered down the government’s status to that of just one among the Afghan ‘factions’. The Afghan government has, however, agreed – albeit reluctantly – as it realised it might otherwise be confronted with a done deal. The government has now agreed to – in coordination with other domestic players – nominate a 15-member team to participate in the planned intra-Afghan negotiations. The government insists it has finalised the list of the team members, but has not released the names. In the meantime, the government has tried to keep its leverage by insisting that negotiations could begin soon after the US and the Taleban sign their agreement.

According to various sources, Khalilzad has submitted the 15-member list (or earlier versions of it) to the Taleban, which seems to suggest they have been given a veto over its composition (see also Taleban spokesman, and member of the Doha negotiations team, Sohail Shahin quoted on 21 August as raising “questions regarding the inclusiveness of the team” and its authorities to take a final decision, and more directly in pro-Taleban media here).

The government has also tried to make sure it has a say on the contents of the US-Taleban agreement. In mid-August, a “top Afghan security official, who … did not wish to be named,” indicated that Kabul was seeking guarantees from Washington and that the agreement, once announced, would “redirect all talks to [the] Afghan government.” Ghani further upped the ante in his 22 August interview with Tolonews (video here), by stating that a US-Taleban agreement would have no “legal character” as it was an agreement with a non-state actor. On the next day, Ghani stated that his government will give the final draft of the agreement a “comprehensive discussion” before it is signed.

Without Kabul’s consent and buy-in, a bilateral agreement will lack legitimacy among large parts of the public, particularly in Afghanistan, but also abroad. This provides the Afghan government with some leverage, if not something amounting to a de facto veto. This is also reflected in Khalilzad’s announcement that he will travel to Kabul after this round of the Doha talks to “consult with the leadership of the Afghan government on the peace process and encourage full preparation for intra-Afghan negotiations”. He did not confirm, however, that the Afghan government would be allowed to review the agreement and possibly suggest changes.

No effective ceasefire

The insistence of the Taleban that after the agreement there will be a ceasefire only with the US troops means that the initial fourth topic of the agreement and key demand of the Afghan population – an agreement leading to an immediate cessation of the fighting – has been shifted to the rather precarious “intra-Afghan negotiations.” A key question then is how these will relate to and be synchronised with the troop withdrawals. US government members have repeatedly stated that a withdrawal would be ‘conditions based’, ie dependent on whether the intra-Afghan negotiations make progress. But Afghanistan has experienced various ‘condition-based’ processes in the past, only to see conditions watered down beyond recognition (for example, see this AAN paper on the security transition).

If indeed, an announced agreement will have little or no consequences on the battlefield in terms of reduced violence, this will be a huge disappointment for many Afghans. It will also represent a squandered opportunity, as the issue the Taleban cared about most will already have been conceded.

Interior Minister Wais Barmak stops on the road into Kabul to meet Taleban who have come into the capital during the 2018 Eid truce (Photo: taken by someone in the crowd and posted on social media)


What might withdrawal look like

The biggest overlap between the US and the Taleban interests has always been on the issue of US troop withdrawal: both parties want the US (and other troops – some 14,000 US and 8,500 allied troops) out as soon as possible, albeit for very different reasons. The Taleban moreover have hoped, and probably still do, that Trump would lose patience and order a premature pull-out (ie before intra-Afghan negotiations result in a second settlement). They can be assumed to calculate that, once the foreign troops are out, they will have a relatively free hand on the battlefield as well as great leverage in the negotiations.

Internally, in their Qatar office and to their fighters, the Taleban have presented the upcoming US agreement to withdraw as a “victory” over an opponent “on their knees” (see this recent video released on pro-Taleban media outlets here and here). Theyare framing this as the Afghans’ third victory over a superpower, after the 19thcentury British retreat and that of the Soviets in the late 1980s. The Taleban also seem to bank on the habit of Afghan factions to change sides and join the apparent winner when the balance of power is shifting. (Afghans familiar with the July intra-Afghan dialogue, and its follow-up, have told AAN about the on-going outreach by Afghan leaders and subsequent Taleban assurances that they would not have to fear their return to power.)

It is not yet clear what timeframe for the US troop withdrawal will be. Several options have been discussed in the media, with reports that the Taleban initially insisted on a maximum of nine to twelve months period, but meanwhile have possibly agreed to 14 months (see here and here), while the US initially suggested 18-24 months (even though this clashes with the assumption that Trump wants this to be wrapped up before the November 2020 US election). The Taleban have reportedly asked “major powers, the United Nations and representatives of Islamic countries” to act as “guarantors” of the assurances that all foreign troops will leave Afghanistan. According to this statement, ‘major powers’ would include “Russia, China, Pakistan and other neighbors of Afghanistan.”

If the agreement is announced, some form of withdrawal is indeed likely to happen in the range of these intervals, given that there are only 15 months left before the next US presidential election. The extent and speed, however, remained a question for a long time. But now Trump said in a media interview that US troop strength will be “going down to 8,600 and then we make a determination from there as to what happens” – the latter apparently a reference to the caveat of progress in the intra-Afghan negotiations. This means a reduction by some 5,400 soldiers. This is at the lower end of the options US media had reported earlier (here and here) that a first phase of withdrawal could reduce the current number of US troops by a range of 5,000 to 7,000 soldiers. General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, was quoted as saying a day earlier “I am not using the withdrawal word right now.”

The complex attack on the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul started around 7 pm on 24 August 2016 with an explosion followed by armed assailants storming the campus. Photo: Tolonews

Anti-terrorism guarantees and the possibility of a ‘residual force’?

The main demand of the US towards the Taleban was a guarantee that groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) – inclusing its franchise in Afghanistan, the ISKP – would not be allowed to act against any other country using Afghan territory (or, more specifically, the territory under Taleban control). With regard to IS, there seems to be, for now, no problem. The Taleban consider the group an unwanted competitor in the Afghan jihad and are actively fighting it.

This is less clear when it comes to al-Qaeda. The US, for that reason, may wish to include a clause in the agreement by which the Taleban explicitly distance themselves from their former ally. With their control over parts of Afghan territory and population, which allows them to tax income, businesses and other economic activity across the country, the Taleban are less dependent on the group than they used to be, economically as well as militarily. According to US estimates, there are currently a few hundred al-Qaeda fighters in country at best (the estimate was increased in 2015). Nevertheless, publicly denouncing al-Qaeda may still prove controversial, as it could put off Taleban sponsors in Islamic countries and at least some of its own fighters.

In the US, there have been discussions whether the Taleban might agree to a sustained military US counter-terrorism mission in Afghanistan, and/or an intelligence presence in Afghanistan, that would focus on counter-terrorism (CT), ensure that the Taleban complied with their promises, and possibly give “advisory support to an Afghan-led counter-terrorism force”. President Donald Trump also referred to this, saying “We have to have a presence, yes. The Taliban does not respect the Afghan government. … It is a dangerous place and we have to keep an eye on it. … We’ll always have someone there” (here). The Pentagon recently reiterated that “the United States, the international community, and the [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] ANDSF“ need to maintain a “robust CT force” in the country. Secretary Pompeo, on the other hand, recently tried to smoothen the waves, saying at a veterans’ meeting that “America has never sought a permanent military presence in Afghanistan, and all sides recognize that time moves on.”

The Taleban have so far repeated their position that it would be out of the question for even a single foreign soldier to be left on Afghan soil (see Taleban spokesman Shahin in Pashto here). It is quite likely that the language in the agreement will be somewhat vague or will defer the final decisions to allow an agreed position to be reached. (It is also unclear whether secret annexes may be a possibility, to provide the US what it insists upon, while providing a face-saving solution to the Taleban.) The presence of General Austin Miller, the US and NATO troop commander in Afghanistan, at the Doha talks seem linked to this topic, among other technicalities.

A remaining CT force may involve US soldiers on Afghan soil, but may not be necessary. One form how this could be done, from a US point of view at least, how it was done in Iraq where a ‘residual force’ that was left behind after the withdrawal was relabelled US embassy staff. Altogether, it was reported that the US Embassy had 17,000 staff members at that time, including “military and security contractors [with] diplomatic immunity” (which can be assumed to have represented a large proportion of the 17,000).

The CIA has also established a number of anti-Taleban militias in Afghanistan (see here and here) that will most likely continue to exist after an agreement. A commander of the Khost Protection Force was quoted as saying“If America leaves, we will remain.” The US may seek to still remotely, or directly, use such forces. It is, in that respect, not clear whether the US-Taleban agreement will also cover the presence of armed US intelligence members and private security and military contractors. (3)

An important indication of the strength of a Taleban-US agreement will be whether the US-Afghan BSA (Bilateral Security Agreement) is formally annulled, revised or kept after the signing of an agreement. It is difficult to imagine that sceptics in the US will be satisfied without at least a public replacement of the BSA. The Afghan government certainly expects it to be maintained. President Ghani told personnel of the Afghan defence ministry on 13 August that “all security agreements” will be retained after the US and the Taleban sign an agreement (in Pashto here).

On the non-US troops, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has confirmed that the alliance would withdraw all its forces together the US soldiers. He said in mid-July, “We went together to Afghanistan and we leave together.” The US had earlier assured its allies that there would be no unilateral withdrawal.The allies have, so far, however not been part of any of the negotiations that will shape the conditions and timelines for the apparently joint withdrawal. Currently, there are still around 8,500 non-US soldiers in Afghanistan.

It not clear whether the agreement will contain specific provisions on what to do with the foreign fighters associated with the Taleban (see a discussion of their role in this AAN analysis). For the same reasons as with al-Qaeda, the Taleban will likely refuse to hand them over to US or Afghan authorities or to send them back to their home countries where they would likely be imprisoned or worse. The World Bank has recently started consultations with “stakeholders” on post-agreement programmes to “sustain peace after a political settlement.”

ISKP, the second largest, but by far smaller insurgent group in Afghanistan is not part of the negotiations, but the agreement might contain provisions about future counter-terrorism operations that affect them. There are widespread concerns in the US and Afghanistan that the group might become the address for Taleban defectors who do not support the agreement or are not ready to go back to civilian life. (4)

Ballot boxed delivered to Gardez (Paktia) in Afghanistan’s 2009 presidential election. Photo: Thomas Ruttig


The elections vs. negotiations dilemma

A stumbling block that may prevent intra-Afghan negotiations from commencing after the US-Taleban deal is signed, is the presidential election scheduled for 28 September 2019. Preparations have already advanced. Sensitive election material has started to be shipped to the provinces, although there are delays due to defect biometric voter verification devices. Campaigning has largely been slow, except for the incumbent. The process seems to be too advanced to be stopped and the elections to be postponed for a third time, at least not without further loss of face for president Ghani who has strongly insisted on holding the poll. In his view, his political legitimacy and future depend on the win he is envisaging.

Chief Executive Abdullah who has emerged as Ghani’s main competitor again, as in 2014, (5) has supported the holding of the election. On 28, August, however, he modified his position – and increased his options – saying that he was “fully ready to render sacrifices before and after election to reach a durable peace in the country.” According to this report that included “quit[ting] elections for the sake of peace.”

The US still has a number of means at hand to achieve another delay, including leveraging their influence among allies in the Ghani and opposition camps and delaying or withholding of funding (including for the elections). At the same time, the US is also trying to use the elections as leverage against the Taleban. Their Kabul Ambassador John Bass said on 25 August, during a visit to Balkh province, that the election should be held on its scheduled time, if there were any hurdles in the way of the peace process and the Taleban refused to sign the bilateral agreement soon.

The Taleban have made clear that they oppose these elections, which they consider held under “occupation” and therefore without legitimacy. In a statement in early August, they declared a boycott, called on voters not to participate in what they called “a ruse by the invaders and their hirelings to gain validity” and warned them to stay away from campaign rallies in order “to prevent losses”. If the elections do go ahead, the Taleban may opt for a full-blown attempt to violently interrupt them. UNAMA had already called the 2018 parliamentary election the most violent since 2001, but most Taleban-attributed incidents seemed comparatively minor to what could be unleashed this time, given recent bloody attacks. Obviously, such an escalation would amount to a complete discrediting of the Taleban’s intentions, as well as a war crime.  

If the election does take place under the current conditions, it is will again lead to controversy and consternation. The electoral framework is still practically unreformed framework, the electoral institutions widely considered non-credible and partial, and the reports surrounding the preparations for biometric verification suggest the likelihood of renewed chaos. Under these circumstances, any result could easily be challenged. Delaying the election would deprive Afghan voters of the chance to make their preference known, but going ahead among controversy is also problematic. And many voters, particularly in rural Taleban-controlled areas, are already deprived by the further increasing number of polling stations that will remain closed on election day due to lack of security

Conclusion: An agreement without peace?

Starting the bilateral negotiations was arguably the only realistic way to get around the Taleban blockade on direct talks with the Afghan government. But as a means to persuade the Taleban to engage in actual peace negotiations it appears, for now, to have failed. Instead of taking more time and pushing for engagement on the full four-point package deal, Khalilzad has given in to Taleban pressure and has relegated the vital negotiations on Afghanistan’s future political system to intra-Afghan negotiations, which may or may not take place. The Afghan government has, moreover, been forced to swallow the bitter pill of being downgraded, as an internationally-recognised and -funded government, to being considered just one of the Afghan ‘factions’ in those negotiations.

Two Afghan analysts, quoted here, seem to echo the view of many Afghans when they say that

… reaching a US-Taliban deal before establishing a solid intra-Afghan [negotiations] framework where the voices and demands of the Afghan people are translated into a workable agenda, negotiated by legitimate and competent representatives of the people, cannot, and should not be supported.

Such a deal, they say, risks freezing out “the only comparatively democratically [legitimised] entity in Afghanistan” which could have represented the majority of Afghans and their desire for peace. Already there is widespread concern among Afghans that their future is being decided behind their back in a rushed and hasty manner as dictated by the political calendar in the US.

Unfortunately, the ‘Kabul side’ also does not offer much hope. Both the government and the opposition have so far been unable to overcome their notorious disunity and to grasp the chance to represent Afghans’ hope for peace.

It is clear that the US-Taleban agreement, whether it will be signed in the coming few days or whether last-moment problems delay it further, will be insufficient to bring down the violence and usher in peace – which is what counts most for most Afghans. The agreement may even lead towards greater escalation, further empowering the Taleban and increasing their options while they have still not proven that their priority is peace, not power. The Taleban’s insistence that a ceasefire will for now only involve the leaving western troops indicates that their focus is still firmly on a military ‘solution’ with possibly a power-sharing deal. The later could allow them to push out their adversaries by force, after US troops are withdrawn and a decent interval of cooperation has elapsed.

How keen the Taleban are on a withdrawal agreement has been shown by the fact that even the 16 August bomb attack in a mosque in Kuchlak, near Quetta, where a brother of Taleban leader Mawlawi Hebatullah Akhundzada was killed, did not derail the talks. This despite the fact that the bomb may have been meant for Hebatullah himself and was generally seen as an attempt to sabotage the dialogue with the US.

Long-standing Afghanistan observer Michael Semple said he has found no evidence that the Taleban leadership is preparing for anything other than a march into Kabul:

They are telling their people: ‘We have defeated the Americans, the Americans are fleeing, and as they are fleeing they are handing us the keys to Kabul. We’re taking over.’ There is no reconciliation message…

At the same time, there have been signals over the years, not least during the 2018 Eid ceasefire, that many fighters – most of whom fight in the areas they have been born and where their families live – might be ready for peace, although probably not at a cost of a perceived ‘surrender’.

The shifts in the US’s negotiation strategy have made it plain that the agreement – once signed – will be, at best, only one step toward the long-awaited peace in Afghanistan and, at worst, a step towards further escalation of the conflict.

Edited by Martine van Bijlert, Sayed Reza Kazemi and Kate Clark


(1) So far there has been one recent successful ceasefire – or actually, two as both the government (tacitly joined by the US forces) and the Taleban both observed unilaterally proclaimed ceasefires in June 2018 that overlapped on the three Eid days. (The government’s truce was a few days longer.) For the first time, this allowed Afghans “to imagine their country in peace” after a long time, as AAN wrote. It fostered contacts and allowed fraternisation between Taleban and pro-government fighters. Many Taleban visiting government-held cities made it clear that the ceasefire did not mean they were willing to surrender (there was some slogan-shouting and many of them carried the movement’s white flag). At the same time, the government claimed that many Taleban fighters quit the movement on that occasion, which seems to have made its leadership wary about their fighters’ commitment. A recent article in the British media illustrated, in a number of interviews, the ambiguous positions vis-à-vis a possible peace deal of many fighters: “tired of war, and at times suspicious of their leaders [b]ut … also often uncompromising in their demands for an American defeat and Islamic government, with little sign they wanted to sign up to share power with the Kabul government or sign up to the country’s democratic constitution.”

(2) German foreign minister Heiko Maas said on 27 August in Berlin that his country would continue supporting “US efforts to broker a peace agreement between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban… even though we know that success is by no means certain – considering everything that has happened in the country in the last decades.”

(3) The number of – declared – armed private security contractors in Afghanistan has increased more than 65 per cent since President Donald Trump took office, according to a review of Pentagon statistics (see here). The Pentagon’s most recent report on contractor personnel numbers, for the third quarter of Fiscal Year 2019, cites 2,639 (slightly down from 2,847 in the first quarter) armed private security contractors supporting the Operation Freedom’s Sentinel mission in Afghanistan, up from the 1,722 armed contractors it reported in Jan. 2017.

(4) Large-scale defections to ISKP have not happened so far, and the group is cornered in some parts of some eastern districts. Deeper ideological and religious rifts between the (Sunni Hanafi) Taleban and the IS Salafi stand in the way. But there is no guarantee that economic problems and grievances over the US-Taleban agreement might not bridge this gap. On the other hand, the Taleban dropping out of the armed conflict with the US might narrow ISKPs’ room to manoeuvre, as it might become the main target of an internationally-backed onslaught, possibly coordinated with the Taleban.

(5) This happened after the disintegration of former national security advisor Muhammad Hanif Atmar’s ticket, after his candidate for second vice-president, Muhammad Mohaqqeq, and his campaign manager Jailani Popal defected to Abdullah’s team.


Categories: Defence`s Feeds

Why has Rural Poverty in Afghanistan Got Worse? New AAN paper on post-2001agricultural policy

Tue, 27/08/2019 - 09:57

A new AAN paper seeks to understand why agricultural policy since 2001 has failed to increase production, lift rural Afghans out of poverty or secure their food supply. It finds the answers in the stories agricultural development planners tell themselves about how to ‘modernise’ agriculture, even as they ignore evidence from the field. AAN guest author Adam Pain (*) traces how planners have kept doggedly focussing on production, supply and markets, even as people in rural Afghanistan and research on markets and labour relations tell a different story, of lack of work and households locked into debt relations. Here, Adam Pain introduces his paper, “Growing Out of Poverty? Questioning agricultural policy in Afghanistan” which outlines what has not worked in the last two decades, and what might.

The Helmand scheme . . . came under American supervision in 1946 and continued until the departure of the last reclamation expert in 1979, outlasting all the theories and rationales on which it was based. It was lavishly funded by U.S foreign aid, multilateral loans, and the Afghan government, and it was the opposite of piecemeal. It was an “integrated” development scheme, with education, industry, agriculture, medicine, and marketing under a single controlling authority. Nation building did not fail in Afghanistan for want of money, time, or imagination. In the Helmand Valley, the engines and dreams of modernization had run their full course, spooling out across the desert until they hit limits of physics, culture, and history. – Nick Cullather (1)

Rural development, of which agricultural development is an important part, is a genuinely uncertain activity. One of the ways that both policy makers, bureaucrats and practitioners deal with that uncertainty is to create stories or accounts that simplify that reality so that they can be clear about what they must do. In the 1950s it was all about river basin development. Now it is about liberal market development. The ‘will to improve’ (2) is enormous, the desire to claim success overwhelming and policy and practice proceeds often almost in defiance of what is happening on the ground.

So it has been in Afghanistan. I remember back in 2001 how quick policy makers from the international and bilateral agencies with little attention to the past were to formulate the solutions they thought were needed to respond to how they saw the problems and needs of Afghanistan. Of course the solutions were largely framed in terms of what were seen to be the deficiencies and ‘lacks’ of Afghanistan. It was not difficult to construct a policy story whereby Afghanistan’s largely rural economy – at least that is where most people live – would provide the means by which Afghanistan would be economically transformed through market based agriculture and poverty reduced.

The story drew its rationale by an appeal to history, both distant and recent, of how other countries had undergone such transformations in the past. All Afghanistan had to do, the narrative went, was to follow that route – except that it was a very simplified history and account and more of a case of ‘do as we say’ rather ‘than do as we did’ or even ‘as we do’. The policy instruments used in the past by the west, and more recently in particular Asian countries, included a whole range of tariff barriers, investments in public goods, and public support to agriculture. Western countries still protect and subsidise their agriculture. Yet Afghanistan was expected to transform itself in the face of the full winds of free trade and global agricultural markets.

A village in Sar-e Pul that feels left behind, although nationwide, rural poverty rates have risen since 2001 (Adam Pain 2010)

Not surprisingly, it has not worked. Agricultural productivity has not grown, or at least not it has not grown yet. Poverty and food insecurity rates in Afghanistan, however, have grown since 2002. Is it a case of try again, try again better and fail again better? Or is the policy story fundamentally wrong and we need a better one?

My answer to that question is that the policy story is wrong and we do need a better one. This is what this paper is about. It draws on long-term fieldwork in rural Afghanistan and critical engagement as a teacher in theories and evidence of agrarian change, rather than any specific engagement in the agricultural policy-making processes

Attempts to generalise about rural Afghanistan, of course, raise real challenges, given its diversity of cultural and geographical landscapes. It remains largely unknown, statistically: the absence of universal cadastral records, showing the extent, value and ownership of land, for example, reveals the limits of the state’s ability to make ‘legible’, to see and therefore tax, its rural population. Even knowledge of existing villages and their locations is patchy. Superimposed on this is an intervention landscape where multiple agencies and NGOs have meddled in village life, sometimes in contradictory ways, leaving few records and, often, few traces. A funding landscape where donors have favoured some provinces over others, leading to profoundly uneven allocation of resources, has compounded this heterogeneity.

So this paper has drawn its arguments from specific locations in seeking to develop a more general account of Afghanistan’s rural economy over the last 15 years or so. It has used a household panel approach drawing on an overall sample of over 300 households in different locations, a subset of which have been revisited over three rounds of study, held in 2003, 2009-10 and 2014-16. The locations have provided contrasts in terms of reconstruction funding, conflict, changing access to public goods and levels of inequality. In its final round, it included studies of village institutions and the navigation of economic life in key commodity markets.

The evidence from the field is compelling and consistent. Two key aspects are noted here. First are the accounts by informants – farmers from Sar-e Pul, Herat and Kandahar provinces – of the lack of work in agriculture:

First there is no work available in this village especially in winter time. If [a person] finds work at the village level it is not a regular job. They are able to find work for only up five days in a month in winter time. However, in summer time, jobs increase at the village level, but still it is only for two months and the wage is not sufficient. (3)

 [if I were to rank the income for people in the village] I would say working in Iran comes first, then working in construction .. and lastly agricultural income. We don’t have [so much] land in the village that people [can] totally depend on it. (4) 

The money sent… from Iran is the only source of income for the household. The harvest of wheat… is not sufficient for the household itself. From our lands, we get three kharwar [1 kharwar = 560kg] while our annual consumption is six, so we are buying three kharwar every year. (5)

Now the labour market has come down and about 65 per cent of people at the village level are free and they are not able to find work for themselves. About eight years ago, this percentage was about 10 per cent , and these 10 per cent  people were busy in agriculture activities at the village level. The other 90 per cent  of people were busy in work outside of the village. (6)

The second aspect of evidence from the field speaks to the nature of rural poverty: households locked into debt relations, forms of debt bondage and patron-client relationships offering dependent security and not much else.

People have to continue with the jamadar [labour broker] for the next year as well… Therefore, continually, people are working in the brick kilns for the jamadar to cover their loan. (7)

If I do not cook their bread and my son does not graze their cow, they will take that house from us. After that, someone else will come and live here. Because there are a lot of people that want to have such an opportunity. (8) 

Thus, while one can often find in many but not all villages a few farmers with larger landholdings who are more market-oriented, in nearly all villages, most households have little or no land and cannot secure sufficient income either in kind from the harvest or agricultural work to feed their families. They are in a sense a ‘surplus ‘population, who will probably never find work in the rural economy and are deeply constrained in the choices they have. Evidence from the field shows how strongly Afghanistan’s rural economy is governed largely by social rather than market relations. That is likely only to persist under the current conditions of conflict. What the country’s rural population needs is work and the assurance of food security. Yet, this has not been a priority in agricultural policy. Instead it has focused on commodities and markets.

A harvest of melons in Badakhshan (Adam Pain 2011)

In sum, the modernisation narrative that has driven agricultural policy-making in Afghanistan needs to change. It cannot just focus on production and supply, but must address much more structural constraints and risk. These aspects are central to the creation and perpetuation of poverty. Markets are not the solution. Indeed, as the evidence shows, they may well amplify the risks. Dreams of agricultural modernisation are just that and like the Helmand scheme before it, are foundering in their encounter with Afghanistan’s rural reality.


Edited by Thomas Ruttig


(*) Adam Pain has worked on Afghanistan’s rural economy since 2001, which he first visited in the last months of the Taleban era. This led to the establishment of the household lpanel inBadakhshan, Faryab, Ghazni, Herat, Kandahar, Laghman and Sari-i-pul and he led the three rounds of the  livelihood trajectory study between 2003 and 2016. He is a visiting professor at the Department of Urban and Rural Development at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science, Uppsala, and co-author of a recent textbook on rural development: A Pain and K Hansen, Rural Development (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019).


(1) Nick Cullather, “Damming Afghanistan: Modernization in a Buffer State.” Journal of American History 89:2 (2002), pp512–37.

(2) Tania Murray Li, The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development and the Practice of Politics, Durham, Duke University Press, 2007.

(3) Danielle Huot and Adam Pain, Afghanistan livelihood trajectories: life on the margins in Sar-i-Pul Province. SLRC/AREU Working Paper 54, 2017, p11.

(4) Danielle Huot, Adam Pain and Ihsanullah Ghafoori, Afghanistan livelihood trajectories in Afghanistan: evidence from three villages in Herat Province, SLRC/ AREU Working Paper 54, 2016, p21.

(5) Hout, Pain and Ghafoori, see FN 4, p38.

(6) Adam Pain and Danielle Huot,Life in the time of ‘late development: Livelihood Trajectories in Afghanistan 2002-2016, SLRC/AREU, 2017, p23.

(7) Pain/Huot, see FN 6, p27.

(8) Pain/Huot, see FN 6, p26.


Publication date: 27 August 2019

The full report can be downloaded here: Agricultural Policy in Afghanistan



Categories: Defence`s Feeds

Past as Prologue? What the parliamentary election results tell us about the September presidential election

Fri, 23/08/2019 - 03:57

To better understand the influences that will shape the outcome of the upcoming presidential election, guest author Scott Worden (with input from Colin Cookman)* analyses recent voter registration patterns, as well as voting patterns from the last parliamentary election, in October 2018. He found large differences between provinces and regions – in security conditions, rates of voter registration and the proportion of the population that cast their votes – meaning that some areas have a much greater potential influence on the outcome of the presidential election than others. This analysis seeks to provide a useful insight into which areas of the country may have greater relative weight in the 2019 presidential election and which may not.


Comparing past registration and voting patterns provides indications as to which areas of the country will have greater or less potential to influence the outcome of the upcoming presidential election. This is the case even though the risk of fraud will dominate election concerns: the impact of fraud depends significantly on a foundation of registration and turnout. As candidates and voters consider whether there is a ‘level playing field’ in the upcoming election, voting and voter registration patterns reveal several slopes in the landscape.

  • Based on parliamentary vote totals by province and region, the lowest proportion of registered voters showed up in the southeast (21%) and south (27%). Ironically, this is where registration was highest compared to population. In other words, many voters in these regions were registered, but comparatively few voted. The highest voter participation rates were in the Central Highlands and the north, where registration per capita was lowest, ie while relatively few registered, those that did were more likely to vote.
  • Overall, more votes were cast in ‘urban’ than rural areas during the parliamentary election. Candidates that appeal to urban voters are likely to have a structural advantage in the presidential race. A big question is whether urban voters have different candidate preferences than rural voters – or whether other factors like ethnicity, education, or age matter more.
  • More than half of the parliamentary votes were cast in seven out of 34 provinces, all of which contain large cities: Kabul province alone comprised 16.5 per cent of the total national vote, followed by Herat (9%), Nangrahar (8%), Balkh (6%), Takhar (5%), Baghlan (5%) and Kandahar (5%). Together, these provinces made up 53 per cent of the vote cast, although they contain only 47 per cent of the country’s population. Candidate preferences in these provinces may play a dominant role in choosing the next Afghan president, particularly if the contest is close.
  • The 15 lowest-voting provinces (Uruzgan, Zabul, Nuristan, Logar, Farah, Paktika, Nimruz, Panjshir, Kapisa, Badghis, Laghman, Paktia, Kunduz, Jowzjan and Wardak) together made up only 15 per cent of the national vote in the 2018 parliamentary election. If these 15 provinces had voted in proportion to their population, they would have comprised 29 per cent of the vote. Most of these provinces are significantly affected by the insurgency. In that sense, the Taleban significantly disrupted the parliamentary elections and have a lot of leverage to do so again in September.
  • The Central Highlands significantly over-performed in terms of votes per population in the parliamentary election. Daikundi cast 3.9 per cent of the parliamentary votes, but makes up only 1.4 per cent of the population – a ratio of 2.5 to 1. Bamyan had more than twice its share of votes cast compared to population, at a ratio of 2.1 to 1 (it has 1.9 per cent of the population, but cast 3.6 per cent of all votes). If participation rates are similar in the presidential election, the Central Highlands will represent a valuable vote block.
  • While fraud undoubtedly occurred during the parliamentary elections, it appears that the scale of ballot stuffing was lower than in past elections – helped by new biometric voter verification processes and polling station voter lists. None of the 2018 provincial level vote totals are demographically implausible. Yet with dozens of candidates running for each parliamentary seat, only a few hundred votes determined winners from losers. Large-scale fraud is more necessary in presidential elections, and high voter registration in some insecure areas preserves the risk for a return of mass fraud in the upcoming vote.
  • The biggest wildcards in the presidential election are the east and southeast. Voting for the parliamentary election there was anaemic, with only 569,000 votes or 16 per cent of the total votes cast (although these regions have around 28 per cent of the registered voters). The potential vote is much larger. Over 40 per cent of the population in these two regions registered to vote, equalling 23 per cent of total registration in the country and comprising a maximum potential two million votes. If turnout significantly increases between 2018 and 2019, this could be the biggest vote block in the presidential election.

The difficulty of electoral predictions

Electoral predictions are a dismal science in Afghanistan – both because of widely shifting political preferences and the murky data that underlies all planning and prediction efforts. To better understand the influences that will shape the presidential election, this report examines both where voters are registered and where votes were cast in the October 2018 parliamentary elections. This combined information offers an indication of which vote banks may be more potent in the upcoming presidential election.

Significant differences in security across the country have created an uneven landscape for voter participation and this will affect results. A new voter registration system, implemented in the run-up to the 2018 election, has placed further limits on who can vote, as will be seen below.

Pre-election polling would normally provide the means for predictive analysis based on voter populations. But there are few reliable political polls in Afghanistan and it is difficult to separate likely voters from the general population when creating a polling sample population. In 2014, the few public polls of presidential election preferences were met with accusations that the pollsters were biased and, in one case, threats against the international organisation conducting the poll.

The next best thing, therefore, is to examine geographic differences in voter participation, which can indicate where candidates may have political advantages. This is particularly relevant since ethnicity is probably the most salient feature of politics in Afghanistan right now and in many areas ethnicity correlates strongly with geography. The second round of the 2014 election showed that Abdullah won more votes in non-Pashtun areas and Ghani won the most votes in Pashtun areas, including in areas that did not overwhelmingly vote for him in the first round.

Generally speaking, Pashtun populations are more concentrated in the southern and eastern regions bordering Pakistan; Tajik populations are generally higher in the north, west and northeast; Hazara populations are generally higher in the Central Highlands; and Uzbek populations higher in a few northern provinces surrounding Jowzjan. Kabul province is probably the most ethnically diverse and has the largest share of population of any province – an estimated 16 per cent of the national total.

In addition to ethnicity, candidates and vice presidents will likely attract more supporters from provinces where they grew up or have tribal affiliations. Piecing this puzzle together for a particular presidential ticket is beyond the scope of this report. But the data here can be applied by others to estimate where vote blocs are stronger and weaker.


The electoral data analysed in this report has been taken from the Independent Election Commission (IEC) website. The final results of the parliamentary vote were posted station by station here and laboriously downloaded by Colin Cookman (accessible as a downloadable data file here). Cookman’s data site enables comparisons of voting and registration at the polling centre level, as well as past population estimates at the district level.

Prior to the 2018 elections, the IEC published a preliminary set of voter registration figures by province here. Although never publicly released, the IEC subsequently updated its final pre-election voter registration figures after a brief clean-up process in early October 2018 to remove duplicates and other erroneous registration. That final voter registration list was obtained from an election observer and used for calculations in Cookman’s electoral dataset.

Population figures are taken from the Central Statistics Office’s (CSO) published population dataset for 2018-19. CSO population statistics are the official source used by the government and the IEC, although historically they have been lower than other estimates (such as Flowminder, iMMAP and LandScan, which are satellite-based estimates). If the CSO population estimates are indeed lower than the actual population figures, it means that an even smaller share of the population has registered and voted than cited in this report.

For the purpose of this report, the voting patterns in the 2018 parliamentary election are treated as a ‘floor’ for the presidential election, on the assumption that at least most of those who voted in the parliamentary election will do so again for the presidential vote – and more will probably do so. The voter registration patterns, whose numbers include ‘top-up’ registration this year, are considered the ‘ceiling’ for this report, since only those who have registered will be able to vote.

National parliamentary election participation trends

An analysis of the 2018 parliamentary vote shows a historically-low turnout and significant differences in turnout between the provinces. It also showed unequal voter registration.

Low turnout in the 2018 parliamentary election

The overarching story of the 2018 parliamentary elections is one of historically-low turnout according to every metric. Based on the IEC’s final results, fewer valid votes were cast than in any previous election, both in absolute terms (3.6 million vs 4.2 million in 2010) and as a percentage of the population (11% vs 17%). Fewer polling locations were open and there were fewer reported results than ever before (4,600 vs 5,200 polling centres in the 2014 presidential election). More districts saw no voting than ever before (51 out of the 421 districts and urban centres that the IEC uses for its polling centre plan).1 Also, for the first time, an entire province had no election (Ghazni, which includes 19 of the 51 districts mentioned above). In previous elections, Ghazni cast respectively 275,000 (second round of the 2014 presidential election) and 179,000 votes (2010 parliamentary election).

It is difficult to say whether this low turnout in the parliamentary election will be repeated in the presidential election because the political dynamics are different. In parliamentary elections, local candidates and local rivalries can inspire people to vote to address local patronage demands. Presidential politics are more consequential for the nation, but can seem more remote to local constituents. This year’s presidential election will be the first not to have a local component in the form of provincial council elections since 2004. That ‘standalone’ presidential election was marked out by high levels of participation, but it took place under unique transitional circumstances and with far better, countrywide better security; it cannot be a template for what will happen this year. The lack of a local poll alongside the presidential ballot in September, some argue, means the election will attract fewer voters.

With these factors in mind, the overall low turnout in 2018 can be considered as a floor of participation that illustrates a ‘worst case scenario’ for voting participation in the presidential election.

Provincial winners and losers in the 2018 parliamentary election

There was wide variation in relative participation – votes per capita – between the provinces in 2018. Overall, the parliamentary election saw more votes per capita in the Central Highlands and fewer in the south, southeast and east. Daikundi, for example, had 132,000 votes recorded in 2018 (26 per cent of its estimated 499,000 population), while, combined, Paktia, Paktika and Khost cast 159,000 votes (just eight per cent of its estimated combined 1,955,000 population). Kandahar province cast 157,000 votes, which was only 11 per cent of its estimated population. Only 12,000 of Uruzgan’s 420,000 citizens voted in the parliamentary election – less than three per cent. Translated into a nationwide election, this would suggest that areas with high insecurity and a largely rural population would be significantly under-represented in terms of the vote.

Different levels of access to voting is significant because geographic regions have distinct political characteristics that may favour some candidates over others. Therefore, suppression of the vote in one area will tilt the playing field toward others. The constitution addresses this problem for the parliament by requiring that seats are allocated to provinces proportional to their population – thus seeking to ensure that voters in different provinces are represented in relatively equal proportions in the national legislature. In the presidential election, however, the whole nation is one constituency and all votes are weighted equally. Therefore, a province or region with more voters registered compared to its population, potentially has a greater influence on who becomes president.

To illustrate the case, in the parliamentary election, the number of votes in Uruzgan amounted to 0.3 per cent of the total number of votes cast in the country, whereas the Uruzgan population is 1.3 per cent of the national total and Uruzgan has 1.2 per cent of the seats in parliament. If this pattern were repeated in the presidential election, the influence of Uruzgan citizens in choosing the President would be roughly four times less than their population would suggest. Kunduz and Helmand are also highly insecure and also significantly under-performed on a per capita basis in the 2018 election. Together, they cast 128,000 votes, amounting to 3.8 per cent of the national total, whereas their combined population is 8.7 per cent of the national total and their parliamentary seats 6.8 per cent of the total.

While small and insecure provinces will likely have reduced influence in the presidential election, several large and more urbanized provinces will likely dominate the national presidential vote. A majority (53 per cent) of the votes cast in the 2018 parliamentary election were from seven out of 34 provinces: Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Nangrahar, Takhar, Badakhshan and Kandahar, which contain only 47 per cent of the population.

Greater urban participation

Looking more closely at the population map, one of the most salient distinctions between the 2018 election and past elections is a shift toward more ‘urban’ participation. In the 2010 parliamentary election, districts that contained a provincial capital (in most cases, the largest city in the province) contributed 30 per cent of the final vote, in line with their estimated 30 per cent share of the national population. In 2018, 38 per cent of the final vote was cast in districts containing the provincial capital, which were estimated, by then, to comprise around 32 per cent of the population.2Thus, in 2018 these urban voters had a greater influence over results than more rural areas.

At the provincial level, there is more variation and there are some extreme outliers. In Farah, 87 per cent of votes came from the capital district (21,952 of 25,200 votes for the whole province). Yet the Afghan Central Statistics Office estimates the capital district has only 23 per cent of the population (123,135 people out of a total provincial population of 543,257.) Farah, Helmand, Jowzjan and Zabul all had at least 40 per cent more of the vote coming from capital districts than the percentage of population that lives there. It is notable that each of these provinces has high levels of Taleban control outside the capital, which could explain the relative lack of votes from those districts.

Another way to measure ‘urban’ versus ‘rural’ voting influence is to look at polling centres that are closest together, based on IEC GPS data (close proximity indicates they are located in cities or villages with higher population densities) and to compare them to polling centres that have the greatest distance between them (indicating a more rural and sparse population). Overall, 41 per cent of the vote in the country was cast in the top 25 per cent most densely-concentrated polling centres. Only 16 per cent of votes were cast in the bottom 25 per cent of polling centres, that are furthest apart.

Unequal voter registration

Since the adoption of the 2018 Electoral Law, eligible citizens can only vote in the specific polling centre where they registered prior to the election. Therefore, voter registration data paints a clear picture of the maximum  vote that may occur in a given area during the presidential election.

Voter registration figures for the 2018 election indicated that only 60 per cent of estimated eligible voters (Afghan citizens age 18 or older) registered to vote (see also this AAN dispatch).3

Within that low figure, there were large disparities between provinces and regions. In seven provinces, less than 40 per cent of the estimated eligible population was registered; 43 districts had no registration at all (including all 19 districts in Ghazni, where in 2018, no election was held) and; 16 districts conducted voter registration, but no women registered to vote. The least represented provinces were Farah (6% of those over 18), Uruzgan (7%), Kunduz (8%) and Badghis (8%). Helmand, Logar and Wardak are also areas of high insecurity and had below average voter registration. Jowzjan, one of the provinces where First Vice President Dostum has ‘delivered’ the vote in previous elections to Hamed Karzai and then Ashraf Ghani, also significantly under-performed in voter registration, with only eight per cent of those of voting age registering. In neighbouring Sar-e Pul, only nine per cent registered.4  The fall in registration rates in some northern provinces due to the Taleban capture of large areas was so marked that the United Nations Secretary General in his 10 September 2018 report on Afghanistan to the General Assembly highlighted the “discontent” there and said that “some opposition figures accused the Government of a deliberate plot to disenfranchise northern communities.” (See also AAN reporting) on registration and voting in Faryab in 2018.)

Registration as a percentage of CSO population estimates was highest in the Central Highlands and the east. The eastern provinces of Nangrahar, Nuristan, Khost and Kunar also significantly exceeded the national voter registration average. Bamyan, Daikundi and Ghor in the Central Highlands registered above average as well. Kandahar in the south and Baghlan in the north were also in the top ten in of registration rates.

It should be noted that there were several strong indicators of fake registrations in insecure provinces such as Kandahar and Paktia (described in this AAN guest analysis). In Paktia, for instance, registration exceeded the estimated voting age population by five per cent. Even if the population estimates are inaccurate, this is such an extreme result that some form of fraud is indicated because that would mean 100% registration occurred in a province with significant security obstacles – well above national averages and rates in developed democracies.

Regardless of fraud, areas that have high registration numbers, like many southeastern provinces, have a high potential influence in the presidential election. Areas with low registration numbers, as in several southern provinces, are capped in the number of votes they are able to cast.

New voter registration for 2019

In August 2019, the IEC released new provincial voter registration figures, following a month-long ‘top-up’ exercise aimed at registering or updating voter rolls since the parliamentary elections last autumn. According to these figures, this brought the 2019 voter registration to 9.6 million, which includes 235,000 registrants in Ghazni – where no registration was conducted in 2018. Setting Ghazni aside, this roughly 565,000 increase from 2018 registration surpasses an earlier press-release that claimed only 317,395 new voters had been registered in the process, not including voters in Ghazni. Since then, IEC officials also stated that they had removed approximately 400,000 duplicate or erroneous voter registrations from the national list. The IEC has not yet reconciled these discrepancies.

Comparing the detailed 2019 consolidated voter registration numbers with the 2018 numbers shows that several provinces gained considerably more than others. Several small and/or insecure provinces, including Nuristan (35%), Faryab (16%), Badghis (16%), , Paktika (14%), Kunduz (13%), and Uruzgan (14%) saw the largest percentage increases in voter registration between 2018 and 2019 – although in some cases like Nuristan, this was from a low baseline and the absolute number of voter registrations involved is not that large at the national scale. Kabul, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Herat, and Faryab saw the largest net changes. These five provinces collectively added 207,000 votes to their 2018 voter registration. Within these provinces, the majority of that increase coming from polling centres in their capital districts, increasing the power of urban voting in the presidential election.

Voter registration as a ceiling on participation

As difficult as it is to predict where people will vote, it is easier to determine where people will not vote.

First, people will not be able to vote in areas where voter registration was unavailable Out of the known universe of roughly 7,400 polling centres from past elections, only 5,106 opened for registration, the deficit largely due to insecurity. Out of these, only 5,066 had registration data posted on the IEC website (representing 69 per cent of the ideal coverage). Overall, 43 out of 421 districts had no registered voters in the 2018 election, including the 19 districts in Ghazni. Moreover, during 2019, top-up voter registration was largely limited to district centres – although voters who made it to a district centre could choose any polling centre in the province to vote in. This meant that voters in more remote areas faced greater challenges to register due to a lack of affordable or safe transport and, for women, cultural norms that restrict them from traveling.

Second, people cannot vote if they chose not to register even where there was access. With a relatively short time to register in 2018 and almost no public outreach, participation was low even in areas that were accessible and secure. In Kabul province, for example, only 32 per cent of the estimated eligible voters registered. In very safe Bamyan province, only 30 per cent registered (although here there were also complaints that the IEC did not open enough registration sites). Choosing not to register is an individual voter’s choice. But cumulatively, it affects the size of voting blocs that candidates hope to draw on for electoral support.

Third, during the 2018 election, many poling centres that planned to open on polling day were closed – largely due to poor security but also administrative and staffing problems. Of the roughly 5,100 polling centres that had registered voters, only approximately 4,600 locations actually opened based on reports of valid results. Given that people are required to vote in the centre where they registered, closing a polling centre where registration occurred bars those citizens from voting.5

The consequences of uneven representation

All this means that, even if one assumes maximum participation, several provinces and regions will have more opportunity to vote than others. The lowest registration rates per population tended to occur in areas with a more active insurgency. Each of these provinces will have a significant structural disadvantage when it comes to choosing the next president.

Looking at the registration ceilings, if the same proportions of registered voters turn out in all provinces in the presidential election as they did in the parliamentary election, the east and southeast have the greatest advantage, whereas the south, west and north will have the lowest participation. This means that candidates relying on votes from the north, south and west are at a structural disadvantage when it comes to getting out the vote.

The above graph shows the difference between a province’s share of the national population and its share of national voter registration. If each province has the same voter turnout rates in the presidential election, the provinces on the left would have more influence on the choice of a president than their population would indicate. Provinces on the right would have less influence than their population would indicate.



This graph illustrates the range of potential voter participation in the presidential election by province. The top line shows per-capita registration, which is effectively a ceiling of votes that may be cast. The bottom line shows the percentage of the population that actually voted in the 2018 parliamentary election. Provinces on the left side of the scale have the most uncertain vote banks. Provinces on the right already maximised their opportunities to vote in the 2018 vote.

Based on parliamentary vote totals by province and region, the lowest proportion of registered voters showed up in the southeast (21%) and south (27%) – ironically, where registration was highest. In other words, relatively-speaking, many voters in these regions registered, but comparatively few voted. The highest voter participation rates were in the Central Highlands and the north, where registration was lowest. Both the north and the west made up for their relatively low registration rates with relatively high participation, ie while relatively few registered, those that did were more likely to vote. Jowzjan had 59 per cent of registered voter turnout and Herat had 60 per cent. Badakhshan, Balkh, Parwan, Baghlan, Panjshir and Samangan were all above the national average.

There may be several reasons for the contrast between voter registration rates and voting rates. Security conditions may have changed in the six months between registration and voting. Enthusiasm for registering to vote may be greater than the appeal of voting for particular candidates, if a person does not see a favourite they like.

Fraud is another possibility. It is possible that areas with fraudulent registration amassed potential vote banks that were not used in the parliamentary election – either because the last minute introduction of biometric voter verification upset ballot stuffing plans, or because fraudulent registration was intended to be used for presidential elections and not the parliamentary elections. If this last theory is true, then extra vigilance is needed to prevent fraud in areas that have high registration and low parliamentary voting.

Ultimately, whether a particular province or region’s electorate will make the most of the possibilities provided by its level of registration is the most difficult question to answer and relies on a combination of candidate campaign mobilisation and prevailing security conditions. The turnout for the parliamentary elections may, however, provide some important clues.


* Scott Worden is Director of Afghanistan and Central Asia Programmes for the US Institute of Peace. He served as an international member of the Electoral Complaints Commission during the 2009 Afghanistan presidential elections.


(1) See attached annex listing the 51 districts where there was no registration.

(2) The 2018 figures are derived from this summary table. (specifically the national total rows for the variables “capital_district_votes_pct” and “capital_pop_pct_CSO_18_19”). The 2010 population data was calculated based on the CSO’s 2010-11 population estimate, accessible by Internet Archive here.

(3) The IEC registered 8.8 million voters for the 2018 election. Election officials have historically estimated that around 50 per cent of the population is 18 years or older, and therefore eligible to register to vote. The most recent statistics from the CSO now estimate that 54% of the population (17.4 million people) is under 18. Therefore, if the national population is approximately 32.2 million (according to current CSO data for 2019), then the estimated eligible voter population is around 14.8 million, meaning that 40 per cent of potentially eligible voters had not registered and were not be able to vote in 2019.

(4) Population / registration figures by province are included on this constituency summary table, which is also the source of the regional participation calculations in the following sections. Registration data by polling center (not rolled up into district-level in the file, but that’s where these no-registration figures came from) is here (checked against the district list here).

(5) In the 2018 election, there were also eight districts that had collectively registered 94,000 voters, but had no votes recorded on election day. The overall population of these 51 districts was 2.9 million (representing approximately 1.45 million potentially eligible voters).




Categories: Defence`s Feeds

Symbolism of a Day: A century of changing independence day celebrations in Afghanistan

Sun, 18/08/2019 - 03:33

From Amanullah Khan in whose time independence was realised, to Habibullah Kalakani who seemed to distance it from the previous regime, to Nader Shah and Zaher Shah who gave it a regal face, to President Daud who continued the royal tradition, to the communists and the mujahedin who downgraded it, to the Taleban who revived it as a military parade, to the post-2001 rule that has recently restored its past splendour after a period of high-security low-profile events; Afghanistan’s independence day of 28 Asad 1298 (19 August 1919) has seen continual ups and downs reflecting the preferences and contexts of different rulers. Visualised by select photos from different political eras, AAN researcher Reza Kazemi(with input from Thomas Ruttig and Jelena Bjelica) briefly charts one hundred years of Afghanistan’s independence celebrations and intersperses it with Afghan and foreign memories of a day that has been established as a symbol of what Afghanistan is.

I have declared myself and my country entirely free, autonomous and independent both internally and externally. My country will hereafter be as independent a state as the other states and powers of the world are. No foreign power will be allowed to have a hair’s breadth of right to interfere internally and externally with the affairs of Afghanistan, and if any ever does I am ready to cut its throat with this sword.

This is what King Amanullah announced to an assembly of dignitaries in Kabul on 13 April 1919. He then, according to the Afghanistan encyclopaedian Ludwig Adamec, “turned to the British agent and said, ‘Oh Safir [Envoy], have you understood what I have said?’ The British agent replied, ‘Yes I have.’” (1)

Amanullah rose to the throne in February 1919 after the assassination of his father, King Habibullah. As a fervent nationalist and reformer, he immediately declared full independence from the British, triggering the war of independence (known by the British as the Third Anglo-Afghan War). (2) It was a short war lasting from 4 May to 3 June 1919, and resulted in the end of British control over Afghanistan’s foreign affairs. (3)

This dispatch explores the history of Afghanistan’s independence day, illustrated by a collection of photos from different political periods, including some from an exhibition at the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University (ACKU), “One Hundred Years of Afghanistan’s Independence: From Amanullah to Ashraf Ghani,” on 17 and 18 August 2019. (4) It then takes a look at the approaching 100th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence (19 August 2019) and notes a return to grand celebrations of the day, following a period of relatively low-key events largely confined to government buildings. Although the centenary commemoration is not free of controversy, given the widespread publicity the occasion gives the executive, who may soon be running in the presidential elections, it seems the independence day has over time been established as an indicator of evolving notions of Afghan identity.

100 years of Afghanistan’s independence: a brief overview

During the time of King Amanullah (1919-29), Afghanistan’s independence day was called eid-e esteqlal (the eid of independence). Its most spectacular stagings were held in Paghman, Kabul, where Amanullah had built the Taq-e Zafar (Victory Arch) to commemorate the 1919 war of independence. A road was also constructed in front of the Eidgah Mosque and behind Ghazi Stadium to mark Afghanistan’s independence day in Kabul city (see here). That the occasion was called eid was possibly aimed at strengthening the day by endowing it with a religious basis, given the ‘jihad,’ or ‘holy war,’ Afghans had declared and fought against the colonial power. There were sports contests and display of Afghan food and traditional art during the celebratory events. The festival opened with a speech by the king who reminded the gathering of the heavy price paid to obtain Afghanistan’s independence. The king’s speeches were later published for the public to read. In one part of his speech on the occasion of the third anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence in 1301 (1922), King Amanullah said (author’s English translation):

No one has gifted us this independence. Only Allah the Almighty has endowed us with this blessing. Independence is not something one gifts another; One sheds blood for it, as you did, and won it by your sword. The only wish of my humble heart is for the entire Afghan nation to have freedom and liberty as does their government.

Amanullah gives a speech on the third anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence day in Paghman, Kabul, 1301 (1922). Photo: ACKU collection

Dated 5 Sunbula 1301 (28 August 1922), this eblaq (announcement) reports on the weeklong jashn-e esteqlal (festival of independence) held from 26 Asad (18 August) to 2 Sunbula 1301 (25 August 1922) in Paghman, and publishes the speech made by King Amanullah during the opening ceremony. Photo: ACKU collection

This is how a Russian writer remembered Afghanistan’s day of independence in 1920:

In autumn that year, the frontier tribes staged a remarkable demonstration in Kabul. It was the time of the festival of independence… A colourful jostle enters into the city… Bands of spies curve around the crowd on bicycles which make every guttersnipe recognise them. Soldiers in European uniforms guard the public order, drive away lingering passers-by when they stand in the way of powerful dignitaries and freeze in convulsive saluting devotion when automobiles or carriages hurry by.

– Larissa Reisner, wife of a Soviet diplomat who lived in Kabul from 1919 to 1921 (taken from here).

For another memory of independence day, in 1924, when the celebration was called off because of the Mangal uprising against King Amanullah, see footnote 5.

Habibullah Kalakani speaks in the event to commemorate Afghanistan’s day of independence on 19 August 1929, Paghman, Kabul. Photo: ACKU collection

In his short reign (January-October 1929), King Habibullah Kalakani, who first rose in the anti-reformist reaction to Amanullah before succeeding him, was in power only long enough to lead one commemoration of Afghanistan’s independence day. [Amanullah escaped to and died in exile in Europe but his corpse was brought back to Afghanistan and buried in Jalalabad.] He seemed to distance the occasion from his predecessor. Speaking at the ceremony to celebrate the 11th anniversary of independence on 19 August 1929 in Paghman, he referred to the Amanullah period and said, “Independence is neither mine nor Amanullah’s; rather, it belongs to you the people.”

On the occasion of independence day on 19 August 1929 in Paghman, some military officers and ordinary people take part in a shooting contest. Photo: ACKU collection

Next was the rule of King Nader Shah (1929-33), who came to the throne after having Habibullah Kalakani caught and shot in late 1929. After Nader Shah was himself assassinated in 1933, his son Muhammad Zaher, aged 17 at the time, was declared the king of Afghanistan. Zaher Shah ruled until 1973, (6) during which time Afghanistan experienced four decades of general stability. This has been cherished by many as a period of relative normality when Afghanistan was at peace with itself and the world.

Nader Shah had a monument constructed within the Arg (Royal Palace) compound, known in English as the Independence Column (called Menar-e Esteqlal/Azadi – Minaret of Independence/Freedom – in Dari) and established the tradition of laying a wreath at its foot on the occasion of the independence day. This is a practice that has continued till this day, showing a legacy of Nader Shah on the independence day. After his assassination, Nader Shah was even promoted as “mohassel-e esteqlal” (“achiever of independence”), given his role as a commander in the 1919 war of independence.

Independence Column, Kabul, 1946. Photo: Kabul Times

During the time of King Zaher Shah (1933-73), there were ostentatious celebrations of independence day which often lasted for days (watch this rare English-language documentary on the week-long regal commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the independence day in Kabul in 1328 (1949) here). For example, “During the annual commemoration of Afghanistan’s independence,” wrote Foreign Policy in a 2010 photo essay, “Kabul was lit up at night in late August and early September for nine evenings in the early 1960s.”

Girls preparing to march on the 30th anniversary of the independence day, Kabul, 1328 (1949). Photo: ACKU collection

Below are four memories – two by Afghans and two by foreigners – of independence day celebrations during the reign of Zaher Shah (a fifth memory – much more detailed, by the first German Nazi ambassador to Kabul – can be read in footnote 7):

The government and people used to put up tents in certain places not just in Kabul but also elsewhere like Herat in the west. There were concerts organised by singers such as Ahmad Zaher whose concerts were much more expensive than others such as Parastu, Rokhshana, Biltun and so on. I went to these concerts and had lots of fun with my friends. I come from a village in Ghazni but came to Kabul to work. There was peace in those days and all you needed to have a good life was finding some good, well-paid work. If someone had a good salary, they would bring it to his family and they would eat good food. If someone had a bad salary, the family ate bad food. For me, life in Kabul was much better than life in the home village in Ghazni. It was much better, much more convenient and much more liberal.

– A 70-year-old Afghan man, author’s interview, Kabul city, January 2014.

I fondly remember my youth and the jashn [independence festival] days in the time of Zaher Shah. We attended the jashn for seven days and nights and danced and had fun. Those days, people were calm and peaceful. There wasn’t the sound of war and the noise of warplanes. Now American aircraft bomb from the air and there are explosions and suicide attacks on the ground. What jashn do we have these days? Can you celebrate with a hungry stomach and an anxious mind?

– An 80-year-old resident of Kabul city speaking to BBC Persian in August 2014.

Kabul, 23 August 1958. Today is jashn, the Afghan national day, the day on which, in 1919, Afghanistan became a sovereign country after a victory over the British. It is celebrated by a large parade, followed by a week-long folk fair and an international industrial fair.

The cabinet, the diplomatic corps, other officials and people from all over the country participate in the parade in front of the King. The diplomats wear tails [long formal jackets]. They sit behind the King’s box and have time to talk and look around…

A quarter past 8 am, a cavalcade of cars and busses arrives in front of the honorary stands. The passengers sally out and take their seats. Most of them wear turbans and tribal outfit. They are the members of the Loya Jirga… The people who line the streets outside the roofed stands are pushed back.

Shortly afterwards, the King’s Rolls Royce rolls through the emptied main street, together with the surviving brothers of his father and with Prince Daud, his cousin, the Prime Minister. After 12 gun salutes, he takes his place in the box and the parade can start.

First, the soldiers march past the King in gala uniform and precise goose step, followed by tanks, guns, lorries and other vehicles. Representatives from all parts of the country follow, mainly in picturesque tribal costume, on foot, high on horses or on camels. One of the chieftains who proudly rides on his grey horse at the top of his followers, holds his little son, dressed in white, on his lap.

The remaining watchers crowd the sides of the street that is decorated with flags, men only, naturally. The women watch the parade from the roofs of the mud houses.

– Reinhard Schlagintweit, then political officer at the German Embassy in Kabul (8).

A parade had been announced a couple of days in advance. I decided to go, as I was in Kabul at that time. I walked to the grounds where it was held. To my surprise there was not a big audience, so I found a good spot from where I could observe and take photos. I even managed to take a couple of photos of old-fashioned helicopters and airplanes. I can’t remember exactly, but I think they were ancient MIG planes.

The event was interesting and very ceremonial, but not orientally lavish.

A grandstand on which the king was seated was very sumptuous, alas the troops did not look so sensational; they could not even keep the tramp. The troops were covered in dust raised from both their uneven tramp and from the ancient vehicles that were in the parade. There was music, too, a lot of drums. They were playing the marches.

It was interesting, but also personally disappointing, that the parade was organised in the western style. The king’s regime was obviously inclined towards the west. I can’t recall too many details now 47 years later, but I do remember that feeling of the disappointment that the parade in Kabul was western style like.

Vojislav Vasić, Serbian ornithologist who travelled to Afghanistan and happened to be in Kabul for the 53rd Afghan independence day celebration in 1972, the last one organised by Zaher Shah before he was toppled in a bloodless coup by Prime Minister Daud in July 1973 [Zaher Shah died in 2007 in Kabul.]

Military parade on the occasion of the 53rd Afghan independence day, Kabul, 1972. Photo: Vojislav Vasić

Boys and men have climbed up a tree to catch a glimpse of the military parade, Kabul, 1972. Photo: Vojislav Vasić

In the time of President Daud (1973-78), the traditions set by Nader Shah and Zaher Shah to celebrate Afghanistan’s day of independence mostly continued. Below are two Afghan memories of independence day celebrations during this period, one in Kabul and the other in Herat:

I remember jashn-e esteqlal towards the end of Daud time, especially in the years 1355 [1976] and 1356 [1977]. The jashn continued for seven nights and days, especially after evening around 7 or 8 pm till the following morning, because 28 Asad [19 August], roz-e esteqlal [independence day], falls in the summer. There were camps set up in chaman-e huzuri and Kabul nandari [areas in Kabul city] which was a cinema and there was a park in front of it. Artists and singers came to sing and entertain people in the camps. Singers such as the late Ustad Sarahang, the late Ustad Rahimbakhsh who was my favourite and the late Ahmad Zaher came and entertained the people. Ahmad Zaher used to sing in the tent set up by the Ministry of Finance, but it was not possible for me to attend because it was the most expensive. If others cost Afs 30-40, Ahmad Zaher’s concert cost Afs 500 while the monthly wage of a mamur [ordinary government employee] was about Afs 1,300 then. The women singers were Mahwash, Parwin, Afsana, Rokhshana, Parastu and others. They were also singing in the tents.

There was also rezhe-ye nezami [military parade] with aircraft, tanks and infantry to celebrate roz-e esteqlal attended by Daud Khan in front of the Eidgah Mosque. There were different parts of the military that paraded, followed by the ma’aref [Ministry of Education] students and sportspeople. Different schools wore their special uniforms and their students paraded. They got prepared for this parade a month or so in advance. There were separate sections for the attan [dance] and tarana [singing].

This happened not just in Kabul city but also in the provinces like Faryab and Balkh attended by governors and police chiefs. For the provinces, it lasted some three days or so. But the most glorious was in Kabul.

Then security was not a big issue as it is now. There was really peace and calm then. It is so different now. I felt peace and calm then. I came to Kabul in 1352 from Faryab for studies and have been here so far. I and my friends also used to go to Qargha, Bagh-e Bala, Paghman and other sights to enjoy and have fun during the weeklong vacation.

– A 65-year-old Afghan man, author’s interview, Kabul city, July 2019.

Here in Herat, during Daud Khan’s period, there were festivities for three nights and days. Local Herati singers as well as singers coming to Herat from Kabul used to come to tents put up in and around the stadium to entertain people, especially in the evenings. People got together and ate. They also played cards. There was music. Some women also attended the events. It was very safe and calm in those days. I also went to those places and would stay to enjoy the events until 3 and even 4 am the following day. On the first day, there was rasm-e gozasht [military parade] and also a parade by students and sportspeople. On the last night, some people went and lit a big fire near Pashtun Pul [Pashtun Bridge constructed over the Harirud River between Injil and Guzara districts] around which they danced and had fun.

– A 60-year-old Afghan man, author’s interview, Herat city, August 2019.

The celebration of the independence day lost its former grandeur during the civil war that followed the killing of President Daud and several others close to him in a bloody coup by Afghan communists of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in April 1978. The communists called the event Enqelab-e Saur, the Saur/April Revolution, reminiscent of the naming of the October Revolution carried out by the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin in Russia in October 1917. They also considered their government to be a continuation of Amanullah’s reformist aspirations; there were large posters of him and the prominent Afghan nationalist Mahmud Tarzi, who was also Amanullah’s father-in-law, displayed outside on ministerial buildings.

In the time of the communist government (1978-92) and of the succeeding mujahedin government (1992-96) that came in its wake, however, greater attention was given to the celebration of the victory days that they regarded as important: 7 Saur 1357 (27 April 1978) for the communists and 8 Saur 1371 (28 April 1992) for the mujahedin. However, some celebrations of the independence day remained, which were, as always, politically charged displays of the strength of those in power at the time. For instance, the daily newspaper Haqiqat-e Enqelab-e Saur (Truth of the Saur Revolution), the publication organ of the central committee of the PDPA government, reported on a “glorious celebration” of the 63rd anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence day at the foot of the Victory Arch in Paghman district of Kabul province in 1982. The event was attended, as the newspaper said, by “thousands of workers and farmers from Paghman, Bagrami and Charasiab districts and some nahiyas [districts] of Kabul city.” There was “drum beating and jubilation” and “youth clothed in national clothes with red handkerchiefs fastened around their waists were dancing the attan with others forming a circle around them,” said the paper. It also reported that leaders from Russia, Hungary, [East] Germany, India, Vietnam, Korea and Cuba sent congratulations to Babrak Karmal (PDPA president and general secretary in the period 1980-86) and Sultan Ali Keshtmand (then Prime Minister in the Babrak Karmal government).

A page from daily newspaper Haqiqat-e Enqelab-e Saur, 30 Asad 1361 (21 August 1982), that reports on the independence day in that year. Photo: ACKU collection

After the defeat of the Soviets, celebrating independence from British dominance declined in prominence. In 1373 (1994), in his speech on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was president through the civil war years, claimed, “After the defeat of the British [referring to the Anglo-Afghan Wars], the defeat of the Soviets [by the mujahedin] is the second victory of Afghans on the international level.”

A page from the weekly newspaper Ittehad-e Islami (Islamic Unity), 1 Sunbula 1373 (23 August 1994), that reports Rabbani’s speech on the independence day in that year. Photo: ACKU collection

In Herat, a former mujahed remembered:

When the mujahedin came to power, there wasn’t much celebration of the independence day. We were in the mountains and came to town after we defeated the Soviets and Afghan communist government. I remember we had some military march in the Ferqa [headquarters of military division] led by Commander Alauddin Khan. In the mujahedin time in Herat, celebration shifted to days such as 29 Hamal 1371 [18 April 1992], the day the mujahedin came and took power in Herat.

– A 51-year-old Afghan man, author’s interview, Herat city, August 2019.

For their first few years in power, the Taleban (1996-2001) did not hold any special events to mark Afghanistan’s independence day. In 2000 and 2001, however, the Taleban held events to commemorate the 81st and 82nd anniversaries of Afghanistan’s independence day (watch their military parade in 2001 in the link provided in this previous AAN dispatch). This is how AAN’s Kate Clark (then BBC correspondent in Kabul) reported the Taleban’s celebration of Afghanistan’s independence day in 2001 and the year before:

The Taleban held the first military parade in the Afghan capital since the days of the Soviet-backed communist government. A small number of cadets and elite corps marched past in formation, eyes turned smartly right towards the leadership sitting on a podium. Then the real Taleban came. Hundreds of pick-up trucks, filled with men, lounging in their black shalwar chemise and plastic sandals, carrying Kalashnikov rifles and rocket launchers. Pickups are the equivalent of Panzer tanks in Afghanistan’s low-tech, civil war – able to scorch across the hostile terrain…

Music and clapping are both banned. But poetry and chants praised God, the nation and the Taleban. It was a rare chance to see the Taleban leadership – everyone was gathered at the parade except the supreme leader, the reclusive Mullah Omar. Like Kremlin watchers during the Cold War, we scanned the seating arrangements, trying to work out who was in the ascendant.

At the centre were the hardliners whose influence has become increasingly evident in the last twelve months.

A year ago [2000], Afghanistan’s Independence Day was celebrated with cultural as well as military events. The Taleban opened the national museum – for the first time in a decade. They boasted how much better they were than their predecessors, the mujahedin who’d looted most of the collection…

But it seems the public opening of the museum brought its existence to the attention of hardliners within the Taleban. After months of internal debate, there was an abrupt change of cultural policy. Moderates were side-lined and anything considered blasphemous in the eyes of God was destroyed. A year ago, I took some of the last film of the pre-Islamic statues in the museum…

They now lie in rubble, along with the colossal, centuries-old, carvings of the Buddha at Bamian. Taleban military tactics have also become increasingly hard-line.

[2001] Independence Day has been a chance for the Taleban to show off their military strength – they’re better armed than the opposition, with much more territory under their control to recruit or conscript fighters from and they have the only military planes in the country. After seven years of fighting their aim, is still to capture the whole of Afghanistan.

… One banner read: Infidels were plotting against Muslims and Afghans, but their conspiracies are doomed to failure. Another warned that Afghanistan was a graveyard for invaders – a reference to the fact that the country has never been colonized.

Taleban riding on their decorated vehicles with old cannons in tow pass in front of the Eidgah Mosque during the independence day ceremony, Kabul, 2001. Photo: Saeed Khan/AFP

The post-2001 Afghanistan returned to its grand celebration of the independence day as soon as it could. In 2002, one year after the overthrow of the Taleban in the aftermath of the US-led international military intervention in Afghanistan, thousands of Afghans celebrated their independence day by gathering at the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul and elsewhere. In Kandahar, the centre of the former Taleban government, for instance, people waved flags and watched a military parade. Appearing next to former king Zaher Shah in 2002, President Hamed Karzai, who had cancelled the military parade to save money, paid his respect to Afghans who died fighting for freedom and vowed to ensure unity among Afghans and rebuild the war-torn country.

President Karzai and former King Zaher Shah listen to the national anthem during the independence day celebration at Kabul’s Ghazi Stadium in 2002. Photo: Deshakalyan Chowdhury/AFP

The grand commemoration of the independence day with military parades, fireworks and games of buzkashi continued for the coming years (for 2006, for example, see here). This changed in 2008, when there was an assassination attempt on President Karzai that disrupted a large ceremony marking the mujahedin victory day on 28 April (details here), after which events to mark Afghanistan’s independence day became low-key, mostly confined to the defence ministry compound where President Karzai and his successor President Ashraf Ghani have laid wreaths at the foot of the Independence Column (see Karzai in 2012 here; and 2014, his last year in office, here; and see Ghani in 2015 here; and 2017 here).

Back to splendour: the approaching centenary

In 2013, a year before he became president, Ashraf Ghani said he regretted that King Amanullah’s achievements and Afghanistan’s former power had been “forgotten”. As an advocate for continuing the reformist agenda of King Amanullah, President Ghani has stressed a return to the past glory of independence day commemorations, possibly associating with the progressive ruler.

An Afghan guard of honour marches as the national anthem plays during an event to mark the independence day at the Ministry of Defence compound, Kabul, 2016. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP

In June 2019, President Ghani issued Decree No. 817 on commemorating the centenary of Afghanistan’s independence. Stressing the “glorious celebration of the country’s significant and historic victory” of the day that “belongs to the people,” the presidential decree did three important things: (1) it approved the plan prepared by the Administrative Office of the President celebrating the occasion (paragraph 2), (2) it created central and provincial secretariats on holding the centenary of Afghanistan’s independence (paragraphs 3 and 4) and (3) it allocated Afs 384,221,000 (around USD 4,800,000) from the presidential budget code 91 to organising events marking the centenary according to the plan (paragraph 7).

In his conversation with AAN, Baset Hafezi, an official in the Administrative Office of the President who serves in the central secretariat organising the centenary celebrations, said:

It has taken about two years to develop the plan. It includes over 150 national tasks to mark the 100th anniversary of the independence day. Its implementation started in the new year [1 Hamal 1398/21 March 2019]. It pursues the government’s vision to take the celebration of independence day to the homes of the people and to turn the occasion into a mirror in which all Afghans can proudly see themselves. The aim is to spread the message of unity and happiness on the independence day to all corners of the country.

The plan is not a public document because of “security and confidentiality considerations,” as Hafezi told AAN. However, a copy of parts of the plan obtained by the daily newspaper Etilaat Roz provides details of the diverse array of events that are planned for the occasion of the centenary of Afghanistan’s independence. The climax will of course be on 19 August 2019: the plan talks about a major celebration in the Presidential Palace, the opening of the recently-restored Qasr-e Darulaman (Abode of Peace Palace), (9) a large celebration in Paghman where the Qasr-e Balabagh (Upper Garden Palace) will be inaugurated, the opening of King Amanullah and Queen Soraya Mausoleum in Jalalabad, and a myriad of other celebratory events in the capital and the provinces across the country. There is even a discussion of the lighting of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Burj Khalifa in Dubai with Afghanistan’s flag colours as well as celebration of the day with Afghan refugees abroad in countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and India. According to the plan, the inauguration by 30 Asad (21 August) of a grand mosque within the Darulaman Palace compound is also on the agenda, the construction of which involves bringing soil from all Afghanistan’s provinces and districts. While the plan clearly indicates a grand celebration of the centenary, AAN is not able to independently confirm that the government will implement it in its entirety.

The Darulaman Palace is being restored for the celebration of the upcoming centenary of Afghanistan’s independence, July 2019. Photo: Reza Kazemi.

However, the government has already carried out some preparatory actions. For instance, it marked the National Flag Day on 7 Asad 1398 (29 July 2019) in Kabul and the provinces and held the First Afghan Cinema Festival on 12-19 Asad 1398 (3-10 August) in Kabul.Four songs have also been composed by Afghanistan National Institute of Music for the centenary event, one of which, Azadi (Freedom), you can watch here. Relatedly, near the Darulaman Palace, President Ghani has also recently laid the foundation stone of Afghanistan’s biggest administrative complex. Named Darulaman, it is a USD 1.2 billion construction project that covers an area of 100 hectares of land. The government says it will be completed in 20 years and house 27 government institutions. As for the provinces, in Herat, for example, the provincial government held a number of cultural events (eg a seminar on the renowned painter Kamaluddin Behzad, a short film festival and poetry and traditional music events) in August 2019 in advance of the coming centenary.

At a time of ongoing peace manoeuvres and imminent but uncertain presidential elections, these moves by the incumbent government, President Ghani in particular, have been extensively and severely criticised. Spokesmen of presidential candidates such as Hanif Atmar and Rahmatullah Nabil have accused the government of using the centenary as a campaign instrument in favour of the president in the coming elections. The exorbitant costs of the commemoration and construction projects such as the grand mosque within the recently-reconstructed Darulaman Palace premises have also been denounced as moves by the president to “deceive the public and make a forged [artificial] national character for himself.”

Despite all the controversy, Afghanistan is getting ready to mark the centenary of its independence. In Kabul, streets are being renovated, cleaned and lit, regardless of frequent power outages in the summer, and squares decorated with Afghan flags and celebratory banners. Similar things are happening in the provinces across the country. So, event preparations are under way to commemorate the occasion in as splendid a manner as possible, especially for those willing to celebrate it, especially the government of President Ghani.


This brief survey of a century of Afghanistan’s day of independence reveals the changing fortunes of the commemoration amid continual political change. Rulers of different times have tried, successfully or unsuccessfully, to leave their mark on the historic day. However, no ruler has attempted to abolish the occasion, but each has celebrated it in ways that they saw fit in their circumstances. The history of the day can also arouse mixed feelings of pride and gloom, of opportunities lost and of paths not taken.

The celebration of independence has often been problematic in Afghanistan. There are heated debates on the meaning of the country’s independence at a time when its government is so dependent on foreign military and economic aid. Moreover, violent conflict will continue to deprive residents in vast swathes of the country from a meaningful celebration of the occasion. More generally, notions of independence and a truly autonomous nation-state are increasingly questioned and challenged in a globalising world with which post-2001 Afghanistan has become profoundly interconnected.

For the current National Unity Government, in particular President Ghani, the coming centenary offers a good opportunity to reach out to diverse groups of people and project images of patriotism, nationhood, reform and progress. As well as the potential campaign benefit, there can be a well-intentioned motivation, a desire to bolster Afghanistan’s fragile national identity, which is under pressure from years of conflict, growing political fragmentation and the anxiety induced by potential peace negotiations with groups that hold contrasting ideas of nationhood, statehood and national identity.

The coming centenary comes at a critical juncture when peace overtures are being made, presidential elections are looming and future looks uncertain for Afghanistan. Through all its ups and downs, nevertheless, 28 Asad 1298 (19 August 1919) has come to stand as a symbol of what Afghanistan is as a country and Afghanness as an identity.

Edited by Thomas Ruttig and Rachel Reid


*The author would like to thank Atiq Arvand, communications officer at the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University (ACKU), for responding to his questions on the ACKU photo collection and reading and commenting on an earlier draft of this dispatch.


(1) Ludwig Adamec (2003), Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan, Lanham, Maryland and Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., pp 371-2. Adamec passed away in 2019 (AAN’s obituary here).

(2) For details on the three Anglo-Afghan Wars including the Third Anglo-Afghan War of 1919, see, for example: J A Norris and L W Adamec, “Anglo-Afghan Wars,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, II/1, pp 37-41, available online here. It is noteworthy that President Ashraf Ghani’s grandfather, Abdul Ghani Khan Ahmadzai, fought in the Third Anglo-Afghan War, along with Qayum Karzai’s grandfather.

(3) There is no consensus on which day is most appropriate to mark as Afghanistan’s day of independence (see here). For some, it is 9 Hut 1297 (1 March 1919) when King Amanullah released a statement on Afghanistan’s full independence. For others, it is 24 Hamal 1298 (14 April 1919) when he made his fiery speech as referred to in the text (13 April 1919, according to Adamec). Yet for some others, it is 28 Asad 1298 (19 August 1919) when the Rawalpindi peace treaty was affirmed by Afghanistan and Britain following their third war, at least according to some Afghan historiography. Due to this and other reasons (succeeding rulers attempting to distance the occasion from previous regimes), Afghanistan’s independence has been commemorated on different days (eg 9 Hut, 28 Asad, 6 Jawza [27 May], 1 Sunbula [23 August]). However, 28 Asad (19 August) has over time been established as the day memorialising Afghanistan’s independence.

(4) The photo exhibition coincides with the second Afghanistan studies conference, “Independence, More Independence and Beyond Independence,” which will be held by the ACKU in collaboration with the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies (AIAS) on 17 and 18 August 2019 at the ACKU, Kabul University. It follows the first Afghanistan studies conference, “Afghanistan Inside Out: History, Culture and Politics in Afghanistan Studies,” which was held on 11 and 12 August 2018 at the ACKU.

(5) Emil Trinkler (1925), Quer durch Afghanistan nach Indien, Berlin: Kurt Vowinckel Verlag, pp 109 and 189 (English translation of the excerpt by Thomas Ruttig):

At this place [Paghman], the jeshm [sic], independence day, is celebrated every year; unfortunately, it was called off in 1924 due to the insecure situation [Khost tribal rebellion of the Mangal who had proclaimed their own Amir, Abdul Karim].

On 6 August, the agitation was increasing. Rumours were going around in the city again about an imminent attack on Kabul. In the evening, we were just sitting on the roof for our meal when the landlord came and pleaded for some fuel. He offered an exceedingly high price but we had to keep the fuel for ourselves for the worst case. All vehicles – including cars – had been sequestered by the government, only the Europeans were allowed to keep theirs…

We often wondered what would happen to the Europeans when the city was taken over and a new government came. Opinions were divided. Some were very pessimistic and sensed the worst. Others looked calmly into the future. Because the rebellion was indirectly directed against the Europeans, I tended to believe the former was more likely.

… From all over the country troops were called in and in the August and September days of 1924, Kabul presented a colourful picture. When the first troops arrived, we initially believed, these were the rebels…

In mid-August, the situation deteriorated. The jeshm [sic] – the independence celebration – that is held every summer was cancelled; the government and the Amir had suddenly returned from Paghman.

On 20 August, a big victory of the government troops was announced. It was said that the heads of 15 killed Mangals would be paraded through the streets. But nothing like this happened…

In early October, the government troops were successful again; Gardez [that had been encircled by the rebels] was relieved, Hesarak taken, and the rebels were pushed southward over the Altamur pass.

In November, delegations of the Amir and the rebels met in Jalalabad, but did not come to a result, so that the fighting continued. Toward the end of the year, the rebellion collapsed. The punishment against the Mangal was terrible. 1575 men were executed, 600 women dragged to Kabul, 3000 houses levelled and burnt down.

(6) Given Zaher Shah’s age, three of his paternal uncles, namely Muhammad Hashem (Prime Minister 1929-46), Shah Mahmud (Prime Minister 1946-53) and Shah Wali (commander of the Central Army Corps in Kabul) – descendants of Muhammad Yahya and Muhammad Yusuf who were companions, musaheban, of King Habibullah (r. 1901–1919), father to King Amanullah – effectively ruled the country for 20 years from 1933 to 1953. For the next ten years, from 1953 to 1963, it was Prime Minister Muhammad Daud, paternal cousin and brother-in-law to Zaher Shah and a musaheban descendant, who was in charge of the country. Zaher Shah therefore did not personally wield much practical power for the first 30 years of his 40-year-long reign.

(7) Kurt Ziemke, first Nazi ambassador to Kabul, on the independence day, not dated, likely in 1935, with some references to 1936, in Kurt Ziemke (1939), Als deutscher Gesandter in Afghanistan, Stuttgart and Berlin: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (English translation of the excerpt by Thomas Ruttig):

It is a very popular spectacle; the Afghans are not only supposed to commemorate the great historical event, they also are supposed to celebrate and have fun. Government offices remain closed for a week; each Afghan enjoys a vacation from work for this time.

On a large fairground [chaman-e huzuri], stalls are erected, and there is a lot of hustle and bustle. People are gathering from the Kabul’s surroundings, the countryside, and from far away. Their pleasures are harmless, and the enjoyments they can afford modest; spirits remain frowned upon, and there are no dancing girls. Dice are thrown for cheap prizes, and in front of the cooking stalls people sit on their heels and listen to monotonous music; a primitive merry-go-round is turning creakingly; soothsayers, story tellers and magicians are gathering circles around themselves; funny boys in disguise are imitating representatives of various European nations; I saw one who pretended to be a European drunk on wine, who got huge laughs for his funny and realistic performance; a bear danced, lemonade in the flashiest colours is offered, as well as pistachio, almonds, nuts and sweets. When night falls, garlands of electric lights stretch over the lanes between the stalls; the city is illuminated, fireworks are lit, and for many a son of the wild mountains, of the wide steppes, there are novelties to be discovered and to be marvelled at.

A festival for men it is, and after dark, the woman in the chador disappears who can watch the stick fencers and how the wrestlers are fighting during daytime [antiquated language in the original]. The women are squat on the side lines in semicircles. They stroll through the lanes between the stalls, refresh themselves at the lemonade seller’s, look at the show boxes and are not noticed by the men.

On day one of the celebrations, the diplomatic corps is invited to participate in the official commemoration at seven o’clock in the morning at the Independence Column, the Mina [sic] i Esteklal, an obelisk built of whitewashed bricks, with some steps leading up to a low platform. The obelisk stands in the midst of a wide avenue, in front of the east gate of the Ark [Royal Palace].

On one side, ministers and officials in tails and Persian hats have taken position, next to them follow the members of parliament, in their clothes of choice. In the midst of the participants, I also note the former Amir of Bukhara who fled his country from the Bolsheviks and enjoys the hospitality of the Afghan government…

The generals stand in a separate group. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Court also stand apart, closer to the obelisk. 

The diplomatic corps has positioned itself on the other side, according to rank. The British minister stands imperturbable amongst us; England has resigned itself to Afghan independence and its celebration, and there will be no word against England. The official speeches remain calm about the wars with England, the earlier aggressions of the British, the destruction of the bazaar of Kabul, because the past should remain forgotten; the relations with England are good now, and the speeches stress the benefaction of liberty, the advantages of independence, the necessity of progress, unity and national discipline.

The sound of the Royal March announces the arrival of King Zaher Shah, who drives up in an automobile, surrounded by the riders of the guard in their red parade uniform. The tall and bouncing men ride exquisitely; faultless and without mistake is their military bearing.

The King repairs to the obelisk’s platform and reads his speech which is amplified by a loudspeaker. He praise the memory of his father Nader [murdered the previous year], who re-established independence when he forced down the predatory usurper from the throne; he turns to the youth, exhorts their faithfulness, their helpfulness to the poor, calls for general national reconciliation and unity of the people.

Soviet ambassador Stark advances and reads out the diplomatic corps’ general congratulations for the national day in three French sentences, and the King replies in similarly courtly words.

Now it is the turn for the President of the Chamber, a noble elderly gentleman, who expresses – with deference and dignity – the joy and the pride of Parliament in the name of the people. He holds his speech without any oratorical gesture, he stresses no single word; he reads with a restrained voice as if the presence of the King prohibits pathos, exuberance and emotion. Then the Prime Minister speaks, in a low voice as always, quiet, with a notable tone of cordiality.

There are no cheers, no thunderous applause rewards the speaker, because this is not the Afghan way.

An order is to be heard, and under the sounds of the Royal March, the Kind leaves again. The solemn act of state is over.

We now proceed, still in tails or in state regimentals, to the fairground, the Tchaman Huzuri [sic]… The place is embedded between the hills of Sherpur where Lord Roberts once had to weather the siege of his enforced camp, and the ruins of the Bala Hessar. In the background, there are the towering peaks of the Hindu Kush. Along one side, the road to Peshawar passes, and along this road, there is a one hundred metre long row of business buildings the ground floor of which has stores with shopping windows. In this building, the first trade fair had been opened in 1934. Now, they hold stores with European convenience goods, antiquity shops, offices and exhibition rooms.

At the upper end of the ground, opposite the high mountains, raises the long building of the Ministry of Public Works the front of which is adorned by two verandas on top of each other, the upper most with a protruding loggia. Here, the King will take his place, to right there are the rows of chairs for the chiefs of mission, to the left those for the ministers, generals and big officials. The other members of the diplomatic corps are placed to their sides, the foreign staff in the lower veranda, while the ladies are completely banned from the house. For them, tents have been erected outside, because the King, according to Muhammadan customs, does not want to be seen in to close companionship with women. The Minister of the Court and the chief of protocol frequently take care of the ladies’ tents.

The troops have already taken position in the background in a long front. Silently, the population standing at the Peshawar road greets the King who is approaching in his car; loud enthusiasm is alien to the Afghan. In front of the stands, where we have already taken our places, the King mounts a horse and gallops, accompanied by a small troupe only, towards the staircase, bows in the direction of the mausoleum on top of Sherpur hill. Up there, rests King Nader.

We hear the King’s anthem, the King salutes his soldiers, who answer loudly and in unison, and the King inspects their front.

The King proceeds to our loggia, the guard takes position in front of the stands, with the body guard on both sides of the entrance. The body guards wear blue uniforms of an old-fashioned cut, with ammunition belts crossing their chests and shoulders, turbans on their head, and rather make the impression of a militia. They turn no eye from the King, blue are their eyes, somewhat passively they look at us – they are from the Durrani tribe, from the clan of the royal house. Beware to come too close to the King!

The King’s uncle, minister of war Shah Mahmud, leads the troops at the parade. Without any motion, he sits on his gorgeous grey horse for three hours. It was him who, immediately after the deadly bullets that felled King Nader, proclaimed his nephew Zaher King, and his resolute and rapid deed suppressed any disquiet. The army he now parades before the King stood behind him. Steadily and without any slackening, the troops parade past; the guard division, Kabul’s first army corps, provincial regiments, police formations, infantry, cavalry, artillery, the sappers, the rail division, machine gun detachments, tanks, armoured cars, the officers’ academy, cadets, some 20,000 men. The soldiers wear steel helmets, steady is the parade, while two music corps take turns. A dashing regiment of guard lancers on grey horses rides by. The King rises in front of each banner.

My wife is walking around downstairs with her camera, she can take photos without any disturbance. The King notices her from his loggia, he seems to ask the Prime Minister and nods in my direction. I compliment the King about the extraordinary bearing of the troops and the well-accomplished parade which the King acknowledges with an explicit reference to the work of the German officers [advisors]. With particular warmth, he speaks again of Colonel Christenn [two ‘n’ correct] who also was the head of the local [Nazi] party group…

In the afternoon, we watch rural dances of several tribes from the stands. Of course, only men do the dancing. Ghilzai, Mangal and Nuristani performed. The Ghilzai wore embroidered, tallies shirts which, like women’s skirts, fell over the flagging pants, sleeveless and similarly embroidered velvet waistcoats over the shirts. With the beat of longish drums, they jerked their black hair around, creating circles, advance in lines, dance the fighting and the war.

The Mangal were clothed less colourfully, somewhat drab, and without visible embroidery. Their moves seem to be particularly brusque, their circles wilder.

Completely different from them were the Kafirs who danced around a pier and some drummers in a circle. They wore a kind of felt tunic with black embroidery, on their heads round caps with flapped edges. Tightly wound black leg wraps gave their dancing steps some stiffness. They did not spin wildly, and kept their heads calm, but marked the beat with their hands. Maybe farmers dance like this during thanksgiving.

The next morning, sport formations paraded by, scouts, football, handball and tennis players, fencers, hockey teams, riders, hunters. Ministers and state secretaries who are members of any sport association marched in their ranks. Almost all of them are sportsmen…

In 1936, the King received the wives of the chiefs of mission after the sportsmen’s parade in his lounge and conversed with them at tea. This was a small step forward, a bit of the Muhammadan wall crumbling a bit…

A football match takes place between an Afghan and an Indian team who play with verve and are enthusiastically followed by the spectators. At the hour of prayer, the match is interrupted, the ministers withdraw from the stands, the players prostrate themselves. The mullahs are still powerful. Then the match continues. In the tennis matches, also the gentlemen and ladies of the diplomatic mission participate. The officers’ club has wonderful pitches, besides an excellent casino.

An exhibition shows agricultural and craft products of the country. Particularly impressive are the creations of the Applied Arts School, among them the carpenters’ class which is German-led and can be proud of its achievements… The German architect displays an exhibition of his models of new government buildings, for schools, hospitals, the administration and for a permanent mausoleum for King Nader.

The biggest attraction for us would be the Turkestani buzkashi… This match does not take place on the Tchaman Huzuri but at the feet of Siah Sang hill, in a sandy depression. This place has been a battleground, and the British have saturated it with their blood. On 13 December 1879, the Black Stones saw the galloping attack of the 9thLancers and the 5th Punjab Cavalry against the Afghan Ghazis. The leader of the attack, Captain Butson, turned in his saddle and shouted “Forward, a cheer to the 9thLancers!” – and sunk from his horse, hit in his heart, and some British rider followed him to the grave.

Today, it is a peaceful fight…

Refreshments are offered because today is a hot and dusty day, the ground at the foot of the hill is burnt dry. We are requested not to descend from the hill to the ground’s fence as it is not clear how far the riders will be carried away by the heat of the fight. Hopefully, there will be no heavy injuries, although falls and injuries are unavoidable. First aid men are on the watch.

Both groups, Turkmen and Uzbeks, take their positions, the former in wide fur caps, the latter with turbans. Unmoving, the sit mounted on their horses, expressionless their Mongol, black bearded faces.

The prime Minister addresses them, calmly, cordially; he is an embodiment of authority and dignity.

A mullah says prayer in the middle of the pitch, alone under the gleaming sun.

The trophy [the buz] is handed out; then a signal, and the hunt is on…

The prize of 10,000 Afghani is split half between the two groups, not much for 250 men who have come a long way with their horses from the north of the country. But they are guests of the government and I believe they enjoyed attending, to show their art and to see – within their experience – the sparkling capital of Kabul.

But the Afghan people’s favourite enticement was the movies. Finally, in 1936, the government had acquired the consent of the mullahs, and for the first time after a long break a cinema theatre opened its gate, for now in the open airs. Amanullah’s silent movie theatre in Paghman had closed with his overthrow. A German technician has now established a cinema for sound films with German equipment; he also runs the movies. American and Indian movies are on display, German ones are on their way [there will be Nazi Wochenschau news reels], and the crowds amass at the counters so that the police has to regulate them…

On the way back, we slowly drive through a big crowd and an illuminated city.

(8) Reinhard Schlagintweit (2016), Afghanistan, 1958-61, Berlin: Tethys, pp 41-2 (English translation of the excerpt by Thomas Ruttig).

(9) The Darulaman Palace is a European-style palace that King Amanullah constructed as a symbol of Afghan independence in the 1920s (more details here). It has been destroyed time and again during the protracted war in Afghanistan (watch a video produced by the Afghan government of this palace over time here).

Categories: Defence`s Feeds

“Murder Is Always”: The Kulalgo night raid killings

Sat, 17/08/2019 - 03:06

On the night of 11 and 12 August, what seems to have been a mixed US-Afghan commando raided several homes in Kulalgo, a large village in Zurmat district, Paktia. Eleven people were killed, civilians who had nothing to do with the insurgency, according to family members and local elders. They were ‘Taleban’ according to official sources. After protests and petitions, the authorities have said they are investigating the killings. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig and several AAN colleagues have spoken to relatives, elders, officials and other sources in the area and compiled the following picture of what could amount to a new war crime committed by units effectively led by US military forces, probably the CIA (with input from Kate Clark and Sayed Asadullah Sadat).

The shop Rahatullah, Nasratullah and Hekmatullah were running in Ghazni city’s bazaar will not open after Eid-e Qurban, the Islamic festival that ended on 13 August. Nor ever. In the early morning hours of 12 August 2019, the three brothers were shot dead during a ‘night raid’, a type of commando operation that Pashto speakers call tsapa and Persian speakers chapa. The three were the only sons of their elderly father, Abdullah. The eldest son, Rahatullah, had married just a few months ago and leaves behind a pregnant wife.

The brothers were from neighbouring Zurmat district in Paktia province. Accordingly, they had named their shop, that sold water pumps and other irrigation equipment, Furushgah-e Zurmat – Zurmat Store. They had closed it for the three-day festival, during which family members working or studying elsewhere return to their families, sacrifice an animal, mostly a sheep or a cow, have dinner together on one day and with friends on another. The brothers operated the shop together; Nasratullah was simultaneously studying at Ghazni University to become a teacher, while Hekmatullah was a teacher at a high school in their home village of Kulalgo.

Furushgah-e Zurmat, the shop of the killed brothers Rahatullah, Hekmatullah and Nasratullah in Ghazni city. Photo: private.


The killing of the three brothers was part of a larger operation during which, according to AAN enquiries in the area, 11 civilians, altogether, were shot dead. (1) The operation covered various parts of Kulalgo village which is a cluster of hamlets with large, fortified compounds, so-called qalas, within which are separate homes of close family members.

The victims

  • Ustad Shafiullah, son of Dr Ulfatullah (25) physics teacher at Kulalgo High School and owner of a pharmacy in Kulalgo; he was going to get married after Eid
  • Ansarullah Waqas, son of Qudratullah (19) second year student at Paktia University, Gardez; married with a small daughter
  • Hayatullah, son of Muhammad Mokhtar (25) employee of the Ministry of Education in Kabul (also teaching at a private school in Kabul), unmarried
  • Qari En’amullah, son of Dr Ulfatullah (19) who had learned to recite the Quran (therefore his title); he was helping his father at his local pharmacy; unmarried
  • Rahatullah, son of Abdullah (26) shopkeeper; he was just recently married and leaves behind a pregnant wife
  • Nasratullah, son of Abdullah (22) shopkeeper in Ghazni and simultaneously studying at the city’s university
  • Hekmatullah, son of Abdullah (24) shopkeeper in Ghazni and teacher at Daulatzai High School, Zurmat
  • Akhtar Muhammad, son of Azizullah (20) shopkeeper in the Bagrami area of Kabul; from Suri village (Zurmat); brother of the director of the district’s Daulatzai High School;
  • Fathullah, son of Juma Muhammad (‘Patol’) (35) farmer; he leaves behind several small children
  • Feda Muhammad, son of Muhammad Yosuf (38) farmer; he was engaged and had planned his wedding for after Eid
  • Nasrullah, son of Durdak (38) farmer (2)

(Find photos of most of the victims at the end of this dispatch.)

The brothers Rahatullah, Nasratullah and Hekmatullah were killed, together with the young Akhtar Muhammad who was known as ‘disco boy’ as he was fond of stylish haircuts, in their father’s place, called Porta Qala (the Upper Fort). They had eaten dinner together earlier at Akhtar Muhammad’s home in the village of Suri, some four kilometres away, and then walked to the brothers’ home at around 10pm.

Four more men, all cousins – Shafiullah, Ansarullah, Hayatullah and Enamullah – were shot dead at their grandfather’s house, De Khanano Qala (the Khans’ Qala). Shafiullah and Enamullah were brothers; they and Ansarullah lived in Kulalgo. Hayatullah had come to visit. According to family members, the men had come together for dinner and then gone to bed. When taken out by the soldiers, two together were put in two separate rooms and shot. Another, younger brother of Ansarullah and Hayatullah, Ikramullah, who is 16 or 17 years of age, was rescued by his sister. She threw herself on top of him and stopped the soldiers taking him out.

The farmer, Feda Muhammad, was killed in his home in Zur Kelay (the Old Village, also called Zur Kulalgo, or Old Kulalgo).

The other two farmers, Fathullah and Nasrullah, were killed at their home in Sha Qala (the Rear Fort).

These different locations are not close to each other. Some lie a few kilometres apart. There were no reports of resistance from those killed or anyone else in Kulalgo that night.

Eight of the victims belonged to one ‘tribe’, locally called ‘Tajiks’ by some, ‘Dehgan’ by others but, according to one of their leaders, they are formerly Farsi-speaking Mohsenkhel Pashtuns who had relocated from Ghor province some generations ago. These were the three shopkeeper brothers and their guest and the four cousins staying at their grandfather’s house. The four cousins were from the extended family of a well-known local tribal elder; they were the grandsons of two of his brothers. This family is known not to be associated with the Taleban or any other armed opposition group. Indeed, the family patriarch, who died some years ago, was openly critical of the Taleban and had been forced to live out the last years of his life in Kabul. Of the three remaining victims, the farmers Fathullah and Nasrullah were Khodayarkhel Pashtuns and Feda Muhammad a Sayed.

How did the raid unfold?

AAN has talked with several eyewitnesses, local community elders and officials, as well as family members of those killed who had spoken to relatives present at the scene. We spoke to some of these interviewees repeatedly to properly understand what had happened. Their statements and several reports in Afghan media and social media have contributed to the following picture of the operation.

The commando raid started at around 10.30pm on 11 August, the first day of Eid, and lasted until about 3am. According to the interviewees, the commando’s fighters were dropped by at least two helicopters at three different locations around Kulalgo. There were possibly other aircraft in the area. The commandos split up into groups of five to six people, each led by an ‘American soldier’, and went to several different qalas, including the ones indicated above. Each qala consists of a large, walled compound with several homes and other buildings inside. Altogether, they searched more than 15 houses. There were no victims in some of the searched compounds.

At the various homes inside the compounds, the commandos  knocked at the doors and asked males to present their ID cards. In Porta Qala, the attackers blew up the front gate, setting ablaze vehicles and motorbikes parked inside the compound. One AAN source said the attack started with an air attack which could explain the ferocity of the explosion at the gate.

When the residents complied – there was no resistance – some were asked to come out of the rooms they were staying in. They were then separated from other family members and taken to separate rooms and later shot dead. No one saw who exactly did the shooting, but multiple family members said their relatives were shot in the eyes or the mouth.

The same modus operandi – asking for IDs, then separating some of the men out and shooting them – was used by the commandos in the other places raided.

One eyewitness quoted by an Afghan media outlet said, the attackers “read their [victims’] names from a tool [possibly an electronic device] and then asked for their IDs and after some delay and when they check[ed] their IDs… shoot [sic] them.” Some of AAN’s sources also described names being checked off a list. But one source came to the conclusion this name checking was a “pretence” and the killing was actually random, as some men initially called out were rescued by female family members protecting them either with their bodies or by holding Qurans in front of their brothers or sons.

Many details, including that the victims were civilians and that it was a US-Afghan operation, were also reported by Afghan media reports, which quickly picked up the case. They also reported an initial denial by the National Directorate for Security (NDS), the country’s main intelligence service, that civilians had been killed. The Pajhwok news agency quoted “residents” that “at least 11 civilians(…) from two families” were killed in a “foreign and Afghan forces operation.” It also quoted a local resident, Haji Qahir, saying that four members of his family had been killed in the operation. He told the news agency that some of those killed “were students who came to home on Eid holidays and some were teachers. My cousin who was an employee in the education sector was among the dead.” Pajhwok also quoted a “reliable source in the Police Headquarters” (not clear whether in the district or the province) saying those killed had been civilians. Reuters quoted Allah Mir Khan Bahramzoi, a provincial council member in Paktia, as also confirming the killings of civilians:

A university student had invited his classmates for dinner. Late in the evening, security forces surrounded the house, brought out the victims from the guesthouse and shot them one by one.

A second raid?

Some sources told AAN there was a second, unsuccessful raid in Zurmat district the same night at a house in a place called Astogena, approximately ten kilometres away from Kulalgo. According to these sources, a group of four Taleban has been present in one of the local madrassas which is frequently used by the local Taleban group of a certain Mullah Qassim. Reportedly, there was resistance to this raid – but the four Taleban managed to slip out. The raiding commandos then, according to our source, burnt a nearby house and may have captured some weapons and ammunition. The NDS statement quoted above contained claims that weapons and ammunition were captured during the reported operation, and this raid might explain why the NDS statement used the plural, “operations.”

Who was behind the raid?

It appears, according to various eyewitnesses, that the unit that carried out the raid – all wearing uniform – was mixed US-Afghan. For example, among the Americans seen during the Kulalgo raid, several eyewitnesses noticed a “tall black” officer who was accompanied by a translator and did the name-checking.

There are two types of force which have a record of carrying out this sort of raid, with people shot dead in their homes: the Khost Protection Force (KPF) which is one of the militias known by Afghans as ‘kampain’ (campaign forces) which answer to a foreign chain of command, in this case the CIA. AAN reported on allegations that it killed six civilians in a similar raid in Zurmat on 30 December (read details here) .The other are the NDS special forces: the 01 unit which operates in the central region, mainly in Wardak and Logar, 02 based in the east, operating mostly in Nangrahar and Kunar, and 03 unit in Kandahar; it is synonymous with the Kandahar Strike Force (AAN background here). NDS officials have told AAN that these units come under effective CIA command and they have no authority over them. This is also the conclusion of reporting by The New York Times, on both the NDS Strike Forces and the Khost Protection Force:

Those fighting forces, also referred to as counterterrorism pursuit teams, are recruited, trained and equipped by C.I.A. agents or contractors who work closely with them on their bases, according to several current and former senior Afghan security officials, and the members are paid nearly three times as much as regular Afghan soldiers.

The Afghan ownership of those two units is only nominal, a liaison relationship in which intelligence headquarters in Kabul has representatives on the mission for coordination. But the required pre-approval for raids is often last-minute, or skipped until afterward, the officials say. 

People in the province told AAN they believed the recent raid in Zurmat was carried out by the 01 unit of NDS special forces; they call it the quwa-ye zarbati (strike force). All stressed that, after countless night raids, they are fully familiar with the different types of uniforms worn and able to distinguish between the various forces active in the region. If it was the 01 unit, it would be unusual; 01 usually operates in Wardak and Logar provinces, which are part of the central region, while Paktia belongs to the southeast. However, their base in Logar seems to be the closest to Zurmat district (also, in the eyes of the Afghan military, at least for a time, Logar was also considered southeast). Tolonews also identified the commandos as members of the NDS 01 unit.

Eyewitnesses also said the members of the commando unit were in uniform and “very well-dressed and shaven”, different from the appearance of the main local force which works to a foreign command (the CIA), the Khost Protection Force. Its men also wear uniform but, according to local sources, some members sport long hair and “wild-looking” beards.

One of our sources told AAN that KPF members had also participated in the Kulalgo operation, setting up a “the second ring” of security, ie sealing off the area. Apart from Khost province, the KPF possibly has other bases near Kulalgo, along the road connecting the provincial capital Gardez with Zurmat district centre, Tamir; AAN reported in 2018 that there were new posts of a “strike unit” (quwa-ye zarbati) that, local sources say, works closely ‚ with the Americans’ (possibly the CIA-led Khost Protection Force).“ Kabul-based journalist Stefanie Glinski recently found that the KPF also operates beyond its original home turf, Khost province, including in neighbouring Paktia. Relatives of the civilians killed in Zurmat in December said the KPF fighters had driven to their district from neighbouring Paktika.

Another detail given by eye-witnesses is that they recognised different local dialects among the Afghan members of the commando unit, Urguni (from neighbouring Paktika), Dzadran and Tani (from Khost). Local dialects are very strong and distinctive.

Even more important in determining who was responsible for the raid is the fact that the NDS owned up to it early on. If the NDS’ control over its special forces units is as weak as described above, it is astonishing that it chose to take responsibility for this operation. Yet that is what the Afghan intelligence agency did.

In the morning of 12 August, hours after the raid finished, the intelligence agency posted a tweet claiming “eleven members of the terrorist Taleban group were killed, including two group leaders (sar grup).” The NDS tweet was accompanied by two photos of two apparently dead men with their faces blurred to anonymise them, in civilian clothes and with AK-47s leaning against their bodies. NDS followed up with a somewhat longer press release reported by Jomhor News later the same day, saying that “this directorate’s special forces” had conducted “targeted operations” (amaliat-e hadafmand – plural in the original) in Kulalgo at what it called a “Taleban hideout” in the night of 11 and 12 August. The statement gives the alleged group leaders’ names as “Assadullah and Feda, known as Fedagai” or ‘Little Feda’. (3) Only one of these two names concurs with the lists of victims compiled by AAN and the Afghan media – if the farmer Feda Muhammad was identical with “Feda, known as Fedagai” (more on this below). There is no Assadullah on any of the lists compiled by AAN and the media.

Eye-witnesses also spoke of Americans in uniform being present at the raid. It seems most likely these were CIA (given who the Afghan soldiers were), rather than the US military. (Its spokesman also told AAN during research into the 30 December night raid, also in Zurmat district, that it had not been involved in that operation.)

The local context

Zurmat, a district with an official population of 95,000 (but up to 150,000, according to elders), is ethnically extremely diverse. Although most inhabitants, apart from the ‘Tajiks’ already mentioned, are Pashtuns, there are, according to one local elder, “a thousand tribes” in Zurmat. Most of these tribes and sub-tribes – such as the Daulatzai, Salukhel, Surkhel, Mamozai-Ahmadzai, Andar, Uryakhel and Khodayarkhel – are small and many have long-standing conflicts among each other. The population of Kulalgo itself is mixed with ‘Tajiks’ and several of those Pashtun tribes.

Zurmat is a known Taleban stronghold. During the Taleban regime, it was dubbed ‘Little Kandahar’ as there were many Zurmatis in high-ranking positions in the ‘Emirate’ administration; it represented one of the largest non-Kandahari groups in the movement. Currently, the areas of influence of the Taleban’s three major insurgent sub-groups overlap in the district, the Mansur and Haqqani networks, as well as the ‘Kandahari’ (or Quetta shura) mainstream Taleban. The Mansur network Taleban are said to be the strongest component by far; they are heavily represented in local madrassas and many of their leaders are considered well-educated, not only religiously. They do not allow Haqqani fighters to establish themselves in ‘their’ area. However, a Haqqani commander from Gardez is said to be regularly visiting. Kulalgo, with its strong ‘Tajik’ element, is the least pro-Taleban part of the district, according to elders.

The government’s influence is limited to parts of Tamir, Zurmat’s district town (AAN 2018 election reporting from Zurmat here). For approximately a year, there has been no government presence – civilian or military – in Kulalgo itself. In mid-2018, the local Afghan National Army base was closed and its staff of 40 relocated, as part of the government’s strategy to give up scattered bases and concentrate on securing the district centres.

The withdrawal of the ANA, however, led to an upsurge in Taleban presence in the district. The elder already quoted and several other sources told AAN that the Taleban’s Haqqani network has a hideout in the immediate vicinity, “a couple of hundred metres from the house” of De Khanano Qala where the cousins were killed; that groups of Taleban use local madrassas and mosques as bases; that there is a Taleban office in Kulalgo bazaar, and that weapons and ammunition are sold in the bazaar, some of  which – one elder said  – had been sold by the soldiers and their officers, and others were brought in and sold “in truck loads” from Waziristan, another said.

What were the reactions?

As an immediate response to the raid, tribal elders gathered and a local youth council demanded the NDS disclose the intelligence upon which it acted. There was also large protest in Kulalgo on 15 August itself (see photo above).

A group of elders and other mutanafezin (people of influence) went to Kabul “to seek justice,” as they said. Those whom AAN spoke to, repeated time and again that “it was not the first time that innocents have been killed.” In Kabul, they linked up with influential Zurmatis living there and set up a committee to decide what action to take. They managed to obtain a meeting with Defence Minister Asadullah Khaled, which took place on 15 August. No Afghan army units seem to have been involved in the operation, but Khaled was deemed possibly sympathetic by the complainants due to his tribal background in nearby Ghazni province. Also, a meeting with NDS chief Muhammad Massum Stanakzai is planned, and President Ghani was reportedly planning to meet parents.

The elders and civil society activists have decided that there will be a “three stage reaction”: meetings with government representatives, press briefings in Gardez and Kabul today (17 August) and – “if the government does not react” – either a protest march from Zurmat to Kabul after Independence Day, which is on 19 August, or blocking the Gardez-Kabul highway. However, Zurmati leaders involved told AAN that, so far, the reactions were “very positive” and “beyond our expectations.” Khaled reportedly expressed his regret about the operation, and was said to have even talked about it as a possible crime.

Before the meeting with Khaled, on 14 August, Afghanistan’s National Security Council had said it had ordered a “thorough investigation” into the killings. It said the government was taking “any incident alleged [sic] of civilian casualties very seriously, those who are responsible must be prosecuted.” An investigation team is already in Paktia, with Khaled also visiting.

The elders also told AAN that the local Taleban authorities had come to Kulalgo on the first day after the killings, 12 August, and urged the families to take the bodies of their relatives to Gardez or Kabul on a protest march, but they had refused. They said they did not want to repeat the experience of earlier cases where relatives had used that form of protest, Taleban had infiltrated the ranks of the mourners and provoked clashes by pelting the police with stones.

Local elders told AAN that, even though they recognise that “some night raids are justified,” they are concerned about their sheer frequency in their area. This is reflected by a statement reported by Tolonews, of Gulab Khan Baz, a tribal elder: “There is no news of reconstruction in Zurmat, but murder is always.”

UNAMA, in its July 2019 mid-year report on the protection of civilians, had found that “civilian casualties from aerial and search operations continued to rise” compared with the same period in 2018 and that of the 218 civilian casualties (159 deaths and 59 injured) [inflicted] as a result of search operations, more than half… were caused by NDS Special Forces” – a 79 per cent increase from the first half of 2018.

AAN’s sources in the area also reported that many young men have left Zurmat, for the cities of Gardez, Ghazni and Kabul and even to Pakistan, because they feel vulnerable. The fact that most of those killed were students and teachers made them believe, as one source said, “that they are trying to killing the educated”.

UNAMA also issued a statement on Twitter on 12 August that it was “gravely concerned by reports indicating 11 civilians killed during Eid by pro-government search operation” and that their human rights team was “monitoring” the situation.

Legal implications: was this potentially a war crime?

The NDS allegation that those killed were Taleban carries little weight. AAN sources, who usually know and are frank about who, locally, is with the Taleban and who not, said the eleven were all civilian. As one elder from nearby Gardez said, “We all know each other, who has been in the Taleban in which position in the past, or is [in the movement] today, and [also] who is against them.” Our sources said that two of those killed had some relation with the Taleban, but only through relatives. Sources said the farmer Feda Muhammad had three younger brothers with the Taleban. One of them, Eidagai (Little Eidi) was an active Taleban group commander in Zurmat. He and the two other brothers had visited Feda on the night of the raid, but had left by the time it started. Feda Muhammad had, reportedly, refused to join the Taleban – and this is why he had the confidence to stay at home. AAN’s local sources assume that the NDS might have confused ‘Eidagai’ and ‘Fedagai’. (4)

Another of those killed, one of the four cousins, Ansarullah, has a brother who used to be with the Taleban. Aziz (nom de guerre Sahar) had been the Taleban’s shadow district governor for Zurmat but quit the movement when his family urged him to sever his links with them between two and three years ago. He now lives in Pakistan.

Whether those killed were combatant or civilian, eye-witness accounts from different locations agree that there was no resistance; the men all came when asked and were separated from other family members and shot dead. Reported injuries also do not suggest a fire-fight in Kulalgo or any threat to the commandos. This means that whether or not those killed were combatants or civilians, killing them was a potential war crime.

If the commando soldiers believed the eleven men were combatants, possibly because of faulty intelligence (which is not unknown – see AAN reporting here), those planning the operation would appear to have shown grave shortcomings in their ability or intention to distinguish between civilians and combatants, as International Humanitarian Law demands. However, even if those killed had been Taleban, from what eye-witnesses said, they appear to have been hors de combat (‘outside the combat’), something the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) defines as:

(a) anyone who is in the power of an adverse party;

(b) anyone who is defenceless because of unconsciousness, shipwreck, wounds or sickness; or

(c) anyone who clearly expresses an intention to surrender

Eye-witness accounts suggest the eleven did not pose a threat, were not behaving in a hostile manner and did not resist. They were also in the power of ‘an adverse party.’ The ICRC says that “provided a person hors de combat abstains from any hostile act and does not attempt to escape,” attacking them is “prohibited.”

The illogicality of this operation (5) – not raiding known Taleban locations with a Taleban presence nearby to the homes raided, and the impression created that they killed people on the bases of lists of names of people who were known not to be Taleban, and their killing people when they could easily have detained them and interrogated them for evidence – has left local people bewildered. In particular, they asked: why kill the eight ‘Tajiks’, who belong to a community, and a family, known for its rejections of the Taleban? Some wondered if the strike force received bonuses for killing people, but then why not kill more?“ Maybe it is intended to strike terror into the community,” one of our sources said.


Killings of the Kulalgo type are not unusual, nor limited to Zurmat or Paktia. Maidan-Wardak province seems to be another hot spot for such operations; AAN has received various reports similar to the Kulalgo case in recent times. There were popular protests against civilian killings during night raids in that province as recently as July 2019. AAN has also reported, not only the 30 December killings in Zurmat, but also abuse of the civilian population there. (6)

As the New York Times’ correspondent Mujib Mashal tweeted, the latest raid shows “the continuation of gruesome pattern with no accountability: civilians suspected of being Taliban held & then shot dead in front of their families in their homes.” Recent head of UNAMA’s human rights unit, Richard Bennett, tweeted that, “Clearly this needs investigating, not only the incident but the pattern… Lack of accountability among all parties continues to drive the conflict; only by reversing this pattern will sustainable peace be possible.” Yet, the relatives of the 30 December massacre were refused admission even to see their provincial governor. The lack of interest by their government in the killings of their relatives has left them angry, distressed and afraid. As to taking up their case with the CIA, it remains completely unaccountable to Afghans and journalists. This is something that only President Ashraf Ghani can possibly stop – if he is listening.

Edited by Kate Clark

Please click on the following photos to enlarge them:

Hekmatullah, brother of Nasratullah and Rahatullah


(1) Pajhwok and Tolonews (on their official websites) also published the names of the killed in the night raid. There was also a third, separate list by Abdulhaq Omari, a Tolonews reporter, on his private Twitter account. Omari’s and the Pajhwok lists concur (with some minor differences on the names), while the official Tolonews report has 12 names (while initially also talking of 11). AAN has managed to consolidate the list and eliminate contradictions, such as the incorrect mention of Daulatzai school director Muhammad Asef as one victim, instead of his brother Akhtar Muhammad.

(2) Most ages given are approximate, as many people in Afghanistan and particularly in this area do not know their exact dates of birth.

(3) The NDS statement, as reported – in direct quote – by Jomhor News (AAN translation):

Special forces units of the National Directorate of Security have conducted targeted operations against the Taleban terrorist group in Kulalgo village in Zurmat district of Paktia province. As a result, 11 members of the Taleban terrorist group including two group leaders named Assadullah and Feda, known as Fedagai were eliminated, and a large number of weapons and ammunition fell into the hands of the forces involved in this operation.

(4) There are also other possible explanations: the commandos either covered up that they missed Eidagai, or they killed Feda for not reporting his brother – then called him “Fedagai.”

(5) Also politically, the raid does not make sense for the government. The three provinces making up Loya Paktia have voted in mass and almost entirely in favour of President Ghani during the 2014 presidential election (although this also involved mass fraud). In any case, such action could alienate many local Pashtuns way beyond Zurmat from him in the forthcoming election on 28 September.

(6) In 2018, AAN has reported, in its analysis of a UNAMA report, about record numbers of civilian casualties, including from air strikes:

Search operations by pro-government forces, said UNAMA, caused 353 civilian casualties (284 deaths and 69 injured) in 2018, a 185 per cent rise from 2017, when 92 civilians were killed (63) or injured (29). The vast majority of the casualties were caused by the NDS Special Forces and the extra-legal Khost Protection Force, both of which, says UNAMA “are supported by international military forces.”

Most of the casualties caused by search operations were by NDS special forces (see reporting by AAN from 2013 on them here). In 51 incidents documented by UNAMA, 19 of which were joint operations with international military forces, 240 civilians were killed (203) or injured (37). All took place in central, eastern and southern regions (teams are known as NDS-01, operating in the central region; NDS-02 in the eastern region; and NDS-03 in the southern region). UNAMA also documented 51 civilian casualties (41 deaths, 10 injured) caused during 13 search operations conducted by the Khost Protection Force.  Such incidents have also been documented by AAN, including how the Khost Protection Force was accused of intentionally killing in a joint operation with US forces, presumed to be CIA, in Zurmat district of Paktia on 30 December 2018, the media (for example here and Human Rights Watch).

UNAMA said “[t]he high number of fatalities compared to the number of injured suggests that force was employed indiscriminately.”

Additionally, UNAMA raised concerns

…about the significant increase in incidents of human abuses, criminality and damage to civilian property by the Khost Protection Force. UNAMA has also received reports of unlawful and arbitrary detention, including following mass arrests, by different National Directorate of Security Special Forces, and the Khost Protection Force. It received credible accounts of detainees having experienced torture or ill-treatment while held in places under the authority of these entities.

UNAMA reports that 21 per cent of all civilian casualties caused by pro-government armed groups were carried out intentionally, mostly by the Khost Protection Force.

Overall, civilian casualties attributed to the Khost Protection Force in 2018 increased by more than ten-fold compared to 2017, with 107 casualties (70 deaths and 37 injured) in 22 documented incidents, compared with five (three deaths and two injured) in 2017. Some of those civilians were deliberately killed, said UNAMA, while others were incidentally harmed during search operations and others were harmed in ground operations. UNAMA says the group’s area of operations expanded in 2014, with 14 incidents documented in Khost, four in Paktia and four in Paktika. It has also intentionally damaged civilian property, including homes and vehicles, and illegally detained people. UNAMA calls on the government to

… either formally incorporate the Khost Protection Force into its armed forces, and hold its members accountable for any potential violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of international human rights law, or to disband the group and investigate and prosecute members for acts allegedly contravening Afghanistan’s criminal law.

What is significant in looking at these search operations is that Afghan army special forces also carries them out, but is not reported as causing civilian harm. As AAN understands it, they are mainly supported by the US Special Forces while the NDS paramilitaries and the Khost Protection Force are supported by the CIA, although this is, of course, a very murky area (see AAN reporting here). The Khost Protection Force is not even part of the formal Afghan government apparatus, but a ‘campaign force’ ie, it has a foreign chain of command, answering to the CIA. As UNAMA says, its operations, along with those of NDS special forces, “appear to be coordinated with international military actors, that is, outside of the normal Governmental chain of command, which raises serious concerns about transparency and accountability for these operations.”  That the NDS and Khost Protection Force are problematic and Afghan army special forces are not implies systemic problems with the former in terms of command and control, and impunity.

One thing to note is that, like ISAF before it, it is NATO’s Resolute Support mission which answers to queries from UNAMA on civilian casualties, even though Resolute Support is non-combat (with a mandate only to use lethal force in self-defence). It is not the US military, which has its can-be-combat Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, nor the CIA which respond to enquiries about civilian casualties either from US air strikes or from search operations by CIA-supported armed groups.


Categories: Defence`s Feeds

One Land, Two Rules (7): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Andar district in Ghazni province

Thu, 13/06/2019 - 03:47

Andar district in southern Ghazni province, which has had a shadow Taleban administration since 2007, has been under virtually complete Taleban control since October 2018. The Afghan government continues to provide education and health services despite the fact that all of Andar’s government offices have relocated to Ghazni city, while the Taleban supervise their work. AAN researcher Fazal Muzhary offers an in-depth account of how the two parallel forms of government have operated over the years, how this has affected the lives of ordinary people and how, in the main, they are reasonably happy with the arrangement.

Service Delivery in Insurgent-Affected Areas is a joint research project by the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

Previous publications in the series are: an introduction with literature review and methodology, “One Land, Two Rules (1): Service delivery in insurgent-affected areas, an introduction” by Jelena Bjelica and Kate Clark; four district case studies: on Obeh district of Herat province by Said Reza Kazemi; Dasht-e Archi district in Kunduz province by Obaid Ali; Achin district in Nangrahar province by Said Reza Kazemi and Rohullah Sorush and Nad Ali district by Ali Mohammad Sabawoon; and a case study on polio vaccinations by Jelena Bjelica.

Andar district: the context

  • The district centre, Mirai, lies about 28 kilometres to the south of Ghazni city, the provincial capital. It is linked to the city by three roads, including two asphalted highways. The first also connects Paktika province with Ghazni city through the eastern villages of the district and the second is the Kabul-Kandahar Highway, better known as Highway One, which passes through the western part of Andar district. The third, un-asphalted road leads through rural areas in the centre of the district.
  • According to the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG)’s 2017 district profile, the population of Andar is around 580,000. The 2018 data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), however, estimates its population to be around 131,524 people (see the data here).
  • Andar district is almost entirely inhabited by Pashtuns, mainly belonging to the Andar tribe. There are also five villages inhabited by ethnic Tajiks: Nani, Tela Qala, Haji Qala, Mirai (the district centre), and Sarda. In the village of Sarda, there are about 200 Tajiks families, while the other villages have between ten and 15. In Nani and Tela Qala, some people speak Dari, but elsewhere residents only speak Pashto.
  • The Taleban began their guerrilla activities in the district against the Afghan government around 2003. Since then, Andar has experienced a great deal of fighting, resulting in the complete fall of the district to the Taleban in October 2018.
  • Presently, the Taleban control the entire district with the exception of six government security posts. Before and after October 2018, the district centre witnessed massive attacks both from the Taleban and Afghan government security forces. For example, the Taleban besieged the district centre for three days in October 2017. On the government side, the latest attack was carried out in December 2018 with both Afghan and US air forces bombing the district governor’s compound, completely demolishing it.

Andar district: service delivery

  • Education: Andar district has 42 schools. All are serviced by the government but controlled by the Taleban. One school was closed for a month between late March and late April 2019 after shelling from a nearby government military base killed pupils and a teacher. On paper, one girls’ school is operational. However, due to ongoing fighting, it has not been active for well over a decade, since around 2004. The Taleban have complete control over schools, teachers, pupils and all education-related activities. Both the Afghan government and the Taleban supervise education in Andar. The Taleban allow government supervisors to live in Andar and observe all schools.
  • Health: There are 11 healthcare centres in Andar district, all of which are serviced by NGOs, who implement the government’s health programme, and controlled by the Taleban. There is one 30-bed district hospital located in the district centre. The other facilities are located outside the centre and include four Basic Health Centres (BHC), three sub-centres and two community health centres (CHC). All services are provided (indirectly) by the government, implemented by NGOs and monitored by government, NGOs and the Taleban.
  • Electricity: Andar district is not connected to the state-owned electricity grid. People use solar panels and generators to light their houses.
  • Telephone coverage: The five main telephone companies (Salaam, AWCC, Etisalat, MTN and Roshan) operate in Andar district. However, their services are only available for two hours a day in more central parts of the district and in other areas, such as those that are either close to Ghazni city or to neighbouring Paktika province, during daylight hours.
  • Other services: There are no on-going development projects in Andar district and no other services are available. There were projects in the past, some of which were implemented; others were never completed due to insecurity. Locals used to be able to obtain national ID cards from the district centre until October 2017, but thereafter, all local government representatives have operated from Ghazni city.

Introducing Andar district

‘Andar’, the name for the district found in official documents is more commonly known by locals, including Taleban, as ‘Shelgar’. The name ‘Andar’ derives from the dominance of the Andar tribe who are indigenous to the district. It has three main subtribes: Bazidkhel, Jalalzai and Lakandkhel. Other tribes residing in the district include the Tarakai, Daftani, Niazai and Alizai. There are 472 villages in Andar according to an IDLG district profile. The district is mainly flatland, but with mountainous areas in the east, where the district borders Paktika.

Happier times: young men dance the attan (national dance) to celebrate Eid in Mirai town, Andar’s district centre, in October 2012. The town had been closed to most of the reset of the district since the 2009 presidential election. (Photo Fazal Muzhary)

To the north, Andar borders Ghazni city and is one of its gateways. To the south, are Qarabagh and Giro districts, to the west, Waghaz district and to the east, Deh Yak district and Paktika province. Andar has two rivers, locally known as jelgas. The first jelga has its source in Band-e Sultan in Jaghatu district in neighbouring Maidan Wardak province, to the north of Ghazni city. The second jelga, also known as Loya Jelga (Big Jelga), has its source in the Band-e Sarda dam, which straddles Andar and Paktika’s Mata Khan district. The confluence of these two jelgas lies near the villages of Manar and Rustam of Andar and Giro districts, after which the water flows first to Paktika and then into the Ab-e Estada (Stagnant Water) Lake in Ghazni’s Nawa district.

Andar district is connected to the rest of Ghazni by three main roads: the asphalted Kabul-Kandahar and Paktika-Ghazni highways, and a separate, unpaved road that passes through the rural parts of the centre of the district. Although the Afghan National Army (ANA) still has bases along the two highways, the Taleban can exert considerable control on them. For example, sources told AAN that the Taleban can divert traffic whenever and at whichever section of the highway they want. One source said that, while in the past, the government had control over parts of the Ghazni-Paktika highway, the Taleban have been blocking this road now since 2 May 2018, diverting all traffic to an unpaved road through the Sultanbagh area to villages northeast of Andar’s district centre, so that all trucks must now drive through these villages. At the same time, the Taleban have been trying to divert traffic from the main Kabul-Kandahar highway (for more details see AAN dispatches here and here). They collect taxes from both side roads and highways.

Andar district is home to the renowned and prestigious madrassa Nur ul-Madares al-Faruqi (read previous AAN dispatch for the background here). Several religious figures have either taught or studied Islam there. One of the most well-known teachers was Mawlawi Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi, the leader of the mujahedin faction popular with Sunni clerics (many of whose members went on to join the Taleban), Harakat-e Enqelab-e Islami-e Afghanistan, the Islamic Revolution Movement of Afghanistan, known as Harakat. (1) Another renowned figure who taught here was the Emirate-era deputy minister of Justice, Mawlawi Abdul Sattar Seddiqi. (2)

As recently as 14 May 2019, the madrassa was officially closed due to night raids by Afghan and foreign forces (read the announcement here). Afghan forces have occasionally made mass arrests of pupils and teachers from this madrassa. One of these major raids took place on 25 July 2018, when the 01 Unit of the NDS Special Forces raided the madrassa and arrested 45 pupils. They were released after a week.

Andar district has also been home to a number of historically prominent political leaders, including Mullah Mushk-e Alam and Ghulam Muhammad Niazai. Mushk-e Alam was one of the key figures who opposed the British during the second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1880. He originated from Gandaher of Andar district. His great-grandsons still live in this village. Mullah Mushk-e Alam is buried in his village graveyard (read this AAN dispatch about Mullah Mushk-e Alam here). Ghulam Muhammad Niazai, born in 1932 in Rahimkhel village of Andar district, was one of the founders of Afghanistan’s Muslim Brotherhood branch, known as Jawanan-e Muslimin (Muslim Youth, see this AAN paper). He was killed in jail in 1979. (3)

Andar district is also where the mass abduction of 23 Korean missionaries by the Taleban took place in mid-July 2007, while they were travelling by bus from Kandahar to Kabul (see reports here and here) and was also made famous by the ‘Andar uprising’, when some fighters of Hezb-e Islami origin rebelled against their fellow Taleban in May 2012; the counter-insurgency was swiftly co-opted by local politicians and resulted in extreme violence between local men fighting on both sides (read previous AAN dispatches about the uprising and the troubles created by the uprising here, here, here and here).

Conflict and Security

Andar district has been a centre of fighting since the jihad against the communist regime started in the 1980s, and the Nur ul-Madares played an important role in contributing to the jihad. One of the main anti-government commanders at this time was Abdul Wakil, also known as ‘Qari Taj Muhammad’ and ‘Qari Baba’. (4) The latter name is mostly used, both in Andar as well as in academic literature and media reports. In the early years of the jihad, Qari Baba joined Harakat because he was inspired by its leader Muhammad Nabi. Qari Baba started his fight from Alizai village, but spent a lot of time in Tangi, where he used to hide from airstrikes in a shrine known as ‘Saheb Baba’. Qari Baba is remembered still in in Andar for his brutality and having been responsible for killing and slaughtering many people on charges that they worked for the communist government, or that they were pro-government. As a member of Harakat, Baba had widespread support from local mullahs. Local people said he carried out executions based on fatwas approving the executions or assassinations of suspects. One of his victims was a local comedian known as Walu, whose relatives say that Baba’s fighters slaughtered him because he had made a pro-government poem. (5)

In Andar district, five jihadi parties were active during the war against the communist regime in the 1980s: Harakat, Hezb-e Islami, Mahaz-e Milli, Ettehad-e Islami and Jamiat-e Islami. The most active were Harakat and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami. Harakat controlled most of Andar district while Hezb influence was limited to a few villages. At that time, there was no fighting between Harakat, Mahaz, Ettehad or Jamiat, but Harakat and Hezb clashed in certain areas.

Harakat’s dominance in Andar gave Qari Baba the upper hand and he ruled most of the district. According to local sources, he paid special attention to the ulema and financially supported pupils of religious studies. One tribal elder told AAN: “Baba’s attention to the religious pupils was more than the modern [state] schools received. In schools, teachers only received salaries, but in the mosques, imams received salaries and pupils received food, as well as utensils.”

When the Taleban movement emerged in the mid-1990s, Muhammadi dissolved his party and urged all members to join the Taleban (see thisAAN dispatch). Most Harakat members, including Qari Baba’s commanders, such as former Ghazni MP Khyal Muhammad Hussaini, did so. This resulted in the peaceful handover of the whole of Ghazni province to the Taleban in 1995. Qari Baba, however, refused to join their movement. (6)

When the Taleban regime collapsed in 2001 due to military intervention by the US government, most local Taleban fighters in Andar district returned to common life; they continued their studies, decided to work as labourers or started their own businesses. In around 2003, some new Taleban fighters who had mostly been students during the Taleban regime, started organising a resistance movement against the Afghan government. The Taleban slowly but steadily received growing local support because of the mistreatment of the population by Afghan security forces. For instance, Afghan security forces would arrest civilians after a roadside bomb went off and beat them without evidence that they had been linked to the bomb or to the Taleban. In late 2004, Taleban fighters started spreading night letters in which they told local residents to urge their relatives to stop working with the Afghan government; otherwise, the Taleban would target and kill them. The Taleban did indeed kill people who worked with the government; they included Mullah Basir from Begikhel who had worked as a driver for Andar district’s former governor, Allahdad. The Taleban, led by Qari Na’im from Begikhel, also killed Dr. Wafadar from Aman Chardiwal village, one of Qari Baba’s former close aides.

The Taleban carried out a number of roadside attacks during the 2004 presidential and 2005 parliamentary elections, though without causing major casualties. In 2006, they expanded their hit-and-run operations in the district, targeting significant figures, including Muhammad Ali Jalali (known as ‘Madali’), the governor of neighbouring Paktika province, a jihad-era Harakat commander, on the Ghazni-Paktika highway in May 2006. Qari Baba himself was killed along with his son-in-law and four security guards in Bata village in September 2006, while he was driving on the unpaved road connecting Andar district with Ghazni city.

Most Taleban fighters currently active in Andar are originally from the district, with very few outsiders, according to respondents. Though some Kandahari Taleban fighters in Andar were seen during the summer of 2018, locals said they were the special guards of then-Taleban shadow governor for Ghazni province, Muhammad Yusif Wafa, a Kandahari (who, according to locals, was appointed as supervisor of the governors of 18 provinces in the spring of 2019). According to local sources, the Taleban appointed a new governor for Ghazni province in the spring of 2019, also a Kandahari. They did not yet know his actual name, but locally he is known as Abu Muhammad.

Any Taleban governor appointed to Ghazni has to rely on two important Andar commanders, who each control different parts of this district. The first is Mullah Edris (who changes his name from time to time, so only people in his group know his current name) from Liwan village who controls most of western Andar. The other is Mullah Ismail from Sher Khan village who controls the eastern part. Edris is the more active of the two. For example, he has been involved in several major attacks on government institutions in different parts of Ghazni province, particularly in Andar. He planned and supervised two major attacks on the district centre, Mirai, in October 2017 and 2018. As a result of the last attack, the Taleban took complete control of the district in October 2018. Edris also led a jailbreak operation in September 2015, as a result of which 355 prisoners were set free (see this AAN report here).

Mullah Ismail is currently the Taleban shadow governor for Khost province but his group still controls eastern Andar. In 2012, the media wrongly reported that he had been killed by members of the Quetta Shura in the Kachlagh area of Balochistan (for wanting to take part in peace talks); the media also claimed he had been arrested for corruption (see media reports here, and here).

Andar district was a key location for the former mujahedin, as well as for the Taleban, as it was a command centre for attacks on different parts of the province. As recently as November 2018, as many as 30 fighters of the special unit known as Sra Qita (Red Unit) went from Andar to Jaghori district of Ghazni, where they were involved in a high-profile Taleban operation (AAN reporting), according to local sources. The Taleban also used Andar district as their operational headquarters during the five-day attack on Ghazni city in August 2018 (read previous AAN dispatch here). It was back to Andar, also, that they brought most of the weapons they had seized from government forces. They also moved their dead and wounded to Andar for burying or for medical treatment following this attack. Although the Taleban have their own medical facilities in Ghazni’s Nawa district, they still use government health posts for treating local Taleban fighters. A large number of Taleban from Andar district also played a significant role in the attack on Ghazni’s Khwaja Omari district in April 2018.

Following the capture of Andar by the Taleban in October 2018, the district has experienced a considerable increase in night raids, drone activity, airstrikes, search operations and ground fighting between militants and US special forces-backed Afghan forces. These have resulted in the killing of both civilians and Taleban fighters, as well as the destruction of the district governor’s compound. Civilians have also been detained and beaten again. (7)

Governance and security provisions

After the fall of the Taleban regime in 2001, Andar district was initially governed mainly by former jihadi commanders connected to Qari Baba. This was similar to other provinces such as Wardak, Paktia, Paktika, Logar and Khost (see here), where councils of former jihadi leaders took control of key administrative posts in districts and provinces. Sources told AAN that one of the jihadi commanders that governed Andar district early on was Lahur Khan from Harakat, who was later replaced by an officially-introduced governor, Muhebullah Samim in 2002. Since then, Andar has had seven governors.

As early as 2002, the government education and health departments, as well as the police and the prosecutor’s office, started operating. One source told AAN that the education and health departments started constructing new buildings for schools and health centres. In the health sector, the main facility in Andar in 2003 was the district hospital. According to local officials, both the education and health sectors have since had active supervisors.

When the former mujahedin commanders took control of the district, they initially appointed loyalists to the police force. These policemen had no uniforms, but would start searching the houses of former Taleban fighters for weapons in various villages. Some Taleban responded with sporadic hit-and-run attacks. When the Taleban increased their attacks in 2003, these irregular policemen were replaced with police introduced by the Ghazni governor. The newly-deployed forces also included army troops, who were sent to Andar to fight the re-emerging Taleban. However, these new troops were largely comprised of former Tajik militias, who started creating trouble for locals, for instance, by sawing down their grapevines during military operations. (8)

The prosecutor’s office began its operations in Andar district in around 2002. The district had an active judge and people would use the prosecutor’s office to try to solve land disputes. However, this office could not carry out its work beyond 2007 due to the widespread presence of the Taleban. (9) As the Taleban expanded their area of control and increased their attacks, they also targeted government judges and prosecutors. One of these judges was Qazi Abdul Rahman from Saheb Khan village. Though some argue that Rahman was killed because of his Hezb-e Islami links, one former Hezb member told AAN that Rahman was killed because he had previously worked at the prosecutor’s office. The work of the prosecutor’s office was later taken over by the Taleban’s mobile courts.

In terms of presence and parallel structures, the Taleban gradually expanded their control and started governing Andar more actively from 2006 onwards. The first district governor, appointed in 2005, was Mullah Muhammad Hakim from Mechankhel village. Since then there have been four shadow district governors. The current Taleban district governor is Mullah Waliullah, also from Andar.

The Taleban established their education commission in Andar in 2006. The first director of education was Mullah Muhammad Alem from Begikhel. Before 2006, the Taleban had closed schools from time to time and abducted teachers, principals and pupils, for various reasons such as alleged spying for the government. From 2006 onwards, the Taleban started closely observing schools, banning civil education subjects and forcing government officials to hire pro-Taleban staff or former Taleban fighters as teachers. This helped the Taleban to more easily collect intelligence on teachers, new projects and the distribution of new books by the government. The Taleban would first censor the books and then allow education department officials to distribute them. The same happened in the health sector. When the Taleban established a health commission in 2007, they employed new guards for the health centres. They were pro-Taleban and passed on intelligence.

Beyond the education and health sectors, the Taleban have been active in providing judicial services in Andar since around 2004. In the early years, the Taleban identified influential religious figures to resolve local disputes. For example, if a person had a land dispute, he would first ask the Taleban for help. The Taleban would then tell him to take his case to one of the influential persons they had appointed. This religious figure would take a decision about the dispute and the Taleban would then implement the verdict. Earlier, when a dispute could not be resolved locally, the Taleban would refer the case to the leadership council in Quetta. From 2009 onwards, the Taleban developed a pool of active judges and mobile courts able to resolve most disputes at the local level. This also reduced the dependence of the Taleban on local religious figures in regards to the court system. Now only rare cases are referred to Quetta.

The Taleban have also expanded their structure of governance in Andar district. From 2013 onwards, the Taleban established a local finance commission, responsible for tax collection, a commission for civilian casualties, a commission for prisoners, a commission for inviting government forces to surrender, a commission for cultural affairs and a commission for dealing with international NGOs. This structure reflects the way the Taleban organises its administration nationally. It coexisted with the official local government structure until October 2018, when the Taleban took complete control of the district.

The Taleban in Andar actively collects taxes from almost all local businesses as well as any landowners who earn an income from their land. The demands are sometimes communicated in writing and sometimes face-to-face. There seem to be fixed rates for shops (1,000 Pakistani rupees, roughly 6.60 USD, per year) and land. Tax on land seems to increase when the owner installs irrigation pumps (diesel or solar powered (3,000 rupees). However, these amounts can be negotiated. The Taleban hand out receipts for paid taxes.

According to several sources recently interviewed by AAN, including tribal elders, teachers and doctors, the only interaction people still have with the government is related to obtaining national ID cards. Since all government offices for Andar district currently operate from Ghazni city, people have to travel there to get their IDs.

According to a district profile carried out by the IDLG in June 2017, Andar district was supposed to have 807 security personnel, although only 700 were then present. They included ANA soldiers, Afghan National Police (ANP), ALP and uprising forces. However, Muhammad Qasim Desiwal told AAN in October 2017 that only 60 security forces existed and were present when the Taleban attacked Andar district (see AAN reporting here). AAN observed at that time that there were only a few ALP members from Shinwari district in Nangrahar province controlling a few security posts on the Andar-Paktika highway (for details read AAN’s dispatch here).

What is left of Andar’s district centre compound. Constructed in 2004 with US money, Afghan and US forces bombarded it after a night raid on Mirai, the district centre, in December 2018. The Taleban had taken control of the district centre in October 2018. (Photo Fazal Muzhary)

Since October 2018, when the Taleban took over the district, the Afghan government forces’ presence has been limited to six ANA bases, where the soldiers do little other than protect themselves. These bases are in Chahardiwal, Mullah Nuh Baba, Nani, Sarda, Sinai and Sultanbagh villages. The ANA has trouble accessing Sinai and Chahardiwal bases by land, so most of the time they supply the bases by helicopter. The bases in Sultanbagh and Sarda receive supplies by road from neighbouring Paktika as access is easier. The other two bases are located on the Kabul-Kandahar highway and can also be supplied by road. Still, Taleban insurgents continue to harass the supply operations.

Beyond these ANA bases, there is no government presence in Andar. However, as will be explained below, the government still plays a fundamental role in ensuring citizens get health and education services in the district.

Service Delivery

AAN conducted ten in-depth interviews with key informants in Andar district, based on a semi-structured questionnaire developed following a review of the relevant literature. They included tribal elders, district and provincial officials, respected individuals in the district, teachers from Taleban-controlled areas, a school principal, a local doctor from a Taleban-controlled area and local journalists. They were asked a series of questions about their experiences and perceptions of education, health, telecommunications and electricity, and other services available in their district. For more details about our research methodology, see this dispatch here. A summary and analysis of their answers in triangulation with the background information is presented below.

The initial data for this research was collected in August 2018 and has since been checked and updated through additional research.

Education Services

Education in Andar district covers classes from first grade until grade 12, however, school attendance is low, under ten per cent officially. According to education department officials, out of about 300,000 eligible girls and boys, only 28,000 – all boys – actually attend school. The figure still includes pupils that have registered but do not actually attend; if the absentees were deducted, the official number of pupils would be even lower.

The 2017 IDLG district profile counted 49 schools in Andar: 32 primary schools, eight secondary and nine high schools. However, interviews with education department officials and other local sources in August 2018 indicated that there are actually 42 schools in Andar district: eight high schools and the rest primary and secondary schools. All 42 schools remained open after the Taleban took complete control of the district in October 2018, although one, Mullah Nuh Baba school, was later closed on 31 March 2019 and reopened in late April due to shelling by ANA soldiers. In addition to these schools, there is one madrassa, which is located in Mirai, the district capital, and which the Taleban have closed because they do not want it to be financially supported by the government.

Andar district does not have a history of designated girls’ schools. A report by the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC) for the period 1987-93 says there were then 16 schools in Andar district, all boys schools. The same report found that commander Qari Baba had tried to force residents to send their daughters to school, but very few people had listened to him; only very few girls were attending Zakuri, Mangur (not in Andar) and Kundi schools at that time (see the NAC report here). Education department officials told AAN that there had been one primary school for girls in Karezgi village, which was established around 2004, but that school is currently closed. According to local sources it was open for one or two years, but then closed due to the escalating conflict. Currently, a community health centre (CHC) is located in the building. Officials said they have tried to reopen the school, but in the current situation, they are unlikely to succeed. This leaves Andar’s girls completely excluded from schooling, except for private madrassas or if families provide home schooling. The madrassas, however, only teach Islamic subjects for girls up to ten years of age.

The Taleban restrict pupils’ movements into government-controlled areas. To this end, the Taleban education department head does not allow pupils to take documents from their school so they could, for example, continue studying at other schools in Ghazni city or elsewhere, unless there is a good reason, such as when the student’s entire family is moving out of Andar. He only allows pupils to move from one school to another within Andar district. One reason is to prevent pupils from joining the Afghan security forces or the Afghan Local Police (ALP) while studying in government-controlled areas.

There do not seem to be any restrictions for high school graduates, on the other hand. Andar graduates are allowed to continue their higher education in universities in Ghazni or other provinces. However, most pupils who complete grade 12 do not take part in the university entry test, known as the kankur. Officials told AAN that poverty is the main reason for that. In fact, many high school graduates go to foreign countries such as Pakistan, Iran or the Gulf or to other provinces in order to find work (read a previous dispatch by this author about the economic problems facing the young here).

While the Afghan government provides teachers’ salaries, stationery and school buildings, schools, themselves, are monitored and controlled by both the government and the Taleban. In August 2018, before the fall of the entire district, government department of education head Amir Khan told AAN that the government had three active monitors who lived in Andar and who monitored the schools throughout the district, although he did say that monitoring had been hampered by persistent fighting between government forces and the Taleban, which also affected the learning level of pupils, and that three monitors were not enough to cover all the schools.

The government monitors check teacher and student attendance, teaching methods and what pupils are learning, for example, asking questions from textbooks to check they understand them. Monitors also observe the interaction between teachers and pupils, check the buildings and ask teachers if they have any problems or requests from the government.

The Taleban have their own monitor, the shadow education director for Andar, who began monitoring in Andar after the establishment of the Taleban’s education commission in 2006. Officials and local sources said that the Taleban’s monitoring was more active than that of government observers, partly because they enlist the help of teachers who accompany the director as he goes from school to school. There are therefore no teachers specifically appointed by the Taleban for supervision. Sources told AAN that if a teacher is continuously absent, the Taleban deny him his salary.

The fact that the Taleban check the attendance of teachers and pupils, schoolbooks and any problems in the school gives them the chance to interfere in the education sector, for instance in the hiring of teachers, the decisions of principals, the physical appearance of teachers and pupils, the implementation of reconstruction projects and the distribution of school textbooks.

Government education department officials told AAN, “When the government approves a new teacher, the Taleban will give him a second test. If they believe he is not qualified, they will not allow him to take up his job.” One official told AAN the Taleban give these second tests because they insist that professional teachers must be hired and want to prevent teachers being hired because of their connections with certain officials, rather than because they wanted to introduce their own teachers. The official said this meant the Taleban were not interfering, but were helping. However, other respondents told AAN that the fact that the Taleban had to approve all teachers meant they could refuse anyone they did not like. For example, a Kabul-based journalist from Andar district told AAN that someone from his village had applied for the position of the school principal, but although he had passed the test, the Taleban barred him from taking up his job without providing a reason. A teacher from Andar said the Taleban sometimes introduced pro-Taleban people as teachers (although this happened before a government’s new recruitment system was introduced in 2017, which involved a test in Kabul). He himself also had to be approved by the Taleban. “I passed the test in Kabul and I was recruited, but I could not take up my job until I received an approval letter from the Taleban director of education, Abdul Aziz,” he told AAN.

The Taleban have also changed the curriculum, adding more religious subjects, in additionto what is already in the curriculum, and banning civil subjects, such as the subject of social studies, which covers a variety of topics, such as the need for education, the significance of currency and so on. They instruct teachers to teach Quran recitation or other Islamic subjects in the hours that were previously allocated for civil studies.

Pupils are told to wear turbans, but are not punished if they wear a prayer cap, as they did when the Taleban were in government (1996-2001) and teachers are not allowed to shave. If they disobey this order, they are punished. For example, in 2017 the Taleban punished a teacher from Yaqub school who had shaved his beard, by banning him from teaching at Narmi school for several months. School principals also have to inform the Taleban of new projects and decisions. For instance, if a principal wants to ask the education department in Ghazni city for a laboratory or a new building, he should first discuss this with the Taleban. Once the Taleban approve it, the principal can go to Ghazni and share his demand with the education department.

At the same time, the Taleban have managed to combat corruption in the education sector. Respondents told AAN that the Taleban scrutinised all school documents and removed all ghost teachers from the lists. These included, for instance, teachers who lived (and sometimes studied) in Ghazni city, but still received their salary as a teacher in one of Andar’s schools. They were mostly people who had connections with government officials and provincial council members. Respondents could not give specific examples, but said there had been many such ghost teachers before the Taleban actively started checking. In the autumn of 2017, the Taleban also found out that some teachers at the Yaqub school had received salaries for overtime that they had not done. They were forced to give the money back.

The complete fall of Andar to the Taleban has brought few changes to the situation facing teachers and pupils. The three government monitors continue to monitor schools in consultation with the Taleban. Teachers continue to teach and receive their salaries via bank accounts in Ghazni city (there are no bank branches in Andar). Since the takeover, the Taleban have additionally allowed a construction company to implement a project by the education department to renovate school buildings that were identified by the government’s education observers. The schools, which had been (partially) destroyed by rain or fighting, were repainted or repaired and broken windows were replaced. In 2017, the Taleban had allowed the same company to renovate only five schools: Ibrahimkhel, Aklu Baba, Mullah Nuh Baba, Nazar Khan and Nanai schools.

Another visible development in the education sector has been the hiring of 180 new teachers, many of them either pro-Taleban or are former Taleban fighters, on temporary contracts. They were hired after they passed a general test at the education department in the district capital around 15 March 2019. This was an initiative by the government’s education department in Ghazni. Moreover, the test was given by government representatives and jointly observed by both Taleban and government representatives. The teachers, who will be paid by the government, will not receive their salaries through bank accounts. Instead, a cashier from the education department will distribute salaries in cash. One respondent told AAN that this method would enable former Taleban fighters as well as known Taleban supporters to avoid being arrested by the government, if they were going to get their salaries from the bank in Ghazni city. The last change in this sector was the closure of Mullah Nuh Baba high school by the Taleban due to security concerns after shelling from a nearby ANA base killed four pupils and a teacher and wounded 15 others, including a teacher, on 31 March 2019. The shelling happened after Taleban fighters fired a rocket at a base located on Highway One. Teachers told AAN that the Taleban fired rockets about two kilometres away from the school, but the ANA soldiers still “fired rockets at the school.”

Health Services

According to local sources and the health department head, Dr Zaher Shah, there are 11 health centres in Andar district: one district hospital, four Basic Health Centres (BHC), one emergency clinic, funded by the Italian NGO, Emergency, three sub-centres, which were inaugurated in 2018, and two community health centres (CHC). The district hospital in Mirai town has 30 beds. The emergency clinic is for war victims only. (10) There are ten midwives and seven female nurses in the district, but no female doctor. According to Zaher Shah, this problem is not unique to Andar district, as there are no female doctors in other districts either. He said there was no lack of midwives or female nurses.

The government provides health services in Andar district through the Agency for Assistance and Development of Afghanistan (AADA), an NGO responsible for the payment of salaries, procurement and supply of medicines and all other activities related to the health sector, including the monitoring of all health-related activities in the district. This means that AADA implements all health-related projects with the health department only remotely observing their implementation. The NGO also provides transport for female nurses and midwives who live in remote areas, according to Zaher Shah.

All respondents, including the government’s health department head, said the Taleban did not cause problems with the implementation of health-related projects. The NGO is able to work unhindered and there are no problems with the monitoring of health-related activities, whether the observers belong to an NGO or to the health department. Alocal doctor, however, did say that the Taleban allowed only low-level officials from the health department and NGOs to monitor healthcare centres. Senior officials from the health ministry were not able to go to Andar district.

The Taleban are said to actively monitor the health centres themselves. Officials say they are sometimes even helpful in resolving problems. If a doctor is consistently absent, for example, or nurses ask patients to pay illegal fees, the Taleban make enquiries and tell them to change their behaviour. Interviewees considered this a positive point. Similarly, health officials are unable to travel to some of the more remote areas for observation, whereas Taleban supervisors can.

The health department head said that the Taleban had not ordered doctors to close their clinics or to pay their salaries to the Taleban. Neither had he received reports of Taleban interference from his local staff in Taleban-controlled areas. He thought that if the Taleban were to create problems in the health sector, the people would probably oppose this, which could result in the Taleban’s loss of local support. Therefore, the Taleban got involved in positive ways, he said.

Local interviewees said that the Taleban visit the reconstruction site of a healthcare centre in Ibrahimkhel village every week to check on the process. They would tell the workers to use quality materials. Health department officials said that, in other cases, when NGOs were sending medicine to local healthcare centres, the Taleban were called on to help ensure that the medicine arrived safely and was distributed equally among the health centres. The Taleban also checked the presence of doctors and other staff at healthcare centres. Local sources said this has paved the way for a more equal provision of health services in Andar district.

Ghazni health director, Zaher Shah, told AAN that the three new sub-centres inaugurated in 2018 in Sarda and Surki villages had increased women’s access to health facilities. He said that if a woman had to walk for two hours to reach a clinic, or if the clinic was ten kilometres from her residence, it would in practice mean the woman had no (or only emergency) access to health facilities. He said they had identified the gaps in Andar district based on this definition and had established the three new clinics to fill these gaps. Still, he said, there were cultural problems that prevented women from having better access. Some parents-in-law did not allow women to go to a health centre for treatment and would send a male member of the family to obtain medicine instead. He said they were working to resolve these kinds of problems. According to a local doctor, women in Andar clearly did not have equal access to health services and what was available was only basic health care because of the lack of qualified personnel and sufficient health facilities. If female patients suffered from complicated problems doctors at the hospital or other clinics would refer them to Ghazni. “This leads to deaths,” he told AAN, “if patients suffering severe problems cannot reach Ghazni city on time. Moreover, we’ve had some reports of patients with complicated problems who died on the way to Ghazni city due to the bad roads or fighting on the way.” So long as there is no education of girls in the district, it seems unlikely that the authorities could improve provision for female patients substantially.

The health department director told AAN that Andar district has a health support council that was established by the government, made up tribal elders, imams, teachers and influential figures, that supports the health sector in the area. He said the council members met once a month to discuss health-related issues, checked the attendance and behaviour of doctors (making sure they were not asking patients for bribes or mistreating them) and help doctors if they have security concerns. For example, if the Taleban attacked a government post near a clinic, the council members would intervene and ask the Taleban to stop. If there was a lack of medicine in a health centre, council members would go to Ghazni city to ask the health department for medicine.

One respondent said that when fighting between Taleban and government forces around the district centre intensified in September 2018, members of the council told doctors to move the district hospital to Zakuri, an area under Taleban control where there was no fighting. The council members moved the hospital back to Mirai when the Taleban took complete control of the district in October 2018. The health director said that, although council members were unable, on occasion, to hold meetings due to poor security, they could be called upon whenever they were needed for advice and consultation.

Health director Zaher Shah said that all health centres in Andar were monitored by health department officials, the implementing NGO and the Taleban. He said, the Taleban would supervise the activities of all the centres in remote areas under their control, where neither government nor NGO observers have access. When asked about a particular example, he referred to the renovation of the Ibrahimkhel clinic in 2018 that the Taleban regularly have monitored.

With regard to the Taleban’s monitoring of healthcare centres, one respondent explained that the head of the Taleban’s health commission, Haqqani, who was killed in a drone strike on 25 May 2019 in Andar district, would visit all clinics, where he checked the nurses and doctors, the medicine depot and laboratory, hygiene, patient complaints, staff attendance and medicine expiry dates – just like the government monitor would.

Some respondents said that the Taleban did interferein the recruitment process of new doctors. One interviewee recalled the case of a university medicine graduate who had applied for a job at one of the healthcare centres in Andar, which he did not get as he did not have a relative among the Taleban. Instead, another person who had not studied but did have connections, was offered the job (and then, the interviewee claimed, started studying at the medical faculty of a private university in Ghazni city). A doctor told AAN that compared to the past, the Taleban’s interference was less than it had been previously. He said that, for example, in the past Taleban fighters forced doctors to burn contraceptives, but they had not done this recently. Now, doctors could prescribe or hand out contraceptives to couples that requested them.

The Taleban also get involved in the polio vaccination campaign. For example, they banned the campaign entirely for about two and a half months from 4 November 2018. The Taleban then told vaccinators they were not allowed to go house-to-house to vaccinate children, but could vaccinate children in the village mosque. The last polio campaign was implemented around mid-March 2019. In a Whatsapp interview with AAN, the Taleban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahed, said ‘the enemy’ (by which he meant the government) was misusing the polio drive in Helmand, Kandahar, Ghazni, Uruzgan and other places where fighting was intense and the Taleban had arrested several people who had entered Taleban-controlled areas as vaccinators. “Such people were appointed,” he claimed, “to identify the houses of Taleban commanders and leaders. They would leave chips in the houses, so that the enemy could identify that house and locate it as a target.” (See also this AAN dispatch on polio vaccination here). The last time Andar saw a full anti-polio drive was in July 2018.

Media, telephone coverage & electricity

In Andar, five main telephone companies are able to operate: Roshan, Mobile Telephone Network (MTN), Etisalat, Afghan Wireless Cooperation Company (AWCC) and Salaam. Among them, the most commonly used are Roshan and MTN, and in some areas, the Salaam network. In the past, their services worked between 7 am to 7 pm, but for the last nine months or so, they have been active for only two hours in the morning, between 9 and 11. When asked why this was, all respondents said the Taleban have forced telephone companies to stop operating beyond this limited time. If network operators did not heed the Taleban’s demands, they would destroy their telecom towers. Respondents said the Taleban took this decision because they believed the companies were being used by the US military to locate their fighters. When the Taleban stopped the companies from operating, people installed additional antennas on their rooftops to boost coverage. Salaam (a government network) is the only network that occasionally operates beyond the two-hour limitation.

Additionally, the Taleban have banned the people in Andar from using Salaam SIM cards, since it is a state-owned network. They warned people that if they were caught with a Salaam SIM card, they would break the card and beat the holder. People might be able to use Salaam SIM cards at home, but it is risky for them to carry them outside. Many residents, particularly the educated youth and those who have relatives abroad, use smartphones (which are not banned in Andar) to have online conversations, for instance with their relatives who are working in the Gulf or other countries. Most people get in touch with their relatives via Whatsapp or Facebook.

Andar district has no access to government-provided electricity, but almost everyone has access to basic power through the use of solar energy: people have installed solar panels on their rooftops with which they charge batteries. Some people use electricity to watch television at home, although many fear to do this. Respondents told AAN that although the Taleban had not banned watching TV (as they did so when in government and in some of the districts surveyed for this series on service delivery), people are still wary of them discovering their TV sets, so whoever watches television does so secretly. People watch with the help of dish antennas, which is the only possible option for Andar residents. One respondent said: “It is easy for us to hide the dish antenna from the sight of the Taleban. We take it outside when we are watching TV at night and hide it in a room during the day. If, by chance, Taleban come to our house, they cannot see that we are watching TV.” It is hard to say what percentage of residents might be watching television. Assessingone village of 80 houses, one respondent said that probably around 30 home owners had a television at home.

Respondents said that every house in their village had a radio. They said most people listen to the news, sports and music. Andar district does not currently have a local radio station. One set up by a US forces base stopped working in 2015, a year after the forces left. It mainly broadcast music. Currently, most residents listen to Azadi or BBC Pashto, as well as Kilid, Talwasa, Ghaznavian, Sa’adat and others. People sometimes also listen to Shariat Ghazh (Voice of Shariat), the Taleban radio station, but since it broadcasts from a moving station, people cannot catch it on a regular basis. The last time the author managed to listen to the Taleban’s radio station, on 19 April 2019, it was playing Taleban anthems.

Other available services

There have been no major development projects in recent years in Andar, largely because the Taleban oppose projects implemented by the Afghan government, except in the health and education sectors. In 2005, when the government and US military started work to asphalt the Ghazni-Paktika highway, the Taleban stopped the work by carrying out numerous attacks on construction workers and security guards. The project was eventually completed when the government finally accepted the demand of a local Taleban commander, Mullah Faruq, that the government did not post security forces, in exchange for the Taleban not attacking civilian workers (10). The government also started construction work on the road connecting Andar to Ghazni city in 2005, which it was also unable to complete due to Taleban attacks. Such attacks also prevented the asphalting of a road connecting southern Giro district with Ghazni city, which passes through the eastern part of Andar district, connecting up with the Ghazni-Paktika highway.

However, when the government had control over some villages in 2014, it did manage to complete another road that goes through southern Andar that connects Giro district to Andar’s district capital. At the time, the government-controlled most of the southern villages through active Afghan Local Police (ALP) security posts. Therefore, the Taleban could not halt this project (see a photo of the project here). In addition, the government was also able to build some community halls in villages where ALP forces were deployed.

An old warehouse built to store wheat collected from landowners during the rule of Zahir Shah and Daud Khan in Mirai Bazaar destroyed by the Taleban in November 2018 after rumours that Afghan Special Forces were going to set up a military post there. (Photo Fazal Muzhary)

Meanwhile, the Taleban have also allowed the levelling off of a road which passes through villages in southern and western Andar, as well as the construction of a bridge across the river near Mirai. According to respondents in 2017, when the project was allocated to the district, the owners of the private construction company that received the contract had obtained consent from one group of Taleban fighters to start the work. However, another group did not allow the work. Various respondents said there were some differences between the Taleban groups, but they could not provide details. Ultimately, the second group attacked the company’s workers and one person was killed. As a result, the project remains incomplete.

Beyond this, the Taleban have prevented the government from implementing reconstruction and development projects, although they sometimes encourage local residents to pave small roads between the different villagesor repair those destroyed by rain and snow over winter. They go from village to village and tell community elders to bring the villagers out for work. Residents who have a tractor will bring it. The author has seen and driven over many roads that have recently been levelled on the Taleban’s orders with the help of local villagers. The Taleban also call in local elders to discuss the expansion of routes or to help them resolve problems when, for example, local people construct compound walls encroaching on roads.


Andar is a district where the government forces’ presence is limited to military bases. Beyond a handful of bases, the government has no presence in the district beyond a few monitors. The civilian district administration gradually relocated to Ghazni city over time, with the last offices moving in late 2018 when the Taleban captured the district centre. The absence of the government in Andar district means that the Taleban have complete control over the district and its public services, although – apart from the justice sector – they do not provide any services of their own.

The only sectors in which they allow some government activity and presence (through government-chosen and paid staff and monitors) are education and health. Government health services are provided through NGOs. There has also one government-contracted road construction project, which was contracted out to a private company that first had to obtain the Taleban’s consent. Still, this project had not been successfully implemented.

The Taleban play a key role in the monitoring of schools and healthcare centres, much of which is perceived as positive by the local population. That monitoring, in turn, provides the Taleban with the opportunity to influence staffing and curricula and to insert supporters into jobs in those sectors. They also try to control the movement of pupils out of the area under their control, including to schools in government-controlled areas. The Taleban dominate the justice sector through their courts and enforce strict rules on telecommunication services, but have become less strict on people watching TV or listening to the radio.

Although the government can also monitor services, at least in the fields of health and education, it is limited in its reach and influence. Meanwhile, the Taleban’s shadow government system is currently perceived to be much stronger than the government’s, not least through its tax collection system. Without Taleban blessing, the delivery of public services would be severely hampered. Without government funding and administration, they would be much reduced or non-existent.

The local government in Ghazni is not capable of lobbying for construction or development projects to bring in income and generate work opportunities. For the local population, living in insecurity and largely ruled by the Taleban, and with the local government largely absent, there is a limit to how much NGOs, government or companies want to work in their area. Despite this, respondents intimated that the population largely seem happy with the Taleban.

All respondents said that the Taleban’s dominance and then, since October 2018, full control of Andar had provided good security. Crime was at low levels and, within the district, there was freedom of movement again. They said they preferred the justice services delivered by the Taleban, and appreciated that the Taleban take measures against corruption in the local administration. There were no objections to the hybrid character of service provision, with government funding and some government supervision, and stricter supervision by the Taleban. Rather, Taleban rule, including their dominant role in the delivery of ‘public services’ seems to have gained a large degree of acceptance in Andar district.


Edited by Jelena Bjelica, Martine van Bijlert and Thomas Ruttig.


(1) There is another Harakat party (Harakat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan, the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan), but in contrast to Muhammadi’s Harakat, which is predominantly Pashtun, it is dominated by Shia Sayyeds.

(2) Besides being a teacher, Seddiqi was also a writer and a poet. He worked as the editor in chief of Neda-e Haq magazine in 1978, as secretary of Khuddam ul-Furqan (see here for AAN background on this political movement), deputy of Harakat-e Enqelab-e Islami-e Afghanistan and respectively deputy of the Supreme Court and deputy minister of justice during the Taleban regime. Seddiqi died on 21 February 2017 at the age of 75 (read an announcement about his funeral ceremony here). Another graduate of the madrassa was Nasrullah Mansur, a deputy of Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi who later became the leader of a break-away faction of Harakat in the 1980s. He named his party Harakat-e Nawin-e Inqilab-e Islami (New Islamic Revolution Movement) (read more about the background and the party in these AAN dispatches here and here).

(3) After completing primary education in Andar, Niazai (in English-language sources often ‘Niazi’) went to Kabul, where he graduated from Abu Hanifa religious madrassa, according to his biography, written by former Afghan President Borhanuddin Rabbani (see here). After graduating from the madrassa, he went to Egypt where he studied at Al-Azhar university, from where he graduated with a Master’s degree. While there, he was inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Upon returning to Afghanistan he taught sharia at Kabul university and began preaching clandestinely to recruit pupils for what the Islamists after him called the ‘Islamic awakening’. When the government under President Muhammad Daud Khan learned about Niazai’s clandestine political activities, he was arrested on 4 May 1974. According to Rabbani, Niazai was killed in the spring of 1979 at Pul-e Charkhi jail, along with 135 or 180 people (read the full biography in Dari here and another biography here).

(4) The son of Mawlawi Abdul Wakil, Qari Baba is originally from Sarda village but lived most of his life in Aman Chardiwal and later moved to Mirai. According to Qari Baba’s villagers, he is a Hazara from the Qurbankhel tribe. However, respondents told AAN that Qari Baba was a Hazara, but not a Shiite. Baba studied religious subjects at Nur ul-Madares. According to Norwegian scholar Kristian Berg Harpvikin (2010, p12), Baba was good at handwriting and prose and therefore worked as a scribe in Andar district in the 1970s. There he would write petitions and letters to the governor on behalf of the common people.

(5) The author found part of a poem that Walu recited in a celebratory gathering in Mirai, the district town:

Ze yem de fulani zi pe asal de tangi

Pe Sarda ki watan ghwarem

Hukm wu-kawa auchat raghelai jamhuriat

I am from a certain place, originally from Tangi

I want land in Sarda

Please make a high order because it is a republic (government)

Harpviken (p13) wrote that “reportedly it would suffice to be a teacher, to wear pants or to carry a moustache but no beard [the khalqi style]” for Qari Baba to kill someone during the fight against the communist government. There is also a locally famous poem-like aphorism, which people would recite and that locals considered a “warrant of death” by Baba’s men who would take the victim to an old citadel (Zara Qala).

I’m a mujahed from Tangi

I’ve been sent by Qari (Baba)

Bend your hands to your back (surrender yourself)

Let’s go to Zara Qala

Give me your watch (before you are beheaded).

The poem is taken from this AAN dispatch here.

(6) According to a local source who knew Baba well and was from his original village of Sarda, and who participated in a meeting before the Taleban arrived in Ghazni, Qari Baba disagreed with Hussaini over the handover of Ghazni to the Taleban. The source told AAN: “Baba told Hussaini that we should fight against the Taleban because they want to kill the jihadi commanders and disarm them. Ultimately, Hussaini handed over the military installations to the Taleban in Ghazni without Baba’s permission. Qari Baba later went to the Hazarajat with the help of his military commander Adam Khan. From there, he went to Jabul us-Saraj, where he joined Ahmad Shah Massud.”

(7) On another recent night raid in Sarda village on 14 May 2019, local sources told AAN that two groups of Taleban had come together to a house. When the NDS 01 Unit, supported by US special forces, raided the house, one group of Taleban survived because it had left the area as soon as the raid started. The second group was caught in the raid and resisted the attack. As a result, local residents said, four Taleban fighters under the command of Qari Khaled, a sub-commander of Mullah Ismail, were killed. Khaled survived the raid. However, the government forces claim the Afghan forces killed 42 Taleban fighters, who included 33 Pakistani nationals (see the government claim here and here). One local source said the Afghan forces had also killed two civilians, a man and his nephew, who were irrigating their wheat fields during the raid.

In another night raid, joint forces killed eight civilians in Niaz Qala village on 3 May 2019. Witnesses claimed when talking to AAN that no Taleban fighters had been killed in that raid. One witness said: “The soldiers took people out of his room and killed him on the spot.” During the raid, the Afghan forces also beat women. For example, the Afghan forces “severely beat” women in the house of Syed Karim, when they struggled to rescue him from the Afghan forces. The Afghan forces killed Syed Karim, after they separated him from the women, in a different room, where his body was hidden under a pile of Karim’s home belongingness. After the raid, the joint forces took three civilians, a private Toyota car and, said locals, “160,000 Pakistani rupees from the house of Matiullah Akhundzada, a local mullah.” On the second day after the raid, elders from the village brought the bodies of the victims to Ghazni city in protest, to show the government that civilians had indeed been killed. Deputy Ghazni governor, Muhammad Amin Mubalegh, in a meeting with the elders, promised an investigation, but no reports have yet been published (see the report about the meeting here). These two cases have not been the only recent night raids in the district.

AAN has not been able to collect a full list of recent air strikes. There are, however, reports from local sources that a few of them have resulted in the killing of civilians and Taleban fighters. One (see here) killed six civilians who were ordinary labourers in Dalil village just as they were finishing zuhur, the pre-dawn meal in Ramadan. Local residents said the workers included three brothers, Abdul Matin, Abdul Haq and Muhammad Daud, the sons of Abdul Manan from Shamsi village. Another drone strike took place in Lewan village of Andar on 12 March 2019, where a civilian minivan was targeted. In this attack, 14 civilians en route to Ghazni city were killed and another four were wounded, according to survivor Abdul Qadir, who spoke to AAN on 17 March 2019 in Kabul (see Pajhwok report here). When government officials said that the attack had killed Taleban fighters and their commander Sarhadi, local residents brought the victims’ bodies to Ghazni city in protest. The second day, on 13 March 2019, governor Wahidullah Kalimzai met with the protestors and promised an investigation into the incident, but no findings have yet been published (see a report about the meeting here). In another drone strike on 6 May, only Taleban fighters were killed when the US forces targeted a madrassa (see a government report here). Local residents also confirmed this attack and said that three Taleban fighters had been killed but no civilians.

(8) Antonio Giustozzi (2012), Decoding the new Taliban: insights from the Afghan field, London, Hurst, p.106.

(9) The 2017 IDLG profile found that there were no prosecutors or judges present in the district at the time due to the lack of offices for them there. Instead, they were operating from within Ghazni city. However, AAN’s findings show that Andar’s prosecution sector had been active earlier, but became inactive from 2007 onwards due to the widespread Taleban presence.

(10) According to the 2017 IDLG district profile, Andar district supposedly has two hospitals and 10 other health facilities (six clinics and four health posts), with nine doctors (six men, three women) working in the two hospitals and six doctors (four men, two women) working in the other health facilities. In addition to the government hospitals, the IDLG report found that there were two private hospitals and two private clinics, with respectively nine (six men, three women) and six doctors (four men, two women). This was not corroborated by the interviews.

(11) Antonio Giustozzi (2012), Decoding the new Taliban: insights from the Afghan field. London, Hurst, page 106-7.

(12) Kristian Berg Harpviken (2010), Understanding Warlordism: three biographies from Afghanistan’s Southeastern Areas. Oslo, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), pp12-3.


Categories: Defence`s Feeds

Civilians at Greater Risk from Pro-government Forces: While peace seems more elusive?

Sun, 09/06/2019 - 04:19

After a Ramadan stained with violence, peace seems remote. Both sides have intensified the tempo of the conflict, with civilians paying a heavy price. While the Taleban appear to be exercising more care with some tactics that protect civilians, they continue to unlawfully target civilians with others, as recent attacks demonstrate. The US and Afghan forces have increased their military pressure on the Taleban to try to force them to the negotiation table, but, as a consequence, civilian casualties from airstrikes and search operations have soared. Pro-government forces are now responsible for more civilian harm than the Taleban and other non-state groups. The latest data may also point to fewer measures to protect civilians under the Trump administration.  AAN’s Rachel Reid and Jelena Bjelica look at the changing dynamics of the Afghan war through the lens of the SIGAR’s regular quarterly report and UNAMA’s first quarterly civilian casualties report for 2019 and ask what it might mean for ongoing peace negotiations.

A bloody Ramadan

This Ramadan was a time of mourning for too many families, with the Eid ceasefire of a year ago a distant memory. Over 100 civilians were killed in Kabul over Ramadan, according to UNAMA’s latest numbers. Nationwide there were almost 200 civilians killed, according to the Turkish news outlet, Anadolu Agency. On the Monday before Eid, a bus carrying staff to the Civil Service Commission was blown up in an attack claimed by Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP -Daesh), killing five and injuring ten others. This followed four bombings on Sunday, including one attack targeting a bus carrying students, which was again claimed by ISKP, killing one and wounding ten. This followed suicide attacks on May 30 and 31 aimed at military targets, both of which killed civilians. UNAMA is investigating another recent attack during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kabul on May 24, where explosives were reportedly planted in the microphone used by the prayer leader, Mawlawi Samiullah Raihan, who was killed by the explosion (here and here).

A decrease in Taleban-caused civilian casualties

These attacks cut against a more positive trend. This was evident in the latest United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) quarterly report. It reported that the overall number of civilians killed by Taleban forces had dropped in the first quarter of the year. This was associated with a reduction in killings from suicide improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by 76 per cent. UNAMA noted a long, cold winter could have been a factor in this drop, but refrained from crediting improved protection measures. However, some observers have noted a multi-year trend towards greater mitigation efforts by the Taleban. That is certainly the claim from the Taleban, who said in a statement released on 22 May 2019:

as the Islamic Emirate considers this country its own homeland and these people its own nation, it continually takes all necessary steps for drastically reducing civilian losses and continues to reevaluate and improve these measures put into practice.

If we glance over the years of our current Jihad, a lot of tactics that have proven effective against enemy forces but also had a high chance of inflicting civilian losses have been abandoned by the Mujahideen.

However, this claim – to be taking “all necessary steps” to reduce civilian casualties – is directly contradicted by the increase by 21 per cent in targeted killings by anti-government elements; figures also shown in the UNAMA quarterly report. While some of these attacks have been claimed by ISKP, it is not clear-cut whether such claims always reflect reality. The Taleban did claim responsibility for the attack on 8 May 2019 on the Kabul office of a non-governmental organisation, Counterpart International, in which six civilians were killed and a further 28 injured. So, while the trend away from using suicide bombers is welcome, nevertheless, the deliberate targeting of civilians by the Taleban and other groups continues and this is a potential war crime.

The drop in suicide bombings belies an overall uptick in the operational tempo of non-state groups. The Resolute Support “enemy-initiated attacks” count shows that the number of attacks rose considerably, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported. (1) The impact of this increase has been born by the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), which continue to suffer catastrophic losses. Between December 2018 and February 2019, the number of ANDSF casualties was approximately 31 per cent higher than the same period one year prior, according to SIGAR:

The number of casualties incurred from defensive operations has increased by 45 per cent while ANDSF casualties from offensive operations have increased by 21 per cent. USFOR-A also added that almost half of the ANDSF casualties this reporting period occurred during checkpoint security operations.

Although the exact number of the ANDSF casualties remains classified, according to a report by the Afghanistan Times from 2 June 2019, around 50 government armed forces were estimated killed every day. This is higher than a previously reported estimate of around 25 a day as calculated by the New York Times in November 2018. (2)

Increase in the US and Afghan forces caused civilian harm

UNAMA’s reporting had a particularly damning finding for US and Afghan forces: “civilian deaths attributed to Pro-Government Forces surpassed those attributed to Anti-Government Elements during the first quarter of 2019.” This significant increase in casualties was driven by airstrikes and search operations. On 23 May, UNAMA tweeted that the “civilian casualty toll from airstrikes in Afghanistan continues to rise” after releasing preliminary findings about two air attacks that killed 14 civilians, including five women and seven children in incidents in Gereshk district, Helmand, on 20 May; and Chawki district, Kunar province on 22 May. Air operations “were the leading cause of civilian deaths” in the first quarter of 2019, the vast majority of which were carried out by the US. The quarterly report said:

Pro-Government Forces carried out 43 aerial operations in the first quarter of 2019 that resulted in 228 civilian casualties (145 deaths, 83 injured), with international military forces responsible for 39 of these operations resulting in 219 civilian casualties (140 deaths, 79 injured).

This was the highest number of civilian casualties from airstrikes in the first quarter of any year since the UNAMA began systematically documenting civilian casualties in 2009 and is a continuation of the trend in 2018. In 2018, as UNAMA reported (AAN analysis here) 1,015 civilians were killed (536) or injured (479) in aerial operations; mostly by international military forces (632 civilian casualties – 393 deaths and 239 injured). (2) This represented a 61 per cent increase in casualties from this type of operation. US Central Command also confirmed that 2018 was a record for US aerial attacks, with more airstrikes than the previous three years combined, according to the US Air Force’s airpower statistics summary. In 2018, the US used 70 per cent more air ordnance than in 2017 (7,362 compared to 4,361; itself a significant increase on the 1,337 in 2016). In the first three months of 2019, the US Air Force reported that they released 1,463 ordnances in air operations (as opposed to 1,186 in the first quarter of 2018 and 457 in 2017).

An American reversal on civilian protection?

It is significant that the US and Afghan forces are killing more civilians than the Taleban and ISKP. In asymmetric warfare between non-state groups and states, insurgent groups are often responsible for more civilian harm, since they typically do not have precision weapons, and usually are less concerned with observing international law.  The US, in particular, prides itself on its commitment to avoiding civilian harm, as it states in its Annual Report on Civilian Casualties in Connection With United States Military Operations: 

the protection of civilians is fundamentally consistent with the effective, efficient, and decisive use of force in pursuit of U.S. national interests… U.S. forces also protect civilians because it is the moral and ethical thing to do. Although civilian casualties are a tragic and unavoidable part of the war, no force in history has been more committed to limiting harm to civilians than the U.S. military [emphasis added]. 

The last time international forces were responsible for such high civilian casualties, relative to the Taleban, was in 2008 when civilian harm caused by US and ISAF airstrikes and search operations (including “night raids”) was 40 per cent of the civilian harm delivered by all perpetrators. This killed 828 civilians, with 64 per cent that resulted from airstrikes.

The commander of US and ISAF forces at the time, General Stanley McChrystal, responded robustly to the mounting critiques about civilian casualties by strengthening civilian protection with a host of measures. This included restricting air strikes on residential homes and encouraging commanders to delay strikes with a likelihood of civilian harm, in favour of the next opportunity. From 2008 to 2013, these changes contributed to a significant reduction in civilian harm leading to, roughly, a 60 per cent decrease in civilian casualties attributable to the US and other pro-government forces, despite a “surge” in US troops and operations (see here). This emphasis on civilian protection received support from the highest levels of the US government. It culminates in an Executive Order on civilian protection from President Barack Obama. The reforms were driven primarily by a belief that civilian harm was undermining the strategic interests of the United States, rather than concerns about the moral or legal impact of the strikes. As General McChrystal wrote in his book My Share of the Task: A Memoir (2013): “We’re going to lose this fucking war if we don’t stop killing civilians.” This policy was continued by subsequent US commanders, including David Petraeus, John R Allen and Joseph F Dunford. While General Petraeus is remembered by some for emphasising the right of US personnel to act in self-defence, he also strengthened civilian protection measures by requiring verification of “no civilians present” prior to approving strikes.

The most significant learning of this period is that the US demonstrated an ability to decrease civilian harm, while simultaneously increasing the operational tempo. At the peak of the “surge”, in 2011, there were 187 civilian deaths in the whole year from airstrikes. Today, with 140 civilian deaths from airstrikes already recorded from just the first three months of this year, the 2019 death toll from US air strikes seems bound to exceed that.

Under President Donald Trump, some of this protective pre- and post-strike commitments have been relaxed. He has declared “total authorization” for operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in spring 2017. Former Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, unpacked this in October 2017, by announcing that two key Obama-era restrictions on airpower that were designed to protect civilians had been removed. First, the ‘proximity requirement’ that restricted strikes to situations where Afghan or the US supported Special Forces were at immediate (proximity-based) threat from the Taleban or other armed groups, thus widening targeting opportunities. Second, it paved the way to put more American advisors at the brigade or battalion level with Afghan units – it is the commanders on the ground who call in the strikes.

The impact of these changes is visible from UNAMA’s data and local media reports on civilian casualties. In January 2019, for example, Pajhwok reported that at least six bird hunters were killed and one wounded in a US forces airstrike in Jalrez district of central Maidan Wardak province. In one incident on 23 March in Kunduz city, international military forces conducted an airstrike in support of Afghan forces on the ground, killing 13 civilians, including ten children and two women, and injured three more civilians, including one child and one woman. In March 2019, Azadi radio reported as many as six civilians were killed in an air operation in Sayedabad district of Maidan Wardak province. This incident led to an anti-government protest demonstration by locals who temporarily blocked the Kabul-Kandahar highway. (Another protest against civilian casualties caused in the area had taken part only a month before in front of the local office of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.)

Search operations by Afghan forces

During the first quarter of 2019, civilian casualties caused by pro-government search operations (often known as night raids) increased by 85 per cent. UNAMA points the finger squarely at the National Directorate of Security and the Khost Protection Force who were involved in 80 per cent of search operations which resulted in civilian harm. The Khost Protection Force is an irregular militia supported by the CIA, which AAN reported on in January of this year.

UNAMA reiterates its concern that these forces appear to act with impunity, outside of the governmental chain of command. UNAMA continues to call for more transparency and accountability for these operations, and for the Government of Afghanistan to either disband the Khost Protection Force or formally incorporate members into its armed forces, following a robust vetting procedure.

The New York Times (NYT) recently published an investigation into CIA-backed forces. This focused on the Khost Protection Force and 02 strike force in Nangrahar; both of which operate with very little oversight by the Afghan government. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism also reported on civilian harm and the impunity of these two forces with a special report into two incidents resulting in multiple civilian casualties in September and October 2018.

A recent search operation in Khogyani district in Nangahar resulted in a family being shot to death in their car as they tried to leave the area, as they were apparently mistaken for Taleban. The family included a woman and two children. The incident, which took place on May 24, triggered a protest march carrying with the bodies of the dead to Jalalabad.

In March, also in Nangrahar, a local BBC journalist reported on his Facebook page that the special forces conducted an operation in Hesarak district and killed 12 members of a family, including women and children. The NYT reported local officials saying 13 civilians were killed, quoting US officials blaming civilian shielding. The use of civilian shields, if true, contravenes International Humanitarian Law, but does not negate other obligations of proportionality, distinction and military necessity (NYT report summarised in BIJ database).

By the end of March 2019, civilian harm was triggering so much public outrage that president Ghani announced on Twitter: “I have ordered ANDSF to either abort or to wait-out a potential target even if a single civilian is present” (see here). His remarks followed a meeting with his senior security officials and NATO’s Resolute Support mission.

This could be an important shift. It is reminiscent of the spirit of the McChrystal era commitment to exercise “strategic patience” in order to protect civilian life. However, it will be important to see if it is operationalised with new rules of engagement for the ministries of defence and interior as well as the National Directorate of Security.


Operational tempo and civilian harm caused by Afghan and US forces have ebbed and flowed over the last 18 years. (Civilian casualty figures in general have risen almost every year, and the number of civilians killed reached a new record high in 2018.) However, what is significant in the current period is that pro-government forces speak openly about a desire to hit the Taleban hard in order to force their hand in the negotiations, despite the cost in civilian life that this currently entails. The current negotiations are looking far less promising than some had hoped at the start of the year. There has been little to show from the recent meetings in Moscow or Doha (see here and here). It remains to be seen if reduced optimism about negotiations, combined with the higher civilian cost, will give the US and Afghan commanders good cause to rethink their strategic assumption and the current operational intensity.

While the Taleban do seem to have reduced the use of direct attacks on civilians through suicide IEDs, they continue to intentionally kill civilians; an egregious crime under international law. The problem on the US and Afghan government side is a dramatic increase in tactics that result in unintended loss of civilian life – airstrikes and search operations. But, even if not intended, civilian harm can often be anticipated and can be avoided. The announcement by President Ghani to prioritise civilian protection is a crucial statement, but it is too soon to detect any change in the behaviour of Afghan forces. As noted above, if part of the problem involves the CIA and covert Afghan forces, this could be a real test of the president’s authority.


(1) According to the SIGAR quarterly report, Afghanistan experienced heightened insecurity over the winter months. This, SIGAR said, was based on “the few remaining publicly available measures of the security situation in Afghanistan,” adding that “the Resolute Support formally notified SIGAR that it is no longer producing its district-level stability assessment of Afghan government and insurgent control and influence, expressed in a count of the districts, the total estimated population of the district, and the total estimated area of the districts.”

(2) The New York Times (NYT) drew on admission from President Ghani in November 2018 that more than 28,000 Afghan police officers and soldiers have been killed since 2015, and previously released government data that confirmed 5,000 deaths in 2015 and nearly 7,000 in 2016 (while the data were still public and not classified). This means that 16,529 casualties occurred between January 2017 and November 2018. This brought the NYT to the figure of “25 a day or 175 a week — far more than Afghan government officials are usually willing to confirm.”


Categories: Defence`s Feeds

Eid al-Fitr Mubarak from AAN to All Our Readers

Tue, 04/06/2019 - 04:00

Eid al-Fitr Mubarak!

The AAN team would like to wish a happy and peaceful Eid al-Fitr to friends and readers, to all Muslims around the world and particularly the people of Afghanistan. We hope the coming days of Eid bring happiness and joy to all. AAN hopes Afghans can celebrate this Eid as peacefully as they did last year when the Taleban and Afghan government officially announced a three-day ceasefire (read AAN’s report here).

Eid Mubarak!


New clothes for Eid al-Fit Photo: Obaid Ali 2019



عید سعید فطر مبارک!


شبکه تحلیلگران افغانستان عید خوش و سرشار از صلح و آرامش را برای دوستان، خوانندگان، تمام مسلمانان جهان به خصوص مردم افغانستان آرزو میکند. امیدواریم که روزهای عید برای شما خوشی و شادی را به ارمغان بیاورد. شبکه تحلیلگران افغانستان امیدوار است افغان ها این عید را مانند عید فطر گذشته که طالبان در آن آتش بس اعلان کردند، به آرامی تجلیل کنند. (گزارش قبلی ما را اینجا بخوانید.)

عید مبارک


Buying cake in Kabul in the last days of Ramadan 2019 Photo: Obaid Ali


اختر مو مبارک شه!

د افغانستان تحلیلګرانو شبکه ملګریو، لوستونکو، د نړۍ ټولو مسلمانانو په ځانګړي ډول افغانانو ته د یوه سولییز اختر مبارکي وايي. موږ هیله لرو چې د اختر ورځې به ټولو ته خوښي او سوکالي ور په برخه کړي. د افغانستان تحلیلګرانو شبکه هیله لري چې افغانان به د تېر کوچني اختر په څېر چې طالبانو او افغان حکومت په رسمي ډول د دریو ورځو اوربند اعلان پکې کړی و، دا اختر هم په    سوله کې تېر کړي.( د افغانستان تحلیلګرانو شبکې راپور دلته ولولئ).

اختر مو بختور شه !

Categories: Defence`s Feeds

One Land, Two Rules (6): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Nad Ali district of Helmand province

Sun, 02/06/2019 - 04:00

In opium-rich Nad Ali district, public service provision is poor. The district is roughly divided between the government and the Taleban and they continue to clash over control of population, territory and roads. Although only the government and NGOs fund public services, the Taleban exert considerable control over what is delivered in their areas, determining what is taught in schools, prioritising Taleban patients in health facilities, banning mobile phone companies and collecting taxes from development projects. Local residents, as disaffected from the government as they are from the Taleban, have no choice but to learn to navigate this dual rule, cooperating with or tolerating whoever has power. In this case study, AAN researcher Ali Mohammad Sabawoon (with input from Said Reza Kazemi and Christian Bleuer) unpacks the provision of governance and security, education, health, electricity, telecommunications and development projects in Nad Ali.

Service Delivery in Insurgent-Affected Areas is a joint research project by the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

Previous publications in this series are: methodology and literature review; a case study on Obeh district in western Herat province; a case study on Dasht-e Archi district in northern Kunduz province; a case study on Achin district in eastern Nangarhar province; and a case study on polio vaccination.

Nad Ali district: context

  • About 17 km to the west of Lashkargah city, to which it is connected by an asphalt road; mainly agricultural land watered by the Boghra Canal from the Helmand River; one of the top opium poppy-cultivating districts in the country;
  • Credible population estimates range between 95,000 and 180,000 (with an outlier of 450,000; sources below); 95 per cent Pashtun from various tribal groups and the remaining five per cent Baloch, Uzbeks and Hazaras, as estimated by key informants;
  • After suffering predatory rule by the US and Kabul-backed local commanders after 2001, the insurgency swiftly gained ground from 2006 onwards. The district remains unstable, currently roughly divided between the government and Taleban-held areas, with continuing sporadic clashes over control of territory, population and roads.

Nad Ali district: service delivery

  • Education: schools, including high schools, open (except in frontline areas); girls traditionally study only until grade 6, the end of primary education, and the Taleban accept this; Taleban control school staffing, curriculum and day-to-day management in areas under their rule; Taleban and government coordinate to keep education going;
  • Health: health services are available but are substandard and inadequate; there are no female doctors or nurses in the district and only a few midwives; Taleban interfere in the staffing of health services, and currently allow vaccination campaigns to be administered only from mosques, ie not door-to-door; they demand priority treatment for their own sick and wounded in areas under their control;
  • Electricity, media and telecommunications: no public electricity, but solar power is widely used; diverse media followed on TV, radio and smartphones by those who can afford it and secretly in Taleban-ruled areas; the Taleban’s total ban on mobile phone operators has been evaded by a public telecommunication company that operates from inside the compound of the district government and a private company that operates from the vicinity of a major military base in neighbouring Washir district;
  • Other services: some water supply and road-building projects; development projects, particularly those in or crossing Taleban territory need to be authorised and are ‘taxed’

Introducing Nad Ali district

Nad Ali district owes its origins to the agricultural and settlement development projects in Helmand Valley that began in the first decade of the twentieth century. Launched around 1910 and lasting for about seven decades until the Soviet invasion in 1979, the Helmand Valley Development Project was a massive and complex effort to control and utilise water resources from the Helmand River for irrigation and settlement purposes. Successive Afghan governments pursued the project in collaboration with, first, the Germans and Japanese, and after World War 2, the Americans (partly to balance Soviet development assistance delivered elsewhere in the country). (1) Nad Ali, along with Nawa Barakzai and Nahr-e Seraj districts, received a large share of United States’ financial aid in the 1950s and 1960s. (2)

The area now known as Nad Ali district was the first to receive settled nomads in 1951. The Helmand Valley project led to the creation of Helmand province with Lashkargah as its capital in 1964 (initially the newly-established province was called Gereshk after it had been divided from Farah province in 1960). (3) Despite serious technical flaws (eg the deterioration of agricultural lands due to waterlogging and soil salinization), the Boghra Canal did gradually transform desert into fertile land; “establishing irrigation works, giving land and assistance to settle [mostly Pashtun] nomads, and creating ‘villages’” led to the creation of Nad Ali as a district (page 10 of this 1983 report). The Boghra Canal remains the largest-capacity canal in the Helmand River basin and irrigates the largest area of land. (4)

The main intention of the then-Afghan government was to settle and govern ‘unruly’ Pashtun Kuchis (nomads), who, in its view, had created problems for the country’s various governments (for example, by participating in the overthrow of King Amanullah in 1929). However, members of several other ethnic groups also settled in Nad Ali, turning it into a socially-heterogeneous area (page 8 of this 1980 paper). Despite initial challenges (including the difficulty of changing the nomadic Kuchi lifestyle to a settled, agriculturalist one) and the poor quality of the land, which had initially driven many settlers out of the area, Nad Ali emerged, by the mid-1960s, as an agrarian district with rudimentary community-based health and education facilities. (5)

Nad Ali covers an area of 3,168 km2and is located nearly 17 km to the west of Lashkargah city to which it is connected by an asphalt road (for a map of Helmand province, see page 2 of this atlas). It borders Washir district to the north, Kajaki to the northeast, Lashkargah and Nawa Barakzai to the east, Marja to the south and Khashrod district of Nimruz province to the west (for a map of Nad Ali district, see page 9 of this atlas). According to the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) 2017 district profile of Nad Ali, it has 240 villages, many of which are situated in central Nad Ali, with the district government compound right in the middle. (6) The greenness of this central area is represented in the names of some of the villages; in Pashto, shin and zarghun are different shades of green, kalay is village and simi is area, so here we find the villages of Shin Kalay to the west of the district government compound and Zarghun Kalay in the northeast, while the whole area is called Shnai Simi. The other part of the district is called Dashti Simi, Pashto for ‘desert area’ – although since the recent advent of tube wells and solar panels, much of this rocky, barren area has also been ‘greened’ and is now under cultivation (see below).


Opium poppy cultivation dominates agriculture in Helmand. Other crops, such as wheat and maize, are negligible. Those districts of Helmand with a warm climate, such as Nad Ali, are perfect for growing poppy as it can be cultivated there in all four seasons. The most fruitful harvesting season is between April and May. Around mid-April, seasonal workers from other provinces like Ghazni, Zabul, Wardak, Paktia and Paktika come to Helmand for the harvest. This author has observed Afghan refugees and even Pakistanis coming to Helmand, including Nad Ali, in this particular period to labour in the poppy fields.

During the mid to late 1990s, Nad Ali district frequently ranked as either the top or second highest opium poppy cultivating district in the country. During the 2000s, poppy cultivation decreased. The Helmand Food Zone project, that began in 2008, aimed to replace poppy with licit crops. The programme’s incentives were primarily the provision of wheat seed and fertiliser, given in return for a farmer’s commitment not to grow opium poppy; there was also the disincentive of the threat of eradication. (7) This project initially contributed to a dramatic fall in opium poppy cultivation in Helmand from 2008 to 2011 (details here), although, as pointed out by opium expert David Mansfield, soaring wheat prices and declining opium prices at the time played a strong role in farmers’ decisions to make what turned out to be a temporary switch away from opium poppy. (8) Moreover, opium cultivation in the province began to soar again in about 2013, partly driven by new cultivation north of the Boghra Canal, facilitated by ‘new technology’ – tube wells and solar panels – and as an unintended consequence of the Helmand Food Zone Project which had driven tenant and sharecropping farmers hit by the poppy ban north to cultivate the desert. Cultivation hit a historic high in 2017 with 144,018 hectares of land under cultivation (details here). This increase was, in the words of Mansfield “truly unprecedented”. Although there was a slight decrease of 7,220 hectares (5 per cent) in 2018, Helmand overall remains Afghanistan’s leading opium poppy cultivating province, accounting for 52 per cent of the total area under such cultivation in the country (page 17 of this survey). In 2018, Nad Ali was again the top opium-cultivating district in the county with 21,396 of a total countrywide estimated 263,000 hectares.

Opium poppy provides the main income for large numbers of families and individuals in Nad Ali. This has also made them vulnerable to the adverse consequences of government-led eradication efforts and happy with the fact that the Taleban have opposed such efforts. At the same time, opium poppy cultivation has been a fundamental driver of the protracted conflict in the district and wider province. The rivalry over this crop has fractured district and provincial élites as they have clashed over who controls its production, processing and trafficking. Various actors in the conflict have used opium to make money or build prestige and patronage and it has contributed to rampant corruption in the government.


There is no reliable data on the population of Nad Ali district – as is the case elsewhere around the country. IDLG in a district profile of Nad Ali dated 28 July 2017 estimated a population of 450,000 people (250,000 men, 200,000 women). This is, however, far higher than all other sources, including:

1. Central Statistics Office (CSO) population estimates for the solar year 1397 (2018/19): 180,535 people (93,116 men, 87,419 women) (page 36 here);

2. US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), reporting based on information provided by NATO Resolute Support mission in October 2018: 71,271 people –not disaggregated by sex (page 222 here); and

3. United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) dataset for 2016/17: 94,649 people (48,422 men, 46,227 women).

The UNOCHA dataset is possibly considered the most accurate because of its data triangulation with various government sources, but it does not include Kuchi populations (as there have been no updated statistics on this since 1979). According to the UNOCHA figures, Nad Ali is the fourth most-populated district in Helmand following Nahr-e Seraj (122,067), Lashkargah (108,174) and Nawa Barakzai (96,479 people). All are located in or around the provincial centre, an area densely-populated (for visual representation, see page 67 of the Afghanistan Provincial Profile 2018 ). According to INOCHA figures, Nad Ali comprises 10.58 per cent of Helmand’s overall population of 894,805 people (the CSO puts Nad Ali as the second most-populated district, comprising around 13% of the overall population). Drawing on Helmand’s average household size of 10.7 (page 68 of Afghanistan Provincial Profile 2018), the UNOCHA figures suggest there are about 8,846 households in Nad Ali.

In terms of ethnicity, key informants estimated that 95 per cent of Nad Ali’s inhabitants are Pashtuns. According to the respondents, the remaining five per cent of residents include members of other ethnicities such as the Baloch, Uzbeks and Hazaras. Hazaras mostly live in a village by the name of Sayed Abad. The most politically-relevant diversity is, however, within the Pashtun community. They belong to various tribes such as the Kharoti, Sulaimankhel, Nasar, Daftani, Laghmani, Barakzai and Andar. In addition, there are Pashtun Kuchis from the Nurzai and Alizai tribes. The various government settlement programmes in the 1950s to 1970s gave this district a diverse population, with families originally hailing from a variety of regions and tribal groups and a divided leadership. Central Helmand’s social fragmentation has been greatly exacerbated by 40 years of war, resulting, in Mansfield’s words, “in a rural elite that is fragmented, competitive and limited in its geographical sphere of influence.” Along with the opium poppy driven rivalry, this has complicated efforts – by the Afghan government, the Taleban, the US government and international forces – to secure local agreements without angering one group or another. (9)

Conflict and security

Given Helmand’s adjacency to Kandahar where the Taleban first emerged as a movement in the 1990s, it is not surprising that the Taleban took power in Helmand early on; their presence goes back to at least December 1994/January 1995. They did this by successfully infiltrating the provincial political scene after splitting the already factionalised and warring mujahedin commanders through forming alliances with some against others. (10) Their success came about also because they managed to put an end to the mujahedin anarchy.

Boys cool off in the canal running through Nad Ali district centre: from mid-2015 to 2017, it marked an impassable frontline. Photo: Andrew Quilty, 2018.

To avoid being captured by the Taleban, some mujahedin commanders fled Helmand to join Ismail Khan in Herat, and, when they were unable to regain Helmand or even keep Herat from Taleban advances, fled to Iran. Others left for Pakistan. However, many among the mujahedin rank and file stayed and were disarmed by the Taleban or joined the new group, which enjoyed some among parts of the population in Helmand in the 1990s. Many young men joined the Taleban as fighters during their rule (1995-2001), some voluntarily, others forcibly.

The Taleban had several district governors in Nad Ali district during this period, the last being Mullah Saifullah. As former member of the British-led PRT Mike Martin has described, (11) the district was used as a resting place for Taleban members returning from the fight against the Northern Alliance (formed of some mujahedin and other groups which banded together to fight the Taleban after 1996 and officially known as the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan). The Taleban military conscripted young local men to boost their fighting force, using the mirabs (water distribution managers) to facilitate conscription, although many evaded being enlisted by escaping from the area or buying their way out. One man from Nad Ali, now a tribal elder, whom AAN interviewed for this study, recollected the situation in the 1990s:

After the Taleban came to Nad Ali for the first time, the mirab of our village came to me and told me that the Taleban had called me to go to Gereshk district the following day. I didn’t sleep that night because I knew they wanted to send me to fight against other Afghans in Kunduz. The Taleban were forcefully collecting people from the community to fight for them. The following day I approached my nephew who was a commander in Kandahar. He gave me a letter and then the Taleban didn’t send me to Kunduz for fighting.

As elsewhere around the country, the Taleban enforced their rule across Helmand from 1995 to 2001 and delegated de facto responsibility for public service delivery to NGOs. The Taleban constructed no schools or clinics, but built and ran many madrassas where thousands of talebs (religious pupils) studied. They checked people’s appearance to make sure it conformed to their Taleban’s standards and ensured people did not have televisions or listened to music. They severely punished people for offences such as theft and not saying namaz (daily prayer). However, it was their “detailed knowledge of the local political context,” said Martin, which “enabled the Taleban” to calm the area initially, providing some degree of stability, after their disarmament of the feuding mujahedin commanders, and then “to exert social control.” (12) This short era was arguably the only multi-year period of stability in Nad Ali and the greater Helmand province during the forty years of war from 1978 to this very day.

The US-led military intervention abruptly terminated Taleban rule in Nad Ali and in Helmand in late 2001. Realising they could not resist for long, many Taleban members, especially senior officials and commanders, fled to Pakistan, giving space to the mujahedin commanders to return to power. (13) Those returning seized the various offices of state, with the backing of the then leader of the interim administration, Hamed Karzai. The main new commanders-turned-provincial officials were: Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, provincial governor; Abdul Rahman Jan, provincial police chief; Dad Muhammad Khan, provincial National Directorate of Security (NDS) head and; Mualem Mir Wali, commander of the 93rd Army Division. They gained access to power and money through their positions and massive US funds and were able to reactivate and greatly expand their patronage networks by distributing civilian and military government positions to loyalists and allies. They created the post-2001 political order in Helmand and its districts – and also paved the way for the return of the Taleban. As elsewhere, it was the abusive rule of these local élites that drove rebellion, insurgency and the Taleban’s re-emergence (see the detailing of this in Helmand as a whole by Theo Farrell and Antonio Giustozzi).

In Nad Ali, police chief Abdul Rahman Jan (2001 to 2005) had appointed district governors and formed the district police force out of local militiamen loyal to himself. (14) Like the three other key strongmen in the province, he grabbed government land, purportedly 20,000 jeribs (4,000 hectares), not just in Nad Ali but also elsewhere, including Marjah and Nawzad districts. (15) He then settled members of his clan on this land, where they grew opium poppy, ran heroin-processing labs and controlled opium transport, all under the control and protection of his police.

Foreign troops, US Special Forces, in particular, were implicated in the establishment of this rule. (16) Generally lacking an understanding of the local environment, (17) in the early years after 2001, the US military and the CIA offered rewards for ‘intelligence’ on Taleban and especially al-Qaeda members. Informants reported others as ‘Taleban’ or ‘al-Qaeda’, either for money or to manipulate the US military into taking action against their rivals, with considerable success. Helmand’s post-2001 élites targeted not only individuals, but whole communities, either by exploiting ill-informed foreign forces or directly ordering militias under their command to do so.

They also competed among themselves for power and the control of lucrative smuggling routes, including in Nad Ali, resulting in clashes between their militias. In some cases, their struggle for control over drug routes almost turned into all-out war, as was the case with a gun battle between Sher Muhammad Akhundzada and Abdul Rahman Jan’s militias over the transport of a drug convoy in 2005. (18) Drug eradication efforts were also, in many cases, manipulated to target the opium poppy cultivation of rivals or non-aligned, unconnected farmers (see, for example, this article). Coupled with an abusive rule, the inter-élite rivalry over power contributed to the loss of legitimacy of the post-2001 US-backed Afghan government in the eyes of large parts of the local population in Helmand. The misrule and impunity of the 2001-2006 period, in practice, facilitated the Taleban’s early resurgence. In Nad Ali, for instance, they reactivated their networks and attracted to their ranks those who had been harmed by or were disgruntled with the post-2001 abusive, corrupt and exclusionary governance.

The British, who arrived to set up a PRT in Helmand in early 2006, recognised that as this RUSI article says, the campaign in Helmand needed to focus on “security first, governance foremost” and that it would only be won through better governance and development. They insisted Karzai’s ally, provincial governor Sher Muhammad Akhundzada (who had been found with nine tons of opium in his compound in 2005), should go. Yet, Helmand was already lost. The British and their allies poured military and civilian resources into the province, including into  Nad Ali, especially after 2008, as Mansfield has described (see this AREU 2018 paper):

Between 2008 and 2012, Helmand province was a focal point for just such a population-centred counterinsurgency effort. It was estimated that between 2009 and 2011, more than US$648 million was spent in the province in tandem with an inflow of over 20,000 US Marines, as well as UK, Danish, and Afghan military forces. As early as late 2009, the district of Nawa Barakzai, just south of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, became an emblem of counter-insurgency efforts and cited as an exemplar of the merits of “putting the population first.” The approach was then replicated in the neighbouring districts of Nad e Ali and Marjah when over 3,000 US Marines, 1,200 soldiers from the UK and 4,400 Afghan forces deployed under Operation Moshtarak in February 2010, while millions of dollars were spent on physical and social infrastructure.

This did not have the hoped-for effect and soon after the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014, there was a resurgence of Taleban in the province (see AAN’s detailed reporting on this from March 2016 here and here). By 2016, the Taleban had captured and were in control of large swathes of territory in Helmand, including most of Nad Ali. In that year, the Taleban blocked the Helmand-Kandahar road for almost two months. They also closed roads leading from the districts to Lashkargah city.

In 2016, the Taleban captured all of Nad Ali district except for the district centre and a small area around. The Taleban warned government employees, particularly those working in security departments, to leave their jobs. They told policemen and soldiers that if they abandoned their duties they would not be killed, harmed or imprisoned. Key informants told AAN that some of the militaries quit, while others left the district and continued their jobs elsewhere in the province. Those who obeyed Taleban orders were not harmed, according to these informants. The Taleban thus showed greater leniency towards those affiliated with the government than they had when they were fighting when they often killed or imprisoned government officials. However, those who had left their jobs were not allowed to go to the provincial capital unless with written permission from the Taleban. The Taleban feared they might join the government again and work in other parts of the province.

The central government responded to the Taleban’s expansion by sending troops from Kandahar and Zabul provinces. They managed to reopen the Helmand-Kandahar road. In early 2017, the Taleban briefly blocked the road again but ceased their blockade soon afterwards. The government then tried to regain control of Nad Ali in April 2017. According to Mansfield, fighting was so intense that many farmers abandoned their crops:

That winter cropping season, more land was abandoned following government incursions into Nad e Ali in April 2017 and an attempt to wrest back control of the area around the district centre. The fighting was such that farmers around the military base in Shawqat near Luy Bagh left over 400 hectares of poppy crop unharvested rather than risk going to the field.

Fighting continued throughout 2017, characterised, according to Mansfield, by allegiances that were fluid and pragmatic. “There is no difference to me,” one farmer told him, “between the Taleban and the government. But if we have just one of them in the area it is better; if we have both, there is fighting.

The April 2017 government offensive failed to take back any significant territory from the Taleban in the district. In the run-up to the Wolesi Jirga elections in 2018, the government still controlled only a very limited area around the district centre. In a bid to get votes cast, the government carried out operations during the election campaign, carrying on their efforts after the poll. They did manage to push the Taleban out of most of the Shnai Simi area and from some areas of Dashti Simi. This has resulted in an ‘active stalemate’, in which the government still struggles to clear the Taleban from the district and the Taleban continues to occasionally attack government forces, which continues to this day.

Contrary to elsewhere around the country, the Taleban did not leave space in Helmand for other militant groups such as the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) to operate. Their shadow provincial governor, Mullah Abdul Rahim, also known as Mullah Manan (killed by the US in 2018), stood against ISKP activity in Helmand province.

Governance and security provision

Nad Ali district is separated into two halves by the Boghra Canal, which, according to key informants, also roughly delineates the current power division between the Taleban and government: areas located towards the district centre and to the south of the Boghra are largely with the government, while areas located to the north of the Boghra are largely under the control of the Taleban. This translates into most of Dashti Simi (the previously completely desert area) being under the control of the Taleban and most of the Shnai Simi area (the central, green area) being under the control of the government.

The district governor of Nad Ali, Muhammad Gul Hashemi, claimed to AAN that the government-controlled 80 per cent of the district’s territory. Shnai Simi, however, makes up about half of the area of Nad Ali district. Interviewees said that Zarghun Kalay, Shin Kalay, Naqil Abad, Sayed Abad and Khushal Kalay of the Shnai Simi were under the control of the government, but also that some villages in Shnai Simi, for example, Abadallah Qulf, as well as three out of 13 villages in the 31 Gharbi area, are controlled by the Taleban. This suggests, contrary to the claim of the district governor, that the area under government control is about 45 per cent of Nad Ali’s territory. The government is currently largely in control of the roads, particularly the road leading from Lashkargah to Nad Ali’s district centre. However, the Taleban continue to attack government officials that travel on the roads. There was, for instance, a Taleban ambush on a government convoy on the Chanjir road that interlinks Lashkargah and Gereshk through Nad Ali, in May 2019.

The majority of low-level Taleban in Nad Ali are from the district, although insurgents from other districts of Helmand as well as from other provinces and even from among the Afghan refugees in Pakistan are also present among them. The Taleban commanders tend to be from other provinces, such as Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzgan. Commanders are often transferred from one district to another. The reason for that, one key informant told AAN, was that the Taleban do not want their commanders to be too familiar to the local community. Because commanders are often transferred after spending only a short period of time in a specific area, the key informants said they often do not know them by name. In terms of the government’s security presence, district governor Hashemi told AAN there was a battalion of 900 Afghan National Army soldiers, 450 Afghan National Police and 300 Afghan Local Police present in the district. On the other side, a respondent told AAN the Taleban might number 250-300 in the district.

The very many Nad Ali farmers who rely on opium poppy as their main source of income see little difference between the Taleban and the government, reports Mansfield:

Farmers recognize the relationships between the insurgency and opium in much the same way they see the government’s involvement with the drugs trade. The rural population of Helmand has direct experience with the taxes that they are expected to pay on the opium crop to the local Taleban commanders, but it is nothing like the figures cited by officials or in the media. They are also aware of taxes on the transit of opium through the area and on heroin production, but the rates are broadly in line with those that are also imposed on wheat production and diesel fuel, at around 1 per cent of value. Farmers are also accustomed to the Afghan local police taxing opium when they hold sway over an area. For example, after Koshal Kalay and Shin Kalay fell to the government following its operation in the first few months of 2018, farmers paid around a tax of Pakistani Rs 2,000 per jerib(the equivalent of US$16) of opium to the police, a rate commensurate with what the Taleban charged.

The Taleban, in order to sustain their control economically, collect taxes from residents in areas under their control, as they do in other parts of the country. They call this tax ushr, an Arabic word used in Islamic jurisprudence, meaning ‘one-tenth’ which refers to the one-tenth of all crops that are grown in the fields and watered by running water (natural sources) that should be given to the poor and needy. The first Islamic government collected this as a tax, as do the Taleban now in areas under their rule although they rarely, if ever, pass it on to the poor. One-twentieth of the harvest is taken from fields for which the water has to be purchased or money spent on fuel, electricity or other mechanical irrigation. Some key informants said that the Taleban also collect taxes from shops and tube-wells, which are dug for irrigating the fields, and from development projects.


According to Daud Shah Safari, head of the Department of Education in Helmand province, there are27 schools in Nad Ali district: 13 primary schools for boys (grades 1-6), one primary school for girls, six intermediate schools (grades 6-9) and seven high schools (grades 10-12). Safari said that there are 11,135 boys and 1,424 girls attending school in the district, taught by 153 male and four female teachers. ‌Safari said that after Nad Ali district fell to the Taleban, the Ministry of Education shifted its tashkil of female teacher positions to other provinces, mostly to the north of the country. Those women teachers still working in Nad Ali are all on short-term contracts (ajir).

Boys at the government school in Shin Kalay village. Younger girls also attend the school, but not beyond primary classes. Photo: Andrew Quilty, 2018.

Our key informants said girls are traditionally allowed to study to grade 6, the end of primary level education, in Nad Ali. The district’s one girl’s primary school is located in the largely Hazara Sayed Abad village near the district centre. Some girls also attend boys’ schools, although only up to grade four, five or six, after which their parents prefer to keep them at home. There are also some adolescent girls are studying in Muhammad Khan Kharoti High School in Shin Kalay in separate classrooms. For higher education, male pupils go to universities in the provincial capital or to Kandahar province.

There are a variety of problems facing pupils and teachers in Nad Ali. For example, all respondents said there is a shortage of textbooks, particularly from grades one to eight. Each set of classroom textbooks only lasts three years. Those pupils who can afford books buy them in the local market, although they tend to be low-quality copies. The head of the Department of Education in Helmand told AAN they lack 30 to 35 per cent of books required for pupils. He also said the department faces a shortage of permanent teachers which they are filling with temporarily-contracted teachers, who are given a contract for one educational year (nine months).

As for corruption, the same respondent said there were no ‘ghost schools’ in the district, ie schools which appears on the tashkil and are allocated resources, but in practice, the school is dysfunctional or non-existent, leaving the allocated funds to be pocketed by corrupt officials. He did say ‘ghost teachers’ were a problem, but also that if this phenomenon did not exist, the principals benefitting would probably leave their jobs, as theirs was a highly risky duty. “The ghost teachers,” he said, “are either the relatives or close family members of the principals.” According to another interviewee, the Taleban have diverted at least some educational resources, such as WFP-provided food aid, away from schools to madrassas. Both interviewees said the Taleban also benefit from ghost teacher salaries, with one saying school principles give them a ‘share’.

Security is a serious problem for both teachers and pupils. All respondents said the areas on the frontlines were dangerous for both teachers and pupils. In these areas, teachers do not attempt to teach and parents dare not send their children to school. The number of closed schools changes from one week to the next as frontlines shift, so respondents were unable to provide AAN with definite figures, but one respondent, a high school teacher in the district, said:

Sometimes the teachers are threatened by the Taleban. The Taleban arrested me when they first came to Nad Ali district in 2016. Although they did not beat me, they did threaten me. The Taleban were deducting 500 hundred afghanis from each teacher as their tax. The teachers who had to attend training in Lashkargah also had to pay some money because the Taleban knew they were compensated for transportation and other costs.

Both education department officials and the district governor admitted these problems had existed from 2016 to the beginning of 2017, but that after that, they had received no complaints. A key informant said that the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), a global fund dedicated to education in developing countries including Afghanistan since 2011, had helped coordinate a meeting between the Taleban and the education department, in a Taleban-controlled area. He said they had come to an agreement that education department employees would not be harmed in Taleban-controlled areas while they monitored schools, provided they coordinated with and secured the approval of the Taleban first. He also said the agreement also included the provision that the Taleban would help the education department monitoring when required and that teachers would not be taxed from their salaries. Since then, the interviewee said, this agreement has largely been kept.

Nearly all the key informants said government monitoring of schools started in the first term of the Karzai government but had increased in the Ashraf Ghani era. In Nad Ali, the education department has its own monitoring officers based in the district. According to many respondents, the education department has a plan for monitoring schools but does not monitor regularly. When they do monitor, they usually check the attendance of teachers and students. They meet the local people and ask them about the conditions of schools and the attendance of teachers. They ask community elders for any complaints. They sometimes put questions to the students regarding their lessons.

After the Taleban captured Nad Ali district in 2016, they did not close the schools, but instead, according to nearly all key informants, imposed their own strict conditions. They told male teachers to grow their beards and wear turbans. The Taleban instructed the boys to wear white prayer hats and not to grow their hair long. Furthermore, the Taleban hired teachers mostly from among their own members for religious education classes that the education department paid for. The pupils had to come an hour early and arrive carrying the Taleban white flag. The new teachers instructed them on Islamic education using a Taleban-approved curriculum for an hour prior to the start of regular school. As for girls’ education, the Taleban have followed local traditions by letting girls study up to grades 4, 5, or 6, depending on the area.

The Taleban banned some subjects, such as social studies, life skills and culture, but have not pushed any particular curriculum, neither for girls or boys. Rather, they teach books that are commonly taught in mosques and madrassas. (19) Taleban teachers also preach to boys in high schools and intermediate schools, encouraging them to take a role in the ‘jihad’ against foreign troops and the ‘puppet’ government; one key informant who is a teacher in Nad Ali district said that some of his former pupils had joined the Taleban and some had risen to become commanders. In areas under Taleban rule in Nad Ali, teachers can only take the national holidays the Taleban agree with, such as the Eids and Independence Day. They cannot start exams early or delay them based on announcements by the government, such as for elections or voter registration. The situation in schools in areas recaptured by the government in 2018 changed back to how it had been previously, but in areas still under Taleban control, it remains the same.

The Taleban monitor the schools under their control and much more strictly than the government’s monitoring. Taleban members dedicated to the supervision of schools or who are hired as teachers are paid by the Department of Education. Eight out of ten key informants additionally said that the Education Department government monitors can monitor schools in areas under Taleban control as long as they coordinate their visits with the Taleban. There is thus a pragmatic relationship between the government and the Taleban in the education sector in Nad Ali.


Nad Ali residents have five health facilities: one Comprehensive Health Centre (CHC), three Basic Health Centres (BHCs) and one Sub-Health Centre (SHC). The BHCs are located in the villages of Zarghun Kalay, Naqil Abad and Chanjir, the SHC is located in Khushal Kalay and the CHC provides services in Nad Ali district centre. A non-governmental organisation, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), under contract to the Ministry of Public Health, provides health services in the district, including running all five health facilities. They are all located in government-controlled areas. Additionally, there are many private clinics, both in Taleban and government-held areas in the district. They are not registered with the Public Health Department of Helmand province, according to the provincial public health director who spoke to AAN.

The provincial Public Health Department said the five health centres employ 43 staff, a quarter of whom are guards. The professional staff comprise, on the female side, six midwives and on the male, two doctors, four community health supervisors, eight nurses, nine vaccinators, one laboratory worker and one pharmacist. (There is also one administrative officer and 11 guards.) The lack of female medical staff limits the care of female patients in the district can expect. However, given most parents’ desires to limit their daughters’ education to the primary, the paucity of professional female medical staff is unsurprising. Key informants also said that most district health personnel were not professionals and lacked professional training. They said the five health centres are poorly equipped and lack medicine and ambulances.

The insurgents are generally more lenient towards health personnel who travel into areas under their control than towards other people. Many of the key informants said the Taleban do not control health workers’ appearance; for example, they do not punish doctors for shaving their beards or growing their hair in the way they do the teachers and pupils. According to one key informant, the main reason for this is that the Taleban need them for the treatment of their wounded or sick fighters. This is the case, in particular in Dashti Simi, where mobile medical teams go to Taleban-controlled areas to see patients. This sometimes causes problems for others, if they need urgent care, but doctors have to prioritise Taleban patients. Given the Taleban’s track record of harsh behaviour against government employees and NGO workers, it is quite difficult for doctors and other medical personnel to stand up to the Taleban demanding priority or preferential treatment.

The Public Health Department of Helmand province monitors the health facilities in Nad Ali district and they are managed by BRAC. Some of the key informants said the Taleban receive a percentage of funds from BRAC, just as they get from NGOs in other sectors, and from development projects. None of the interviewees knew the exact percentage of the Taleban’s tax in this regard. Some of the key informants also stated that BRAC, in order to carry out its activities, sometimes hires staff that have been introduced and recommended by the Taleban, for example, this person said:

As the health facilities are implemented by the NGO [sic], the NGO gives salaries to the staff […] The NGO wants their projects to be successfully implemented. So they listen to the Taleban – there is a Taleban health officer in the district. The Taleban interfere in health facilities. They recommend staff [health workers] to the NGOs and the NGOs recruit staff according to the will of the Taleban. Health facilities are useful for the community, but when there’s fighting, the health facilities mostly focus on dealing with the wounded fighters of the Taleban.

Child vaccination programmes have been implemented with mixed results in the Taleban-controlled areas of the district. The latest polio campaign in Nad Ali was carried out in December 2018, after the Taleban finally lifted a ban following negotiations with locals and the government, and allowed vaccinations to be administered in mosques, rather than, as previously, people’s homes. This resulted in lower coverage (for details, see AAN’s polio vaccination case study). For the vaccination drive, too, the Taleban recommended some of their members as vaccinators, who were then hired by the Public Health Department.

Electricity, media and telecommunications

At the moment, Nad Ali is not connected to any national electricity grid. According to some key informants, during the reign of King Muhammad Zahir Shah, the Chanjir area of Nad Ali district received electricity from the Kajaki dam, which is located to the north-east in neighbouring Kajaki district. The Kajaki dam has the potential to generate 54 megawatts of electricity, but for the time being it generates only 34 megawatts, providing electricity solely to Lashkargah city. Previously, people on the Boghra Canal generated hydroelectricity privately for nearly 150 families, enabling them to light their homes.

Many residents of both parts of the district – Shnai Simi and Dashti Simi – now have access to power through private solar panels. Many residents of Shnai Simi use this power to light their houses, watch TV, listen to the radio and charge their batteries and mobile phones. They do not need to use this power to irrigate their crops. As the residents of Dashti Simi do not have access to the Boghra Canal’s irrigation water, many of them use solar power to irrigate their agricultural fields from tube-wells.

In the areas under Taleban control, watching TV and listening to music is banned. People are also not allowed to have smartphones (to prevent them from watching films or listening to music). However, people find ways, despite the ban. For example, in Dashti Simi, which is largely under Taleban control, people still secretly watch TV and listen to the radio. As Nad Ali district is not far from the provincial capital, Lashkargah, and there are no barriers that interfere with transmission, people can watch TV easily with a simple antenna. The district does not have its own TV channel or radio station, but in the provincial centre, there are five or six private TV stations and the same number of radio stations. People usually watch the news, Turkish and other soap operas, cricket and some religious programmes. They watch Shamshad TV, Zwandun TV, Lemar TV and their provincial TV channels. As for mobile phones, parts of the population, young people, in particular, use smartphones to receive whatever telecommunication services are locally available, which in Nad Ali is limited.

A key informant working as a security manager for Roshan, a private mobile phone company, told AAN that the Taleban started restricting mobile phone companies in order to extract money from them from 2011 onwards. This meant the Taleban enforced shutdown of telecommunication services between 4 pm and 7 am. If the companies did not obey their orders, the Taleban would destroy their antennas. Then in mid-2016 when the Taleban captured most of Nad Ali district, they imposed a full ban on all mobile phone networks. At the time, five mobile networks (AWCC, Roshan, Etisalat, MTN and Salaam) were operating in the district. This full ban was enforced because the Taleban were afraid the government and foreign troops had spies in the community who would pass on information about their presence and activities via mobile phone, thereby exposing them to attacks, aerial bombings in particular.

Since then, although the government has retaken around half of the territory of Nad Ali district, mostly in and around the district centre, none of the private mobile phone companies has resumed their operations due to uncertainty about the political and security situation. The only network that has resumed its activities in the district is Salaam, a company partly owned by the government. It is based in and operates from right inside the heavily-guarded district government compound. Its operation is thus protected by the government against attacks, as this would, in fact, be an attack on the heart of the district administration. However, the Salaam network’s coverage is limited to a radius of only about five kilometres and is weak because of heavy usage.

Many residents in the Dashti Simi area of the district additionally have access to the AWCC network that operates from the vicinity of the strategically-important Shurab base (also known as the Shurabak base, formerly known as Camp Bastion) in neighbouring Washir district. An AWCC antenna continues to work near the base.

Other services available 

There are some non-governmental organisations and United Nations agencies that deliver services in Nad Ali. These include the National Solidarity Programme (NSP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and certain NGOs. They have built water gates and culverts, dug wells and distributed water pumps that can be installed on wells to access clean drinking water. According to some key informants, the most useful development projects include the 17-kilometre asphalt road from Lashkargah city to Nad Ali district centre and the road which leads from Lashkargah to Gereshk through the Chanjir area (known as the Chanjir road). The road between Nad Ali district and Lashkargah was completed in 2011, but work on the Chanjir road, which was worth USD 33 million, has occasionally had to be halted because of fighting in the district. Approximately 13 kilometres of this road has been asphalted and its construction is ongoing. When the Taleban controlled Nad Ali district, the construction of the Chanjir road was still underway. The contractor had to give the Taleban, who monitored the road’s construction, a negotiated share of the funding. The Taleban also take taxes from various other development projects. Normally, they and the contractors meet to negotiate the Taleban’s share.

Mending the asphalted road in Nad Ali. Development projects in Taleban-controlled areas have to get permission and pay a ‘tax’. Photo: Engineer Nisar Ahmad Nasrat, May 2019

Some of the respondents stated that the Taleban allowed the delivery of basic services and development projects because they did not want to alienate the population. Others reasoned that the Taleban allowed these projects so that they could make money from the taxes they levy.

Currently, the Citizens’ Charter programme, which replaced the NSP, is active in the district. It has constructed water gates and culverts in most parts of the Shnai Simi area, as well as digging wells and installing water pumps. It is reactivating the former shuras that were established by the NSP and other NGOs, and according to the respondents, is working with tribal elders and shuras to prioritise projects based on the needs of the residents. It is also working with people to generate micro-hydropower. The micro-hydropower generators will be installed along with different parts of the Boghra Canal and will generate electricity for local residents.

The only service the Taleban provide is some judiciary work for the people of Dashti Simi and in certain parts of Shnai Simi. They have a mobile judiciary service that hears cases and dispenses verdicts, but it is not operating prominently and is not very well-known or easily accessible, as the Taleban fear being attacked or bombed by the government or foreign forces.


The government and NGOs fund and operate most services in Nad Ali district, sometimes with a relatively high degree of freedom from Taleban interference. The government can supervise and monitor education and health facilities in the areas under its control with few problems. The government’s role in Taleban-controlled areas, however, is more akin to a service provider with limited control over its operations. In this system, the Taleban, in their territory, monitor and restrict what schools are allowed to teach while leaving the responsibility of school funding and teacher salaries to the government. On girls’ education in the areas under their rule, the Taleban have followed the local practice that let girls study up to grades 4, 5 or 6 depending on the area. In practice, girls’ education – if it takes place at all – comes to an end at the end of primary school, both in Taleban and government-held areas, with the exception of some girls attending a boys’ high school in separate classes in central Nad Ali.

Similarly, health facilities in Taleban-ruled areas are funded and supported by the government and NGOs, but must obey the Taleban when it comes to how and when to treat their patients. Aside from insisting that health staff must obey the Taleban’s military command, the Taleban leadership does not interfere much in health facility operations. Two exceptions here were some Taleban interference in the staffing of health facilities in their territory and their insistence that the polio vaccination campaign only takes place at mosques, as opposed to door-to-door as was done previously. The result has been a less effective campaign against polio, as not everybody, especially women, can easily leave their homes to go to a mosque.

The government can monitor its health and education facilities outside of government-controlled areas, but must first seek permission from, and coordinate with, the Taleban. In this, it monitors, but it cannot control. The Taleban make decisions on what can be taught and who can do the teaching in these areas of the district. They have banned some school subjects and introduced some of their own, including subjects that are taught in madrassas and mosques.

There is no state-provided electricity in Nad Ali district. Unconnected to any national electricity grid, people have installed private solar power panels or small hydropower systems to meet some of their needs. The Taleban have banned private telecommunication companies from operating phone or mobile internet networks for fear of being exposed to attacks through their presence being reported via mobile phones. The public Salaam network is the only telecommunication company active in the district. It has been able to continue operations because it is based in the district government compound and thus enjoys its protection. Its network, however, covers just a radius of some five kilometres around the district centre. Many residents in the Dashti Simi area, which is largely under Taleban control, have access to the private AWCC network because an AWCC antenna continues to operate from the vicinity of the government’s Shurab base in neighbouring Washir district.

The Taleban collect taxes from residents while providing no funding for public services. They collect religious taxes such as ushr. They also tax development projects – this is not a fixed sum but based on the deals and agreements that the Taleban and the development project contractors negotiate. Without Taleban permission, no development projects can be implemented in the areas under their control.

The current arrangement has left the district with a dual system of governance where the population, generally fed up with both the government and the Taleban, has to navigate between them.

While the legitimacy of the Afghan government in the eyes of the local population may be weak, there has been, according to Mansfield, a “fundamental change” in how people in central Helmand see their interactions with the government, the wider economic system and public services. (20)  As this dispatch has shown, even though public service provision may be poor and inadequate, people have got used to having them. The demand for and expectation of these services has increased and in part, is now filled by private education and health initiatives. Whoever rules the district in the future will need to take into account the people’s expectations for continued services, whether public, private or both.


Edited by Christian Bleuer, Jelena Bjelica, Said Reza Kazemi and Martine van Bijlert


(1) See, for example: Elke Beyer (2012), “Competitive Coexistence: Soviet Town Planning and Housing Projects in Afghanistan in the 1960s,” The Journal of Architecture17(3): 309-332.

(2) David Mansfield (2016), A State Built on Sand: How Opium Undermined Afghanistan, New York: Oxford University Press, page 220.

(3) Mike Martin (2014), An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict 1978-2012, New York: Oxford University Press, page 31.

(4) BJM Goes et al. (2015), “Integrated water resources management in an insecure river basin: a case study of Helmand River Basin, Afghanistan,” International Journal of Water Resources Development32(1): 3-25, page 5.

(5) Muhammad Ibrahim Attaee (1344 [1966]), Helmand da kultur pa saha ki(On the culture of Helmand), Kabul: Ministry of Information and Culture.

(6) For a map of central Nad Ali, see: Martin, An Intimate War, page xxviii.

(7) Mansfield, A State Built on Sand, page 211.

(8) Mansfield, A State Built on Sand, pages 211-212.

(9) Mansfield, A State Built on Sand, page 247.

(10) Martin, An Intimate War, pages 96-108.

(11) Martin, An Intimate War, pages 99-100. Martin says that Nad Ali was also seen by the Taleban as a place where they could raise funds by addressing local, mostly land, conflicts:

The district was also seen as a position in which they [Taleban] could make money due to the fact that there were, by now, interminable land disputes in Nad-e Ali, and the social heterogeneity meant that the need for an ‘impartial’ figure was greater than in areas where there was a unified tribal leadership.

(12) Martin, An Intimate War, page 5.

(13) Martin, An Intimate War, pages 111-125.

(14) Martin, An Intimate War, pages 117, 120.

(15) Martin, An Intimate War, page 122.

(16) From September 2004 to December 2013, ISAF had a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Helmand that was supported by the US, UK, Danish and Estonian governments.

(17) Martin, An Intimate War, pages 125-132.

(18) Martin, An Intimate War, page 133.

(19) Examples of mosque and madrassa books include: Qoduri, Kanz ul-Daqayeq, Nur-e Zalam and Abul Montaha. The first two are about fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and the last two about aqayed (the Islamic belief system). Written in Arabic, they are centuries-old.

(20) Mansfield, A State Built on Sand, page 261.

Categories: Defence`s Feeds

A Snapshot of the Week: Has Ghani consolidated his extended presidential term?

Sun, 26/05/2019 - 04:00

Kabul has been on heightened security alert, as the presidential term of President Ashraf Ghani approached its constitutional end on 1 Jawza (22 May 2019). The authorities responded to calls by the political opposition for Ghani to step down in favour of a caretaker government and threats that protestors would take to the streets by increasing security forces in the capital – literally – overnight. Containers were put in place, in case they were needed to block roads, and access to the palace was restricted, resulting in massive traffic jams and public exasperation. AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili and Jelena Bjelica (with input from Martine van Bijlert) unpack the events that led to this week’s political and traffic tensions in Kabul, lay out the contours of the proposed caretaker government, and explore whether Ghani has successfully secured an extension of his tenure until the next election scheduled for 28 September 2019 takes place.

A critical date leads to a brief closure of the city

On 20 May 2019, a group of presidential hopefuls, who call themselves the Council of Presidential Candidates, called a press conference and warned that, if President Ashraf Ghani did not step down on 22 May – the day his term officially ended – the country would face a crisis and the president should face the consequences (media report here). The council was formed by 11 out of the 18 presidential runners in April 2019 in response to the delay in the presidential elections and what they saw as the unconstitutional extension of Ghani’s presidential term (see AAN analysis here) following a Supreme Court ruling that President Ashraf Ghani and his vice-presidents could continue to serve until the election of a new president.

In response to the perceived threat of possible mass demonstrations, Afghan security forces started increasing their presence throughout Kabul from Monday night (20 May) onwards. During the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, they positioned large trucks and containers at strategic positions, so they could block roads in the city, if necessary. In the early morning of 22 May 2019, the security forces also closed off certain roads leading to the presidential palace. This caused heavy traffic congestion in the capital and forced many residents to walk long distances. Samiullah, one resident of Kabul, told media that “all the oppressions and troubles befall the poor residents of Kabul.” He said he had had to walk from near the Ministry of Commerce, close to Darul Aman, all the way to Shahr-e Now because the roads were closed. Munir Ahmad, another Kabul resident, told media “there are trailer trucks stationed everywhere. The roads are closed.” AAN staff members, as they came to the office in the morning, also observed containers placed at many critical T-junctions in Kart-e Parwan, presumably in preparation for closing these roads if protests erupted. The spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, Nusrat Rahimi, later during the day, confirmed this had indeed been done in preparation for possible demonstrations.

Not surprisingly, discontent with the blockage of the city by the security forces was high and the issue widely discussed on social media. Some complained that they had faced violence by the security forces. Others said they had not been able to arrive on time for important appointments. The street closures were also heavily criticised by the opposition. The Council of Presidential Candidates issued a statement (see here) damning the road closures, by what they called “the illegitimate leaders of the government.” Trying to play on people’s emotions, they said “in this holy month of Ramadan and in the hot weather, the dreadful and frantic environment of the capital and the heavy presence of military forces in the city has led to disquiet and harassment of the citizens and is an especial cause of concern for the residents of the capital.” Individually, Enayatullah Hafiz, one of the presidential candidates, wrote on his Facebook page that, even though they had “not yet taken any practical action to overthrow the two-headed government, the government is afraid of its own shadow and has blocked the squares leading to the palace.”

Former Balkh governor and executive chief of Jamiat-e Islami, Atta Muhamamad Nur, who backs Atmar’s presidential ticket, released a video message on the same day (see here), “Today, the National Unity Government no longer exists.” He argued that it had not derived its legitimacy from the law, but from a political deal between the two sides (the two 2014 presidential candidates) and support by the international community and that this legitimacy no longer existed. He called on “all countrymen, supporters of the team, law-abiding people and those who like a lawful society to make all their preparations, starting today with coordination and consultation under the roof to pouring into the streets and after Eid, blocking highways and shutting down the ministries and [the area] around the presidential palace, as well as the provinces if needed.” He called on them “to be firm in their decision [to form] a big national movement until this imposed and dictatorial government collapses.” They did not want to trouble the people during the month of Ramadan, he said, but would make their move in the days thereafter.

After several hours of the roads being closed, the Kabul police realised there would be no demonstrations and, to avoid further public anger, directed they be reopened (media report here). A spokesman for Kabul Police Chief Ferdaws Faramarz told the media that all roads and squares had been reopened to traffic on the direction of Kabul chief of police (media report here).

Opposition demands for a caretaker government

Political pressure had been mounting in the capital since the first delay to the presidential elections was announced on 30 December 2018 when the date was moved from 20 April to 20 July 2019. (1) That delay sparked a debate about what to do with the end of the presidential term. This intensified when, on 20 March 2019, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced a second delay, moving the elections from 20 July to 28 September 2019.

On 15 April 2019, 11 out of the 18 presidential tickets (read AAN’s previous report about the 18 presidential tickets here) united around a call for the government to be dissolved after 22 May, its limit under the constitution. (2) They said they would finalise an alternative plan for the government, which they would announce in a press conference, “in light of the laws and in accordance with lawyers, politicians, civil society and other segments of society at the very earliest possibility.” It then took them almost a month to come up with a proposal for a caretaker government to replace the National Unity Government. By that time, 22 May was only ten days away.

The Council of Presidential Candidates’ statement proposing a “Caretaker Government within the Framework of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” (see Dari text here) presented two options:

  • If the current president withdrew his candidacy for the presidency, he could continue to serve as head of the caretaker government, starting from 1 Jawza 1398 (22 May 2019), without going through any other legal mechanism and without any disruption, until the end of the caretaking period. They said this option would also apply to the current vice-presidents if they withdrew from the electoral race. (Second Vice-President Sarwar Danesh is running as the second running-mate of President Ashraf Ghani and First Vice-President Dostum has put his chief of staff, Enayatullah Babar Farahmand, on Chief Executive Abdullah’s ticket as his first running-mate. Dostum backs Abdullah. It is not clear whether, in this scenario, the Council would demand Dostum also either withdrew his support for Abdullah, or step down as vice-president.)
  • If the first option did not materialise, they said a “bigger political consensus” should select the caretaker president and vice-presidents. Under this option, presidential candidates and personalities who were legally-qualified, independent, committed and with national wejahat (reputation, popularity), and who had been introduced by political parties and civil organisations registered with the Ministry of Justice, could become candidates for the post of head of the caretaker government. Any presidential candidate who wanted to run for the caretaker position should withdraw their candidacy for the presidency.

If the second option materialised, candidates for a caretaker leader would be introduced to the ‘big political consensus’ for a vote. They would present their proposals, after which the candidate who received the majority of the votes would be sworn in, in accordance with article 63 of the constitution (which describes the oath of office). The same method would apply to candidates for the positions of caretaker vice-president. (The proposal, however, does not specify whether the ‘big political consensus’ should vote for a ticket or for individuals who are candidates for the three posts).

In a more detailed written proposal (AAN has obtained a copy), the council defined the ‘big political consensus’ as being composed of: presidential candidates; leaders of political parties registered with the Ministry of Justice; the head of the Ulema Council of Afghanistan; the speaker and administrative board of the Wolesi Jirga; the chair and administrative board of the Meshrano Jirga; the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission; the head of the Independent Commission for Overseeing the Implementation of the Constitution; a representative of the civil society; the head of Afghanistan Lawyers’ Association and; the head of the Afghan Women’s Network.

The council listed three main tasks, which they call led “three big national programmes” for the caretaker government to manage: 1) transparent, fair and credible elections 2) a national reconciliation process and 3) the transfer of power to the next elected government.

They also described eight principles for the caretaker government:

  • The caretaker leader should be an independent personality with national wejahat (reputation and popularity) and a commitment to efficiently fulfilling their duties.
  • S/he should fulfil conditions similar to (hamgun) those enshrined in article 62 of the constitution for the presidential candidates (ie be a citizen of Afghanistan, Muslim, born of Afghan parents and not be a citizen of another country; not be less than 40 years old on the day of candidacy; not have been convicted of crimes against humanity, a criminal act or have been deprived of his/her civil rights by a court and; have not been elected as president for two terms). The last condition would disqualify former president Hamed Karzai and his vice-president Karim Khalili from running for the caretaker positions.
  • The caretaker head of government should be selected based on a democratic vote and majority votes according to the conditions and options described in the Council’s proposal.
  • The caretaker head of government should not be a presidential candidate; if presidential candidates run for the post of caretaker head of government, they should withdraw their candidacy for the presidency before running for the caretaker post, in order to ensure legal equity with other citizens.
  • The caretaker head of government should not fulfil any other big major duty, ie is equal to those of a minister or judicial officer at the high levels in the government, for a period of time (until the next elected government is elected.)
  • The tenure of the caretaker government is until the 6 Mizan 1398 (28 September 2019) elections have taken place and final results been announced. The caretaker head of government should then hand power to the [new] elected president.
  • The performance of the caretaker head of government should be overseen by the Council of Presidential Candidates (which will be renamed as the Shura-ye Maslahat-e Melli (Council of National Exigency) after 1 Jawza 1398 or 22 May 2019).
  • The authorities of the caretaker head of government should be specified in accordance with article 67 of the constitution. (It describes a situation in which the president resigns, or is impeached, or dies, or develops an incurable illness impeding the performance of his/her duties, and the first vice-president assumes the authorities and duties of the president. In this case, the first vice-president governs in an acting capacity and cannot amend the constitution, dismiss ministers or call a referendum.)

Building pressure and reaching out

On 19 May 2019, the Council of Presidential Candidates presented their proposals to the diplomatic community. The gathering was held in Ahmad Wali Massud’s house and was attended by representatives from the US, UK, France, Italy, Russia, Pakistan, Japan, the Netherlands, India and Tajikistan, and UNAMA, NATO and the Agha Khan Foundation. Ahmad Wali Massud, one of the presidential candidates, and Jawid Ludin, a member of the technical team of the Council of Presidential Candidates, presented the proposal (a link to the presentation in English is here).

Wali Massud and Ludin argued that the formation of the National Unity Government had been based on an agreement “signed by two individuals under international auspices” which, they said, had long been breached at its core and was no longer valid. They said that, for example, on the basis of article two of the Joint Statement of 8 August 2014 and its attachments, a Loya Jirga should have been convened after two years to debate amendments to the constitution and the creation of a post of executive prime minister. Yet, no Loya Jirga had been held, and similarly, many other commitments in this agreement had not been implemented.

They described a three-pronged strategy if the government were to continue post-22 May:

  • Advocacy: if the government continued to serve after 22 May, they would work together to advocate for the government to step down and allow the formation of a non-partisan caretaker government;
  • Pressure: they would reach out to the entire political spectrum of the country to build a grand political consensus in support of their demands and use this political consensus to apply continued pressure on the government;
  • Protest: as a last resort and should the president continue to ignore their demands and his constitutional duty to ensure a level playing field for the presidential elections, they would engage in peaceful protests and, if necessary, actions of civil disobedience. (3)

At a press conference the following day – which was two days before the constitutional end of the presidential term – the Council of Presidential Candidates reiterated the need for the president to step down on 22 May. Former national security adviser and presidential hopeful Hanif Atmar said that, if Ghani continued to “violate the constitution, abuse the system, pressure the Supreme Court to provide opinion and pressure and abuse the security and defence forces, instability was inevitable.”

In response to this, presidential spokesman Harun Chakhansuri wrote on his Facebook page that “the only authority to interpret the constitution is the Supreme Court. [A]ny so-called caretaker or interim government is against the constitution and the system.” (4) Earlier, on 20 May, Vice-President Danesh’s legal board had published a detailed analysis of the legal foundations of the continuation of the National Unity Government on the Daily Afghanistan-e Ma website, which he owns. He had also published a commentary about the caretaker government proposal on 16 May. His arguments were mainly in line with the 2009 and 2019 rulings of the Supreme Court, as well as the 2014 legal opinion by the Independent Commission for Overseeing the Implementation of the Constitution (ICOIC) (see AAN’s analysis of them here). His media office also re-posted the legal opinion of the ICOIC from the 2014.

What will happen now that President Ghani’s term has expired?

The hasty and what many Kabulis perceived as heavy-handed security measures in the morning of 22 May showed that the demands and warnings of the opposition have rattled the government, as did the threat of public unrest. In the last few years, Kabul has seen several mass protests, including one where demonstrators almost managed to breach the presidential palace perimeter. So, it was clear the government did not want to take any risks. President Ghani must also feel vulnerable and unsure of this support in the face not only of sustained criticism but a peace process between the US and the Taleban that has effectively sidelined him.

The government must have been relieved to find, in the early afternoon of Wednesday 22 May 2019, that there were no indications of mass protests against him staying in office. The opposition must have realised, also, that it would be difficult to mobilise people at short notice and during Ramadan. This has given the government some reprieve.

The Council has indicated that they intend to launch their protests after Eid (which will probably fall on 4 or 5 June 2019). Their plans include asking all candidates and parties to deliver 200 committed protestors to pitch tents at the city’s main junctures, possibly closing off the city’s roads. This, in itself, would not be difficult to organise and could, potentially, bring the city to a halt. But without broad support for their demands, it is likely only to result in anger and irritation towards both the government and its political challengers.

In terms of substance, the caretaker government proposal, set forth by the presidential candidates, does not seem convincing enough for the entire political class to coalesce around. It is also hard to imagine President Ghani subscribing to either of the options (ie withdrawing from the presidential race under the first option to lead the caretaker government, or, under the second option, stepping down from the presidency to be able to run as a presidential candidate).

Chief Executive Abdullah’s presidential ticket, which is not part of the Council of Presidential Candidates, issued a couched statement on 23 May. The statement, on the one hand, mildly criticised the government for not following the law and not restricting its power after its term ran out, but, on the other, called on the political parties and presidential candidates “to enter into talks and not allow disagreements to affect the stability and security of the country negatively.” It also called on them to search for solutions that could “dispel the concerns and pave the way for fair, transparent and credible elections”. (5) Abdullah thus seems to tilt towards a middle ground – the continuation of the National Unity Government, albeit with limited powers.

So far, the Council of Presidential Candidates has not seemed able to energise the wider population for their cause. Therefore, the government may hope to be able to sit this out. Even so, its position is becoming ever more precarious. The coming two weeks, until Eid and beyond, are likely to be filled with political activity; those with strong interests in the outcome of the current wrangle try to garner support for their positions, while many others will be looking for ways to try to prevent a deepening of the current crisis.

Edited by Martine van Bijlert


(1) According to article 61 of the constitution, the presidential term expires on 1 Jawza of the fifth year following elections (22 May 2019, in the case of the current president) and also that elections for a new president should be held within 30 to 60 days before the end of the presidential term. This means the presidential elections should have been held between 22 March and 22 April 2019 to allow the election of a new president by 22 May.

(2) The candidates were: Ahmad Wali Massud, Rahmatullah Nabil, Enayatullah Hafiz, Ghulam Faruq Nejrabi, Faramarz Tamana, Muhammad Ibrahim Alekozai, Muhammad Hakim Tursan, Muhammad Hanif Atmar, Muhmmad Shahab Hakimi, Nur Rahman Liwal and Nurul Haq Olomi.

(3) The Council also called for the ‘international community’ to observe (“to remain engaged in this process and closely observe the legal and political impasse”) and support (“for the integrity of the electoral process”) and made several detailed proposals to immediately curtail the government’s powers with regard to appointments and dismissals, access to state resources and the integrity of the election.

(4) Chakhansuri, in his Facebook post, responded to criticism of the postponement of the elections by citing article four of the electoral law. It says that, if elections are postponed or suspended, members of the elected bodies should continue to serve in their positions until new elections are held and results announced. He also responded to a video of President Ghani from 2009 that had been circulated on social media in the run-up to 22 May in which Ghani criticised then President Karzai for “sleeping behind the steering wheel” and thus delaying the elections. In the video, Ghani argued that the constitution was clear about the end of the presidential term. Chakhansuri said in his defence that the remarks had been made before the Supreme Court had issued its opinion in support of the delay of the 2009 elections and that President Ghani had respected the Supreme Court’s decision.

(5) In terms of its criticism, the statement by Abdullah’s ticket said, “The constitution of Afghanistan has full clarity about the election cycle and the end of the presidential term” and that the president’s powers, including in dismissal and appointments and use of government resources, should have been restricted from “the moment of presidential candidate registration.” The statement was posted on Abdullah’s Facebook page on 23 May, but the date in the statement is 1 Jawza (22 May) – see it here in Dari.


Categories: Defence`s Feeds

Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Institutions: Too many, and with too few results

Mon, 20/05/2019 - 12:42

Corruption in the Afghan state has blossomed and bloomed in the years since 2001. A report published by UNAMA today on Afghanistan’s fight against corruption highlights how the frequent changes in corruption-related legislation and a mushrooming of anti-graft institutions have done little to stop it; recent reductions in petty corruption – as shown by the latest surveys of citizens’ perceptions – have been minimal. AAN’s Jelena Bjelica here takes stock of the country’s principal anti-corruption institutions, looking at what they do and (often) do not do, and whether corruption is helped or hindered by the multiplicity of bodies.

Corruption eats into the faith of citizens in their state. It undermines what services the state provides – witness low-quality or even ghost schools, the disabled and families of martyrs seeing their pensions are taken by others and the poor-quality construction of roads and infrastructure. It feeds into the nexus between criminality and the state and widens social inequality, between those too poor and powerless to influence the system and those who able to exploit it. Whether corruption manifests as bribe-taking, selling state jobs, stealing money or goods, paying money to ghost pensioners, teachers and soldiers, making crooked contracts or using state institutions or staff to commit a crime with impunity, the number and ways in which corruption has blossomed in the Afghan state since 2001 are many and varied. So, too, are the institutions set up by the state supposedly to combat this corruption. Yet, nothing much ever seems to change.

In this dispatch, the author looks at UNAMA’s overall conclusions in its new report on fighting corruption, before giving a brief history of anti-corruption efforts in the years since 2001. Then, in a bid to clarify the bewildering number of anti-corruption bodies, she details the ten most important ones, looking at how and why they were set up and why they are (largely) failing or (very occasionally) doing well.

What does UNAMA’s report say about corruption in Afghanistan?

The new UNAMA report, “Afghanistan’s Fight against Corruption: Groundwork for Peace and Prosperity” said that “some progress” against corruption has been made. In Transparency International’s global corruption perception index, Afghanistan moved up from 177th (in 2017) to 172nd place (in 2018), out of 180 places. Mainly, this was a result of a slight decrease in corruption in Afghanistan. According to a leading Afghan watch-dog organisation, Integrity Watch Afghanistan, this was reportedly due to citizens paying fewer bribes. (1)

This decrease in corruption was followed by a boost in anti-corruption legislation. According to the UNAMA report, in 2018 and early 2019, legislative changes related to corruption, such as the Anti-Corruption Law, the Whistle Blower Protection Law and the Attorney General’s Law “focused on clarifying the institutional framework of anti-corruption bodies to better align to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).” (2) According to the UNAMA, the Anti-Corruption Law, which entered into force on 5 September 2018 and which foresees the establishment of an independent Anti-Corruption Commission, shows that “the reform efforts have come a long way towards establishing a robust anti-corruption framework and dedicated institutions to implement it.”

The new anti-corruption law was submitted to the Wolesi Jirga on 11 October 2018, about 20 days before the parliamentary elections (see this AAN thematic dossier on the aftermath of the 2018 parliamentary elections). As the new national assembly was only inaugurated on 26 April 2019, the law has not yet been debated. It was, nevertheless, amended by another presidential legislative decree regarding the selection process of the anti-corruption commissioners, on 5 March 2019.

The UNAMA report, however, warns that recurrent changes in legislation, inconsistent implementation of the 2017 Anti-Corruption Strategy and ad hoc interventions to change a course of reform or frequent changes in personnel within key institutions may have had a reverse effect.  

None of this comes as any surprise, as Afghanistan’s post-2001 anti-corruption history is rich with examples of just that – frequent changes in legislation, changes in personnel, inconsistently followed plans and the creation of numerous anti-graft institutions, most of which have had a very short life span, as will be explained in the following section.

Looking back, how did Afghanistan’s fight against corruption begin?

In the years after 2001, corruption came to be recognised as one of the key impediments to Afghanistan’s development and stability; thus, the fight against it eventually gained a high place on the post-2001 state-building agenda (for more background see this 2007 UNODC paper). Within three years, of the fall of the Taleban, Afghanistan had signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and promulgated a law against corruption and bribery in 2004. That same year, the first anti-corruption agency, the General Independent Administration for Anti-Corruption (GIAAC) was established. Based on the decree under which it was formed, GIAAC had wide-ranging responsibilities, including to investigate all cases of bribery and corruption. However, its work was politicised, and, according to reports, misused for political gains by its head, Dr Azzizulah Ludin (see here and here). (3) It was, very eventually, dissolved in 2008 after it lost international financial support, following former President Karzai’s decision to replace Dr Ludin with Ezatullah Wasifi, who had been convicted of selling and distributing heroin in the United States (see media coverage here).

2006 saw the first anti-corruption benchmarks being agreed when the Afghan government and its international backers signed the Afghanistan Compact. Since then, they have been a prominent feature in all key agreements between the Afghan government and its international backers. These benchmarks are also used to measure anti-corruption efforts.

By the end of Karzai’s presidency in 2014, four key institutions (4) in the Afghan anti-corruption sector had emerged. Some of these institutions, however, such as the High Office for the Oversight and Anti-Corruption (HOO) created by President Karzai in 2008 were just a new outlet for the same old staff at GIAAC.

During the first three years of President’s Ghani tenure, the number of institutions has blossomed. According to a 2017 UNAMA report on anti-corruption “18 separate bodies tasked with implementing aspects of the government’s anti-corruption efforts” were operational in 2017. “The sheer number of existing anti-corruption bodies,” said the report, “presents a significant challenge to coordination efforts.”

Indeed, the closure of HOO, which began in 2014, gave rise to four new institutions: the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) and the High Council for Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption in 2016; the Administration on Registration and Assessment of Assets, located within the Office of Administrative Affairs of the President and; the Deputy Attorney General for Anti-corruption in 2017.

The increase in the number of institutions also coincided with the approval of a new Afghanistan National Strategy for Combatting Corruption in September 2017. (5) Some institutions, such as the Deputy Attorney General for Anti-Corruption, were created in line with the new strategy (see the 2018 US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, SIGAR, report here and UNAMA’s 2018 report here).

Nevertheless, these changes in the institutional landscape resulted in a situation, UNAMA’s 2018 report on anti-corruption found, in which key Afghan anti-corruption institutions were based on decrees not yet approved by parliament. (6) Decrees and regulations, the report said, “may be altered any time.”

Moreover, a high and fluctuating number of institutions over a period of almost 18 years has done little to reduce corruption throughout the country – and may even have increased it. While everyday abuse of public officials in their interaction with citizens did decrease in 2018 (see footnote 1) – which may be a blip or the start of something more sustained – misuse of public funds has persisted. As a 2018 report on anti-corruption by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) put it: “If the Afghan government continues not to take action against public officials who violate internal codes of ethics, a climate of corruption within the Afghan government will endure.”

Which are the current anti-corruption institutions and what do they do?

In the following section, the key institutions in Afghanistan at the forefront of the country’s fight against ‘a climate of corruption’ are laid out. This section provided an overview of the institutions according to their general area of work, ie policy making; prevention and oversight; investigation and prosecution; and institutional auditors. Each institution is described and a short overview of their achievements and shortfalls is discussed, based on the 2019 UNAMA report and other available reports.


1. The High Council on Governance, Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption

A key policy-making and coordination body, the High Council for Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption was established by presidential decree on 17 August 2016. According to its terms of reference, the High Council’s goals are to reform and reinforce the justice system, improve the legislative framework and fight corruption. It is chaired by the president and includes most senior members of government, the judiciary and independent institutions. (7) It became active in 2017, when, according to the 2018 UNAMA report, it adopted the new Anti-Corruption Strategy (on 28 September) and institutional reform plans under the overall Justice Sector Reform Plan (on 22 June 2017).

The work of the High Council is supported by sub-committees on legislative issues, justice and anti-corruption. The legislative and justice committees are chaired by Second Vice-President Muhammad Sarwar Danesh, while the anti-corruption committee is chaired by Attorney General Farid Hamidi. In line with the anti-corruption strategy, an additional Special Secretariat to monitor and report on the strategy’s implementation was established in 2018. The Special Anti-Corruption Secretariat consists of a group of experts in five key areas: monitoring key ministries/departments; revenue and expenditure; specific decisions of the High Council on the law; anti-corruption and; communications and evaluation. It receives reports on the implementation of the strategy from ministries and government departments and presents unified reports to the president. The High Council is one of the eight development councils listed in the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF) and is also responsible for overseeing two National Priority Programmes, the National Justice Sector and Judicial Reform Plan (NJSRP), and the Effective Governance Programme.

According to the 2019 UNAMA report, the High Council was also included in the new Anti-Corruption Law, according to which its main goals are to fight corruption and establish coordination among relevant entities under the chairmanship of the president.

In 2018 and 2019, the High Council adopted a Subnational Governance Policy and revised the National Anti-Corruption Strategy. However, according to UNAMA’s report, there is room for improvement in the High Council’s work. The report said the government should consider: turning the High Council sub-committees into technical expert working groups; creating a mechanism to advance the implementation of the National Justice Sector Reform Plan; and codify the participation of civil society and independent institutions in High Council meetings.

Prevention and Oversight

2. Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC)

The Independent Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) was established through a presidential executive decree in 2010 as part of the HOO. The institution has had an important role in monitoring, evaluating and reporting anti-corruption issues in Afghanistan. It is famous for its ‘vulnerability to corruption’ assessments of Afghan institutions, publicly available on its website.

In September 2016, in another executive decree (no 115) on the amendment of legal personality duties, functioning and authorities of the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, it was separated from the HOO and tasked with focussing on five separate areas: monitoring and evaluating anti-corruption efforts by the government and the international community; issuing recommendations for introducing reforms; monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness, transparency and accountability of international community aid; monitoring the implementation of its recommendations; and reporting on the status of implementation of the Committee’s recommendations and overall situation of corruption in the country to the president, parliament and the international community.

The MEC’s commissioners consist of six senior anti-corruption experts selected by the Afghan government and its international backers, with the chairmanship alternating between an Afghan and an international every six months.

The MEC’s legal foundation, an executive decree, is vulnerable to political change and influence as it can be easily changed at any time. There are no legal obligations for the next Afghan president to sustain it. However, if the MEC’s mandate was codified in a law that was passed by parliament, it would be more difficult and time-consuming to alter it.

3. National Procurement Commission

The National Procurement Commission (NPC) is the oversight commission of the National Procurement Authority (NPA), established in 2015. The NPA, which reports to the NPC, monitors and supervises procurement proceedings for efficiency, transparency and compliance with the law, and monitors the progress of contract implementation in accordance with procurement rules and procedures. Both the NPA and the NPC are chaired by the president.

The NPC is composed of the ministers of Finance, Economy and Justice and has the authority to review and approve contracts that are beyond the threshold authority of procuring entities and determine the duties and authorities of such entities. As well as the president, commission meetings are attended by the chief executive and second vice-president and also civil society, representatives of the parliament and some international observers. The NPC holds regular weekly meetings. For example, in 2018, UNAMA reported it held 45 weekly meetings and they were open and transparent.

However, there have been some changes in how the procurement authorities work. In November 2018, the president issued an executive decree (No. 100), according to which “effective from the beginning of fiscal year 2019, the NPA will be responsible for completing the procurement process, from the start to conclusion of contract, for all procurement falling within the jurisdiction of the NPC [ie above a certain monetary threshold].” This means that the NPA conducts the whole procurement process and not just facilitates it. This, according to the 2019 UNAMA report, points to increased centralisation of the procurement process:

[…] this centralization of procurement within a single entity also risks consolidating corruption, rather than preventing it. It may also result in depriving procurement units in government entities from acquiring relevant skills and experience on procurement matters.

4. Deputy Attorney General for Anti-Corruption

On 4 March 2018, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) Law was amended to create a dedicated Deputy Attorney General for Anti-Corruption Affairs (DAG-AC). The 2017 Anti-Corruption Strategy directed that all anti-corruption bodies, with the exception of the MEC, should be merged under the DAG-AC. The office was, among other tasks, assigned preventive functions, and functions that included “analysing and assessing criminal causes and proposing criminal policy initiatives to the government” and “recommending precautionary measures on crime commission to competent authorities.” All of these go beyond the typical scope of a prosecution office. This was mainly done in order to integrate staff members of the dissolved HOO. As a result, a massive office was created with 367 professional, 94 administrative and 102 support staff. Interestingly, the DAG-AC was not assigned administrative oversight of the Anti-Corruption and Justice Centre (ACJC) Chief Prosecutor, who continues to report directly to the Attorney General.

In June 2018, the former chief prosecutor of the Anti-Corruption Justice Centre, Muhammad Alef Erfani was appointed deputy attorney general for anti-corruption but was then moved to the post of chief appeals prosecutor for Herat province in November 2018. Erfani told AAN in an interview conducted on 9 October 2018 while he was still the DAG-AC, that “no matter where you work on anti-corruption, you are always on the front line.” However, he had little to report on the achievements of the newly established deputy office. It seemed then that he was also struggling with the DAG-AC’s broad mandate.

The 2019 UNAMA report found that not only was the Deputy Attorney General for Anti-Corruption Affairs’ mandate unclear, so too was the role of his 367-staffed office since, so early on, but it had also been faced with “an abrupt change in leadership.” “These difficulties,” the UNAMA said in its report, “are likely to have led to a low output of the DAG-AC over the past year.”

In its recommendations to the government, UNAMA’s 2019 report said it was necessary to “clarify the role of the Deputy Attorney General for Anti-Corruption.” UNAMA further recommended that the government, having created the Anti-Corruption Commission, should “assess whether the [DAG-AC] office’s massive tashkil is still required” and that maybe, instead, the government should consider strengthening the DAG-AC’s prosecutorial functions.

5. Anti-Corruption Commission (to be established)

In line with the new Anti-Corruption Law, an independent Anti-Corruption Commission should be established.  Once set up, it should function as a corruption prevention body in line with Article 6 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). The commission is tasked with general corruption prevention measures, development and oversight of the Anti-Corruption Strategy approved by the High Council, as well as research, awareness-raising and training. It is also mandated to receive information on corruption offences and refer them to the competent authorities and to propose anti-corruption legislation and measures to counter corrupt practices in institutions. The commission will also collect and register asset declarations of government staff and high-ranking officials after this function is transferred to it within twelve months of its establishment.


The commission’s broad mandate overlaps with those of several other institutions and officials, including that of the Deputy Attorney General for Anti-Corruption, the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC), the Office for Asset Registration and Verification, and the Special Secretariat under the High Council. According to the 2019 UNAMA report, “this is a result of the drafting history of the law and a somewhat inconsistent approach to anti-corruption reforms.”

The 2017 National Anti-Corruption Strategy did not provide for a dedicated corruption prevention body but dissolved the unsuccessful HOO and moved its functions to other institutions. The Government countered criticisms about the lack of a dedicated independent corruption prevention body by stating that such a body would not work in the Afghan context, arguing instead to streamline existing anti-corruption bodies. The Anti-Corruption Law created the new Commission, but the legal basis of other institutions has not been amended to reflect this change.

It remains to be seen how these conflicting mandates will be resolved once the commission is set up. One of UNAMA’s key recommendations to the government is to clarify the roles of the Deputy Attorney General for Anti-Corruption and the newly created Anti-Corruption Commission.

Investigation and Prosecution

6. Anti-Corruption Justice Centre (ACJC)

On 30 June 2016, President Ghani established, through an executive decree, the Anti-Corruption Justice Centre (ACJC) with the purpose of investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating major corruption cases. The creation of the ACJC, however, was a donor-led effort and not genuinely Afghan-driven. An article in the “Journal of Complex Operations” offers a first-hand account of these efforts. “Initially,” the article said, “the effort truly included the entire international community, with meetings being held at the EU compound, the British Embassy, or one of UNAMA’s compounds, but this large working group became too fragmented and unwieldy; and the core group agreed that an ambassador was needed to honcho the effort.” According to the 2018 SIGAR anti-corruption report, “all of the ACJC’s buildings, vehicles, fuel, and other assets have been donated by the international community.”

According to its mandate, the ACJC has jurisdiction over corruption cases involving more than 10 million Afghanis(currently about 125,000 USD); bribery, money laundering, destruction or the selling of cultural and historical relics, crimes against internal or external security, illegal extraction of mines, and land usurpation involving more than five million Afghanis (currently about 63,000 USD) and; cases involving high-ranking government officials, such as deputy-ministers, generals, governors, and Provincial Council members regardless of the amount of money involved. In addition, the High Council on Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption may refer cases to the ACJC even if they do not meet the criteria mentioned above, though this referral option has never been used. Cases that do not meet the jurisdictional threshold of the ACJC continue to be investigated and prosecuted before ordinary provincial courts.

The UNAMA report found that from its inception to mid-May 2019, the ACJC court has tried 223 defendants in 57 cases before its trial chamber and 173 defendants in 52 cases before its appellate chamber. Thirty-six of its cases against 117 accused have been decided after an appeal to the Supreme Court, the report said. It had also issued 127 warrants and summonses, out of which only 13 warrants and 39 summonses could be executed to date, with only a single defendant tried as a result. According to UNAMA, the number of defendants tried in their absence before the ACJC remained high in 2018 and 2019, at 20 per cent. It also said:

Most of the defendants tried by the ACJC [since its inception] have been employees of the MoI [Ministry of Interior] with sizeable numbers from municipalities, [and] the Ministries of Finance and Defense.

But this ‘output’, UNAMA said, has been fluctuating. For example, there was a noticeable decline in the number of cases tried in the second half of 2018; from 1 April 2018 to 31 December 2018, 11 cases were tried at the Primary Court and 15 at the Appeal Court. (8) This compared with the period between 1 January 2019 and mid-May 2019, in which the Primary Court heard 13 cases, while the Appeal Court heard nine cases. UNAMA also found that in the period between January 2018 and April 2019, “not a single defendant affiliated with the MoD [Ministry of Defence] was tried.” The report said that although the Attorney General indicated that several MoD officials had been indicted, “the indictments had been returned, through judicial rulings, for the prosecutor to cover gaps in the investigation.” Nevertheless, while no MoD official was tried in the abovementioned period, the appeal in one case had been heard shortly before UNAMA published its report.

The report also notes an increase “in the number of private businessmen indicted and tried, mostly for money laundering or illegal transfer of cash.” It concluded:

While the quality of cases being tried by the ACJC generally declined, in terms of the rank of the accused, there was a marginal increase in the amounts ordered by the court in compensation, restitution and confiscation.

UNAMA’s report also said that after emerging from the difficulties of its inception phase, the “ACJC should now be able to deliver on consistently prosecuting high-ranking or high-value corruption cases.”

The decline in the number of cases in 2018 also corresponds with a considerable turn-over in both senior and junior staff in the ACJC prosecution office. In June 2018 following chief prosecutor Mohammad Alef Erfani’s promotion to the position of DAG-AC, a new ACJC chief prosecutor, Fazel Sultan Safi, was appointed. “The appointment did not follow a public call [for applications],” the 2019 UNAMA report said.

The ACJC is also mentioned in the new Anti-Corruption Law, which, if and when passed by parliament, will bring about the long-awaited legislated codification of the ACJC (as opposed to by executive decree). The law contains provisions aimed at facilitating investigations by ACJC’s prosecutors and strengthening the anti-corruption work of the Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF) by placing it directly within the Minister of Interior.

7. Special Court of the Supreme Court

The constitution stipulates that the highest-ranking officials such as ministers who are accused of crimes are to be tried by a special court. In mid-2018, the Supreme Court, for the first time in its history, constituted a special panel chaired by Justice Muhammad Zaman Sangari and two other Supreme Court Judges (Barat Ali Matin and Abdul Hasib Ahadi) in accordance with the Special Courts Law, to hear the case of the former minister for Telecommunications and Information Technology, Abdul Razaq Wahidi.

The former minister was indicted for the misuse of authority under Article 285(2) of the 1976 Penal Code, for allegedly profiting from the recruitment of 37 staff members and from the installation of a real-time telecommunications tax accounting system. The trial was broadcast live on television, with court appearances on 2 and 21 July 2018. In the live broadcast, the former minister attempted to shift the blame to the then-Minister of Finance. On 25 December 2018, the Special Court acquitted the defendant on all charges for lack of evidence, despite having repeatedly returned the case to the prosecution for further investigation. The 2019 UNAMA report said:

Regrettably, the Supreme Court has so far not published its decision in the case and its legal analysis and reasoning therefore remain unknown.

Four high-profile cases remain pending with the Supreme Court as of May 2019, UNAMA’s new report said.

8. Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF)

In 2009, the Afghan government created the Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF). From the beginning, the MCTF has been mentored by the FBI. They helped to build the capacity of the task force to investigate organized crime, kidnapping and corruption cases and develop cases for prosecution by the Afghan Attorney General’s Office. The US government, according to a report from SIGAR, provided at least 15.5 million USD to assist the MCTF, including refurbishing and maintaining its facilities and training and mentoring its investigators. In July 2010, the MCTF went for its first big arrest, bringing in the chief of administration of the National Security Council, Muhammad Zia Salehi, on corruption charges. However, President Karzai ordered his immediate release. The US backed off, deciding not to support the MCTF prosecution. It thereby consolidated the effective impunity enjoyed by the highest-ranking Afghan officials from anti-corruption efforts. Karzai’s successful interference ruined the Major Crimes Task Force. Since then, it has achieved little. Almost the entire original leadership of the unit emigrated to the US following the shutdown of the Salehi investigation and has experienced instability in its leadership ever since.

The task force, nevertheless, was kept alive in the shadows of its one-time-off glory. In 2016, with the creation of the ACJC, it was given a second chance. However, a revamping of the unit was marked with confusion and conflict. The 2018 SIGAR report on Afghanistan’s anti-corruption efforts, for example, pointed out that, “despite efforts by the Afghan government to clarify the law, Afghan officials have differing opinions about when the MCTF’s detective role ends and when the Attorney General’s Office’s (AGO) investigative role begins, which has led to recurring conflict between these two organizations.”

The same report also said that “a lack of resources and security has been a continued detriment for detectives, investigators, prosecutors, and judges in Afghanistan” and that “the MCTF relies on the international community to provide resources for its day-to-day operations because it cannot count on the MOI to fully authorize its funding.” The report said that in one case in 2017:

The MOI’s leadership appears to have halved the MCTF’s budget as a punitive measure because MCTF detectives refused to turn over an embezzlement case worth $3.8 million to the “notoriously ineffective” MOI Inspector General. (The MCTF detectives carried forward with the case and it was eventually tried at the ACJC, but the courts only convicted the lowest-ranked defendants, and only for their attempts to bribe the MCTF to drop the case.)

Furthermore, the unit also struggled with its new leadership, which was itself accused of unethical and corrupt behaviour. In April 2018, UNAMA reported, “the director of MCTF has been removed and despite allegations of unethical and corrupt behaviour, he was never formally charged.” Between April and September 2018, it said, the unit had two acting directors, before the current director, Colonel Muhammad Hamed, was appointed.

In October 2018, the SIGAR in its regular quarterly report said that the MCTF did “not appear to be the lead Afghan government investigative agency for high profile corruption crimes, as intended” and that its investigators were “not the best qualified, with some investigators possibly being assigned to the MCTF as a form of patronage.”

9. Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Afghanistan(FinTRACA)

FinTRACA was established based on a legislative decree on Anti-Money Laundering and

Proceeds of Crime Law in 2006. It is the financial intelligence unit of the Central Bank. Its mandate is to track money flows and prevent money laundering and terrorism financing. It analyses financial crimes and disseminates financial intelligence to the Attorney General’s Office and other government and intelligence agencies to assist them in combatting money laundering and financial terrorism.

It is one of the few accountability institutions whose mandate is based in law. Since its inception, the office has been working well, reporting its output regularly on an annual basis. In 2018, for example, the FinTRACA reported that it had transferred 56 cases to relevant government agencies for investigation and prosecution, which included eight to the AGO, 16 to the MoI and 20 to the National Directorate of Security, among others.

The 2019 UNAMA report contains a detailed list of FinTRACA achievements, but also notes that more work to counter money-laundering and terrorism financing is required, especially since the European Commission blacklisted Afghanistan for strategic deficiencies in this area. The report said:

In February 2019, the European Commission adopted a blacklist of 23 third countries, including Afghanistan, for having strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing frameworks. Although the list was rejected by some European Union member states, Afghanistan’s appearance on it is a sign that it needs to continue to strengthen its commendable efforts to counter money-laundering and terrorism financing.

Institutional Auditors

10. Supreme Audit Office

The Supreme Audit Office comes from a long lineage of similar institutions from Afghanistan’s past. The first was theGeneral Department for the Audit of Accounts established in 1945, within the purview of the prime minister’s office. Its main purpose was to audit the financial and accounting affairs of the government. The General Department for the Audit of Accounts name was changed to the Court of Accounts in 1954 with the approval of parliament. The responsibilities of the office remained the same. In 1965, the office was again renamed, becoming the General Department for the Audit of Accounts. A code of conduct and audit manual was issued during that period. In 1977, the again renamed Court of Accounts within the purview of the president’s office was approved by a new law. During the Soviet-backed PDPA regime, in 1984, its name and mandate were again changed. As the Governmental Committee of Councils Minister Controllers, it was responsible for auditing economic, cultural and social activities, including construction, healthcare, transport and trade activities. In 1992, it lost its independent status and functioned under the Office of Administrative Affairs. In 2002 it regained its independent status and became known as the Control and Audit Office. Its last re-naming was in 2013. Since then, the Supreme Audit Office has worked in line with a law passed by parliament.

According to the 2013 law, the Supreme Audit Office (SAO) has a powerful mandate. It has the authority to audit the accounting and financial affairs of the president’s office and its related entities; the national assembly; the judiciary; central and local institutions and related units within and outside the country; general independent directorates; independent commissions; the Attorney General’s Office; municipalities; enterprises, government companies and state joint stock companies and; other entities that utilise or hold public funds or public property.

Yet, despite this wide-ranging power to look into financial irregularities, it has never used it. For example, in 2017 an MP accused the speaker of the parliament of embezzling Wolesi Jirga funds (see this AAN detailed account of the case). As AAN reported, the media claimed that 50 million Afghanis (approximately 725,000 USD) had been taken from the Wolesi Jirga’s budget to pay for the rent of the speaker’s house, guest house and office during the preceding five years. Although this was all made public, the SAO’s annual audits noted no irregularities in the Wolesi Jirga budget. Nor did it question the almost one million USD spent on house rents.

The second issue with the SAO is its leadership. Director Sharif Sharifi, a Tajik from Panjshir province with a master’s degree in Natural Science, is the brother of former Wolesi Jirga speaker, former vice-president and a leading figure in the Jamiat-e Islami/Shura-ye Nizar faction, Yunus Qanuni. Sharifi held this position – auditor general – from 2002 until earlier this year. He had also been the driving force behind the 2013 law, which, after it was passed by the Wolesi Jirga, secured him a further six-year term in the same office. Finally,  In February 2019, the president appointed a new SAO director based on the 2017 revisions to the law. The new auditor general is a relatively young man named Muhammad Na’em Haqmal (born in 1980) who is from Sar-e Pul province.

The end of Sharifi’s term coincided with President Ghani’s drive to amend the 2013 SAO Law. According to the UNAMA report, the first round of amendments to the law did not bring about the required in-depth reforms. The report said:

Besides unnecessary changes in the terminology, the 2017 amendments reduced the Auditor General’s term of appointment from six to four years, while retaining the President’s appointment power. This contravened the recommendation in international standards and norms, which states: “(T)he independence of [State audit institutions’] heads and members (of collegial institutions), including security of tenure and legal immunity in the normal discharge of their duties” should be ensured and they should be “given appointments with sufficiently long and fixed terms, to allow them to carry out their mandates without fear of retaliation”. 

UNAMA did welcome amendments that require the accounting and auditing carried out by the SAO to be up to the standards of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions. As of May 2019, the draft law was still with the Ministry of Justice for consideration.

Conclusion, and what to watch out for in Afghan anti-corruption efforts

Many institutions have been created supposedly to counter corruption in the years since 2001. Yet, the country has little to show for them. The 2019 UNAMA report, although detailing some sensible, positive developments, highlighted some serious shortfalls. It is worrying that some 18 years into state-building and over ten years since the country ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption, it still cannot deliver on a basic requirement – truly independent anti-corruption institutions. In Afghanistan high-centralised state, some anti-corruption-related bodies still come directly under the president’s authority. In other words, the person with the power to appoint the leadership of these bodies then also often presides over them.

It remains to be seen how the conflicting mandates of the Anti-Corruption Commission and the recently created Deputy AGO on anti-corruption, will be resolved once the commission is created. We will also have to wait to see how the MEC and the Anti-Corruption Commission, both of which have a mandate to research and monitor anti-corruption, work in practice, and whether this lack of clarity will be a source of potential conflict and ineffectiveness between the two institutions.

The sheer number of institutions as well as frequent changes of leadership within most of them – while others have seen no change, itself also a problem – as well as recurrent amendments to the law do not inspire confidence. It could be argued that the fluctuating number of anti-corruption institutions have to do with presidents testing what format of institution works for their country and society. However, it looks more like anti-corruption efforts have mainly been inspired by something else – pressure from outside (particularly during the Karzai years) to be seen to be doing something. In a rentier economy, even anti-corruption institutions can be rent-seeking, at best, vehicles for deploying donor money, or at worst, places which support corruption, for example, if officials use cases to get bribes from alleged offenders to not pursue cases.

The only good news in all this is the minimal decline in petty corruption, as experienced by citizens. However, the lack of any high-profile trials means there is little fear among perpetrators that their criminal endeavours carry risk. This lack of judicial follow-through indicates that the political will to try to deal with grand corruption apparent in 2016 and 2017 has probably now faded. This should come as no surprise. 2019 is a presidential election year. It is most unlikely we will see any high-profile case at this politically-sensitive moment. On this current assessment, it seems apparent that, while the current state of anti-corruption institutions may or may not endure into the next presidency, grand corruption will certainly do so.


Edited by Sari Kouvo and Kate Clark


(1) According to a 2018 survey from the leading Afghan anti-corruption watchdog, Integrity Watch Afghanistan’s (IWA) perceptions and experiences of corruption estimated the total value of bribes in 2018 to have fallen to 1.65 billion USD (from 2.88 billion USD in 2016). In 2016, more than 70 per cent of Afghans thought that corruption was worse than it had been in 2014 when a similar survey was conducted. An earlier perception survey on corruption by UNODC in 2012 estimated that the total cost of bribes paid by Afghan citizens to public officials amounted to 3.9 billion USD that year (see here).

The IWA and UNODC reports are based on a survey on citizens’ perceptions and experiences. High-level corruption, which is usually not a theme of these surveys (but of official investigations and prosecutions), is also widespread. For example, see this AAN dossier on the Kabul Bank scandal, which involved Afghan officials and businessmen at the highest levels, including former President Karzai and First Vice President Marshal Fahim’s brothers, in the theft of nearly one billion USD, representing the state’s entrenched culture of corruption and cronyism. Until now, Afghan authorities have only retrieved 89 million USD from the debtors, less than 10 per cent of the stolen money.

(2) All of these new laws were passed through presidential legislative decrees and this practice (of passing key legislation by decree) was the topic of an earlier, 2018 UNAMA report on anti-corruption. It said this practice was not compliant with the UNCAC, which Afghanistan ratified on 25 August 2008. The report said:

Although UNCAC Articles 5, 6 and 36 do not require the adoption of a dedicated anti-corruption law, it recommends that the independence and accountability of anti-corruption institutions be “enshrined in law rather than executive decrees (which can easily create such a body but also abolish it).”

(3) According to the IWA report, Karzai appointed Dr Ludin as governor of Herat in 2002. However, Ismail Khan, then-governor of Herat, did not recognize Dr Ludin’s authority and forced him to leave the city. Upon his return to Kabul, President Karzai initially appointed Dr Ludin as an advisor and then as Director General of the General Independent Administration Against Corruption (GIAAC). The IWA report said:

The GIAAC was the first anti-corruption institution established in Afghanistan. Like many to follow, it was established without a study on the nature of corruption in the country and without a corresponding policy or strategy. As head of the GIAAC, the first thing Dr Ludin did was to initiate a corruption case against Ismail Khan. In addition to the case against Ismail Khan, the GIAAC initiated some 80 other cases, most of which were focused on foes of Dr Ludin.

(4) These included: the High Office for the Oversight and Anti-Corruption (HOO); Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF); Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Afghanistan (FinTRACA); the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) within HOO.

(5) Approval of the anti-corruption strategy was also a benchmark to which the Afghan government committed itself at the Brussels Conference in October 2016. In Brussels, the Afghan government pledged to deliver on a number of benchmarks by certain deadlines. The High Council released the anti-corruption strategy on 12 October 2017 after it missed the mid-2017 deadline.

(6) These include, based on legislative presidential decrees, the Administration for Asset Registration and the former HOO); on executive presidential decrees MEC, ACJC, and the Special Secretariat of the High Council and; on a simple regulation, the Major Crimes Task Force.

(7) According to Decree 94 on the High Council for Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption from 17 August 2016, the permanent members of the High Council are: Chief Executive Officer; Second Vice President; Chief Justice; National Security Advisor; Director of Administrative Affairs of President‘s Office; Minister of Finance; Minister of Justice; Minister of Interior Affairs; Attorney General; General Director of the NDS; Presidential Advisors on Justice and Transparency affairs; Director of the Independent Commission on overseeing the Implementation of Constitution; Director of Independence Human Rights Commission; Director of Independent Directorate of Local Governance; Director of the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption.

(8) According to the Attorney General’s Office, UNAMA reported, in the second half of 2018, the ACJC Chief Prosecutor submitted 35 indictments to the ACJC Primary Court of which the court referred 21 cases for the prosecution to cover identified gaps.



Categories: Defence`s Feeds

The Results of Afghanistan’s 2018 Parliamentary Elections: A new, but incomplete Wolesi Jirga

Fri, 17/05/2019 - 04:13

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has, at long last, almost seven months after the ballot was held, finalised the results of the 2018 parliamentary elections. The parliament itself is almost four years overdue – the elections should have been held in 2015. Even now, Afghanistan does not have a completely newly-elected Wolesi Jirga as Ghazni’s elections have yet to take place; they are only planned for 28 September 2019 (together with the presidential and provincial council elections). In this piece, AAN researcher Ali Yawar Adili looks at why it took so long to finalise the parliamentary elections and concludes that the inefficiencies, lack of clarity and failure to adhere to legal procedures – by government and commissions – is not encouraging for the upcoming presidential ballot. (A list of Afghanistan’s new MPs can be read in an annex to this piece.)

Announcement of final results

Late in the evening on 14 May 2019, the IEC finally published the results of the Kabul vote, thereby concluding the 2018 parliamentary elections, seven months after they were held on 20 and 21 October. (1) The following day, at the presidential palace, President Ashraf Ghani administered the swearing-in of the new MPs from Kabul and Paktia provinces (other MPs whose results were announced earlier had already been sworn in). Ghani called (see the video here) the seven-month-long election “a catastrophe.” It was, he said, was the result of the inefficacy of the former election commissions (the IEC and the Electoral Complaints Commissions, the EEC): “In the history of democratic systems, it is unprecedented that the results of an election should take seven months. I do not speak about other aspects of it because they are judicial, but there should be no doubt that the former commission, both commissions, were inefficient. There is a consensus in the country about it.”

The parliamentary elections were planned for 20 October 2018. By then, the election in Ghazni province had already been cancelled, so on the day itself, voters in only 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces went to the polls, along with those voting for the nation’s ten Kuchi representatives and one Sikh and Hindu representative. Even then, not all of the polling centres opened. 401 polling centres failed to open, said former IEC chairman Gula Jan Badi Sayyad, because of technical problems or security threats. AAN described the “technical shambles” and “triumph of administrative chaos”. The IEC had to extend the elections into a second day, opening those polling centres that had not opened on 20 October the following day (AAN’s reporting here).

In addition, the people of Kandahar went to cast their votes a week later, on 27 October 2018 (see AAN’s reporting here and here), a delay triggered by the killing of Kandahar’s Chief of Police General Abdul Razeq and head of NDS General Abdul Momin Hussainkhel two days before the elections had been due (AAN reporting here).

The new Wolesi Jirga is not fully complete, as Ghazni’s elections have yet to be held, something which even state officials sometimes overlook. One of the IEC deputy spokespeople speaking to Arman FM Safayi Shahr-e Programme on 15 May about the Kabul election results told the radio listeners that the IEC had “ended the parliamentary elections.” One of the presenters quipped, “Did you exclude Ghazni from the list?” The IEC had dropped the Wolesi Jirga elections in Ghazni after the government failed to resolve competing demands about the size of the constituency (AAN’s reporting here and here). Those elections are now scheduled for 28 September together with the presidential and provincial council elections. However, the constituency dispute remains unresolved and may yet resurface once the IEC begins voter registration there. According to article 104 of the electoral law, if elections are postponed or suspended, members of the elected bodies (for instance the Wolesi Jirga) should continue to serve in their positions until the holding of a new election and announcement of its results. So far, according to an MP from Ghazni, ten out of the 11 MPs remain in parliament: the eleventh, Chaman Shah Etemadi, was appointed the new head of the ECC secretariat.

Hasty inauguration of a new, incomplete parliament almost four years late

According to article 83 of the constitution, the Wolesi Jirga’s term ended on 1 Sartan 1394 (22 June 2015) and a new parliament had to have been inaugurated after elections which should have been held 30 to 60 days before that. (2) However, when the National Unity Government (NUG) was formed in the wake of the disputed 2014 presidential elections, it committed to carrying out fundamental electoral reform. More than three years were spent working on reforms, but little was achieved. This period, as AAN reported (see section two of AAN’s dossier here), was characterised by the NUG leaders’ wrangling over the establishment of the Special Electoral Reform Commission (SERC) (which had been envisaged in the NUG’s 2014 political deal); the SERC’s discussions and recommendations for electoral reform; parliament’s rejection of presidential legislative decrees that had adopted some of the SERC’s recommendations, and, finally; changes to the electoral law which were endorsed by legislative decree and the appointment of new electoral commissioners for the IEC and the ECC.

All this meant that the new parliament was inaugurated on 26 April 2019, almost four years after the constitutional end of the previous parliament’s term. (3) Moreover, it was inaugurated in spite of the fact that the final results from Kabul and Paktia had not yet been announced. A total of 38 seats (33 for Kabul and 5 for Paktia) were empty on the day of the inauguration. The IEC announced the final results of the Wolesi Jirga elections for Paktia province two days later and Kabul more than two weeks after that.

Similarly, on the day of the inauguration, the IEC hastily released the final results for three other outstanding provinces (Maidan Wardak, Kunduz and Baghlan) as well as those for the Kuchi constituency (five seats for Maidan Wardak, nine for Kunduz, eight for Baghlan and ten for the Kuchis). It is unclear whether or not the new MPs from these constituencies were able to participate in the inauguration at such short notice (unless they had been informed before the release of the results that they would be winners and were therefore ready to participate in the inauguration). MP Halima Askari from Maidan Wardak told AAN on 15 May that the five MPs from her province had been able to attend the inauguration, but had not yet received their election credentials from the IEC certifying they had been elected.

Two days before the inauguration of the parliament, on 24 April 2019, the IEC granted election credentials to 89 MPs from ten provinces (Kandahar, Helmand, Ghor, Badghis, Logar, Nangrahar, Herat, Takhar, Paktika and Balkh as well as the Hindu and Sikh constituency). IEC head Hawa Alam Nuristani said that the final results for these ten provinces and communities had been released by the new leadership of the IEC. A few months earlier, on 9 February, the former IEC granted credentials to 80 successful candidates from 18 provinces: Bamyan, Daikundi, Jawzjan, Uruzgan, Laghman, Kapisa, Zabul, Panjshir, Parwan, Khost, Samangan, Badakhshan, Faryab, Sar-e Pul, Farah, Nimruz, Kunar and Nuristan (the former IEC had, in fact, finalised the results of only these 18 provinces before its members were all sacked).

Article 88 of the electoral law says that election credentials should be awarded to the members of the Wolesi Jirga following the announcement of the final election results. (4) Yet, in total, only 169 new MPs out of a total of 250 had been fully approved well in advance of the inauguration; 70 other MPs had either not had their results, or not completed the procedure yet (ie, had not yet received their election certificates). Also, ten former MPs from Ghazni participated in the inauguration. (5)

However, President Ghani did not mention the hastiness of the event, saying only that the final results of the parliamentary elections for Kabul had not yet been announced: “I am sorry that the Kabul MPs are not in their seats. I wish the Kabul MPs were present [here] to listen to our programmes for Kabul city and Kabul province.”. Instead, President Ghani claimed that: “We inaugurated the assembly on the auspicious day of Friday to show that the president and the leadership of the National Unity Government cannot tolerate [even] one moment of procrastination in the inauguration of the National Assembly.” However, the rush to inaugurate the new parliament appeared to have been motivated rather by the need for elected MPs to attend the consultative peace Loya Jirga, which was held from 29 April to 3 May (see AAN’s reporting here and here).

Atta Muhammad Dehqanpur, an MP from Ghor province, had been elected as the interim speaker to preside over the inauguration on 26 April. This was in accordance with article four of the Wolesi Jirga Rules of Procedures which says that the oldest member should be appointed as pro tem speaker and the two youngest members should be appointed as pro tem deputy speaker and secretary. (6). Their duty is also to supervise the election of a permanent speaker, who will then supervise the election of the rest of the administrative boards.

The Wolesi Jirga had planned to hold its first plenary session on 11 May following the inauguration and to then elect its administrative board.‌ However, some of the Kabul candidates and their supporters gathered in front of the parliament and blocked the MPs’ entry as they did not want the elections for the administrative board to be held in their absence (which makes sense given that Kabul is the largest constituency with 33 seats) (See a media report here). According to article 87 of the constitution, the Wolesi Jirga should elect one member as the speaker for five years, and two members as the first and second deputy speakers and two members as the secretary and deputy secretary for one year.  (7)

On 16 May, the Wolesi Jirga conducted voting for the speaker. It was inconclusive. There were four candidates: Mir Rahman Rahmani (Parwan) who was the head of the economy commission in previous parliament (75 votes), Kamal Naser Osuli (Khost) who was previously head of the education/higher education commission (69 votes), Mirwais Yasini (Nangahar) (59 votes) and Omar Nasir Mujaddedi (Herat) (seven votes). The runoff will now be held between Rahmani and Osuli, according to Ghulam Hussain Naseri (Maidan Wardak) on Saturday, 18 May (media report here).

The second round might be hard fought and drawn-out. The previous Wolesi Jirga elected its speaker only one month and two days after its inauguration, after its members sat through sixteen sessions, with eighteen candidates competing in four rounds of balloting. Then, MPs used blank votes to prevent the election of any speaker. (AAN’s reporting here).

Change of commissioners

The 2018 parliamentary elections were administered by two different sets of commissions. On 22 November 2016, the 12 new electoral commissioners (seven for the IEC and five for the ECC) were sworn in at the presidential palace for a period of five and three years (see AAN’s reporting here). These commissions prepared for and held the parliamentary elections. The commissioners were in the middle of finalising the results and had announced them for 18 provinces when they were replaced by the new set of commissioners. This was done after growing calls by election observers and political parties for them to be dismissed and replaced. They were accused of misconduct and mismanagement and of being unfit to manage the upcoming presidential elections (AAN reporting here).

Interestingly, some of the Kabul candidates were among the new commissioners who adjudicated or announced the final results. However, they had not won seats, according to the preliminary results, so their adjudication of the results made no difference in their favour.

Controversy around the Kabul elections

The Kabul vote was questioned from the very beginning not only by candidates but also by IEC officials themselves. They included on 20 November, the acting head of the IEC office for Kabul, Zahir Akbari, who resigned from his post in protest at “widespread fraud and corruption allegations.” He said the elections in Kabul had been designed and conducted by a corrupt circle led by the head of the IEC secretariat Akbari Zamanzai. He had been called in to take over from Awal ul-Rahman Rudwal as head of the IEC’s Kabul office after he, Zamanzai and various other officials had been accused of violating the law. On 2 December, the IEC suspended its acting head of field operations for Kabul province, Obaidullah Niazi, for alleged bribe-taking. Niazi had only taken up the job very recently following the replacement of the entire provincial IEC office for Kabul. (AAN reporting here).

On 6 December, the ECC nullified all results for Kabul province. (8) It cited mismanagement, violations of the electoral law, dereliction of duty by the IEC and a lack of transparency as the main reasons. The IEC immediately condemned the ECC’s step as “hasty, unrealistic and political[ly motivated]” and as “disregard and disrespect of the efforts and the sacrifices on the day of elections.” The ECC subsequently withdrew its decision. Both IEC and ECC commissioners were fired by President Ghani before they could resolve the dispute over the Kabul vote. After the new commissioners took over, the ECC held consultation meetings with the political parties and civil society organisations on the Kabul vote (this is because the ECC had not adjudicated the complaints when they were fired).

The new ECC then annulled the previous recount and audits conducted by the previous commissioners and conducted a new recount and an audit based on the result sheets of the election days. (9) Chaman Shah Etemadi, the head of the ECC, had told the media that the earlier audit and recount not only had not resulted in the transparency of the results but also caused more “damage.” He said that if the ECC could be provided with 50 per cent of the result sheets from the first and second day of elections, the vote would be legitimised; otherwise, it might decide to nullify the votes entirely.

Muhammad Qasem Elyasi, the secretary and spokesman for the ECC who was himself a candidate from Kabul, told Etilaat Roz on 12 May that 12 per cent of the Kabul votes had been missing and that the most likely option was that the final results for Kabul would be announced based on 88 per cent of the votes. The ECC told media on 7 May that it had sent its decisions to the IEC. It then took the IEC a week to finally publish the results on 14 May.

The new commissioners confirmed most of the candidates who had been named as winners in the preliminary results and replaced four: Ajmal Gulab, Ahmad Zia Azemi Shinuzada, Muhammad Farhad Sediqi and Salima Nikbin were replaced by Abdul Razaq Istalefi, Erfanullah Erfan, Muhammad Naim Wardak and Parwin Durani. Salima Nikbin and Ajmal Gulab are unhappy with the final results: Nikbin alleged to the media that she had been on the list after the ECC’s adjudication, but had been excluded nonetheless because she lacks political support; Gulab claimed his name had been removed at the behest of the Palace.

IEC and ECC officials acknowledged there were problems with the Kabul vote. The ECC finally approved the results based on 88 per cent of the result sheets from the election days (Etilaat Roz reported) on 16 May that it had obtained documents showing that only 70 of the result sheets had been available and the remaining 30 had been missing). A single vote can matter in elections, so the absence of 12 (or 30) per cent of them is questionable.

Conclusion: Some lessons from the 2018 parliamentary elections

The inefficiency of the former commissioners was cited as the main reason for the problems with the 2018 parliamentary elections. However, in reality, there were many other problems in the parliamentary elections.

  • First, the rules of the game were never clear well in advance of the elections. For instance, only a month before the elections, the IEC was pressured by political parties and the government to make a last-minute compromise and use biometric voter verification on election day (see AAN’s background of the issue here). As a result, as the author wrote at the time, the biometric machines, intended to serve as a panacea for all election ills, turned into a headache during the ballot. Those with a say in how the elections were going to be delivered – the government, political parties and the IEC – should have agreed on the rules well in advance.
  • Second, there was a clear disregard on the part of both the government and the IEC for legal procedure. For instance, according to the electoral law, the postponement of the district council elections and the Wolesi Jirga elections in Ghazni had to be approved by a special committee. But the government never convened this committee. The disregard for legal procedure obscured the rules of the game for everyone involved because it showed that anything could be dropped or added at any time without the least attention to the rules spelt out by law. This, in turn, undermined the credibility of the election management bodies as well as the election itself (see AAN’s reporting here).
  • Third was the inefficiency and shortcomings of the relevant institutions. For instance, the push for biometric voter verification was stimulated by concerns on the part of the political parties that the manual voter registration was flawed, as fake tazkeras had been used and thus the voter lists would be fraudulent and unreliable. The Afghanistan Central Civil Registration Authority (ACCRA) was responsible for issuing tazkeras under the Memorandum of Understanding it had signed with the IEC. It was the responsibility of ACCRA to ensure fake tazkeras were not distributed and if they were distributed, that they would be detected, but it was unclear whether it had a reliable database for the IEC to be able to cross-check voter registration data.

Given that the parliamentary elections were held three years late, voters could have expected a far better election. As it is, taking seven months to finalise the results of this grossly-delayed election has only added weight to the conclusion that electoral reform has failed. With the politically even more important presidential election looming, the prospect of a timely and fair ballot for Afghanistan’s next leader in the autumn has been made slimmer.

Edited by Sari Kouvo and Kate Clark

(1) Radio Television of Afghanistan (RTA) published (see here) the list of the winners from Kabul before it was published by the IEC. Sources from the IEC told AAN that they had a printout of the results, which they had to have a final look at to make sure it was accurate. It took them almost two hours to do this, during which time it was leaked (whereupon the RTA obtained a copy).

(2) Article 83 of the constitution says:

Members of the House of People shall be elected by the people through free, general, secret, and direct balloting.

The work period of the House of People shall terminate, after the disclosure of the results of the elections, on the 1st of Saratan of the 5th year and the new Parliament shall commence work.

The elections for members of the House of People shall be held 30 to 60 days prior to the expiration of the term of the House of People.

The number of the members of the House of People shall be proportionate to the population of each constituency, not exceeding the maximum of 250 individuals.

Electoral constituencies, as well as other related issues, shall be determined by the elections law.

The elections law shall adopt measures to attain, through the electorate system, general and fair representation for all the people of the country, and proportionate to the population of every province, on average, at least two females shall be the elected members of the House of People from each province.

(3) Parliament’s winter recess ended on 15 Hut 1397 (6 March 2019), but the president refused to inaugurate it with the old members. According to article 42 of the rules of procedures, the Wolesi Jirga has a 45 day-long summer recess from 1 Asad to 15 Sunbula and a 45 day-long winter recess from 1 Dalw to 15 Hut (21 January to 6 March 2019).

(4) An MP from Ghazni, in conversation with AAN, claimed that the State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Faruq Wardak, and Second Deputy Chief Executive Engineer Muhammad Khan who hails from Ghazni and some other Hezb-e Islami affiliates mainly from Ghazni did not want Ghazni MPs to attend the inauguration of the National Assembly. According to the MP, Wardak and others had argued that, based on the constitution, the new parliament should be inaugurated with the new MPs and Ghazni MPs were not new. The MP claimed that they had received an indication that Wardak and others had convinced the president of this as well.

The Ghazni MP said this contravened article 104 of the electoral law, which states that when an election is not held in a constituency, the former MPs can continue to work until the election is held. He contacted Wardak to check whether or not this was true and he confirmed it, the MP said. The MP went on to say that he then met Chief Executive Abdullah to raise the issue with him and, in his presence, Abdullah spoke with Wardak on the phone and promised to talk to the president, too.

The MP said that minister Wardak had then asked the Supreme Court, the Commission for Overseeing the Implementation of the Constitution, the IEC and the ECC verbally and they had all said that the Ghazni MPs should remain in the office until new MPs were elected, and they should be invited to the inauguration.

(5) Article 88 of the electoral law says:

The Commission is obliged that after the announcement of the final election results, it shall issue an award a Certificate of Election to the President, Members of Wolesi Jirga, elected members of Meshrano Jirga members of the Provincial Councils, members of the District Councils, members of the Village Councils, mayors and the members of the Municipality Councils.

(6) Article 87 of the constitution:

Each of the two houses of the National Assembly, at the commencement of their work period, shall elect one member as president for the term of the legislature, and two members as first and second deputies and two members as secretary and assistant secretary for a period of one year.

These individuals shall form the administrative teams of the House of People as well as House of Elders. Duties of the administrative teams shall be determined by the Regulations on Internal Duties of each house.

(7) Article four of the Wolesi Jirga Rules and Procedures says:

  • At the first sitting of the Jirga, the oldest Member, who is not a candidate for the position of Speaker, shall be appointed as Pro Tem Speaker.
  • The oldest Member shall present his or her identity card to the Secretary-General in order to be appointed Pro Tem Speaker. The national identity card (Tazkara) shall determine the age of the Member.
  • If there are two or more Members of exactly the same age, the Pro Tem Speaker shall be appointed by lottery.
  • The two youngest Members of the Jirga, who are not candidates themselves, shall be appointed as Deputy and Secretary to the Pro Tem Speaker.
  • The method of election of the Secretary and Deputy to the Pro Tem Speaker of the Jirga shall be in accordance with clauses 3 and 4 of this article.

(8) It called for the dismissal of five current and former IEC officials named (head and deputy of the IEC secretariat, Ahmad Shah Zamanzai, and Abdul Aziz Samim, respectively, and the head of IT, Sayyed Ibrahim Sadat, head of field operations, Zmarai Qalamyar, and former head of Kabul IEC, Awal ul-Rahman Rudwal) for “mismanagement, violation of laws, regulations and procedures of the electoral commissions and failure to exercise legal authorities and obligations on timely basis which led to widespread electoral violations and crimes.” (AAN reporting here.)

(9) On 15 April 2019, the ECC held a consultative meeting with election observer groups about the Kabul elections. According to its report, the representatives of the election observers stressed that the most widespread election fraud had been committed during the recount of the Kabul votes and this needed serious attention. They believed that reviewing the result sheets from election day and addressing the objections and complaints from the Kabul elections would yield satisfactory results.

On 21 April, the ECC consulted representatives of political parties. According to its report, the review of election day result sheets and the recount phase of Kabul votes, identifying ghost votes and nullifying Kabul votes were discussed by the political party representatives. (10) On 25 April 2019, the ECC made the following decisions: 1) all the documents related to the appeal cases for Kabul province should be quarantined and sealed by the ECC members in the ECC headquarters; 2) all the reviews, audits and recounts conducted (by the outgoing IEC and ECC) were to be annulled; 3) all the result sheets from the first and second day (20 and 21 October 2018) of the elections in the specified polling centres and stations, having fulfilled the necessary criteria of the election procedures and regulations were to be considered valid; 4) the IEC is obligated to provide all the documents related to Kabul to the ECC; 5) all the original result sheets from the first and second day (20 and 21 October 2018) of the elections should be quarantined and sealed by the ECC members in the location specified by the IEC, and; 6) all the IEC and ECC staff should cooperate seriously and comprehensively in addressing the Kabul cases.

Annex: Below is the table for the new MPs from 33 provinces plus ten Kuchi MPs and one Hindu and Sikh representative.

1. Kabul: the largest constituency with 33 seats, including nine for women. The results were announced on 14 May, late evening. The first 24 are male and the remaining nine are female.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 384 Haji Ajmal Rahmani 1-1186-37 11,158 2.0 2 152 Al Hajj Abdul Qayyum Khairkhawh 1-1442-4 8,748 1.5 3 528 Khan Agha Rezayi 1- 1162-88 7,850 1.4 4 217 Al Hajj Mullah Muhammad Khan Ahmadi 1-1283-128 6,727 1.2 5 297 Feda Muhammad Ulfat Saleh 1-1389-78 6,690 1.2 6 34 Ahmad Jawid Jaihun 1-1537-14 6,213 1.1 7 469 Mir Amanullah Guzar 1-1164-56 6,095 1.1 8 45 Al Hajj Amir Gul Shahin 1-1188-22 6,061 1.1 9 2 Ghulan Hussain Naseri 1-1479-47 6,024 1.1 10 788 Dr Ramazan Bashardost 1-1704-56 5,983 1.0 11 79 Al Hajj Sayyed Muhammad Muhammadi 1-1704-56 5,339 0.9 12 749 Al Hajj Allah Gul Mujahed 1-1521-25 5,198 0.9 13 432 Haji Khan Muhammad Wardak 1-1185-51 5,128 0.9 14 430 Al Hajj Qazi Mir Afghan Safi 1-1265-55 4,628 0.8 15 89 Najibullah Naser 1-1023-75 4,401 0.8 16 529 Habib-ul Rahman Sayyaf 1-1297-60 4,014 0.7 17 220 Anwar Khan Oryakhel 1-1432-81 3,885 0.7 18 477 Sufi Abdul Razeq Estalefi 1-1224-77 3,749 0.7 19 84 Tawfiq Wahdat 1-1066-102 3,716 0.7 20 475 Haji Zergai Habibi 1-1444-12 3,594 0.6 21 535 Muhammad Naim Wardak 1-1249-30 3,520 0.6 22 354 Haji Hafizullah Jalili 1-1209-19 3,449 0.6 23 484 Erfanullah Erfan 1-1176-45 3,429 0.6 24 129 Obaidullah Kalimzai Wardak 1-1010-32 3,418 0.6 25 760 Wakil Fatema Nazari 1-1577-5 2,736 0.5 26 631 General Nazifa Zaki 1-1228-11 1,441 0.3 27 608 Shinkai Karokhel 1-1711-104 1,406 0.2 28 377 Mursal Nabizada 1-1686-124 1,396 0.2 29 324 Fawzia Naseryar Guldarayi 1-1220-1048 1,287 0.2 30 19 Rubina Jalali 1-1330-1 1,259 0.2 31 375 Mariam Sama 1-1818-141 1,255 0.2 32 575 Zuhra Nawruzi 1-1072-78 1,223 0.2 33 266 Bibi Haji Parwin Durani 1-1588-3 1,149 0.2


2. Kapisa: it has four seats, including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 17,952 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 34 Mirdad Khan Nejrabi 2-1249-103 5,849 15.1 2 21 Engineer Mir Haidar Afzali 2-1685-42 5,370 13.9 3 15 General Muhammad Iqbal Safi 2-201-1142-13 5,355 13.9 4 33 Khadija Elham Khalili 2-1274-34 1,378 3.6


3. Parwan: it has six seats, including two for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 52,988 votes cast.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 16 Abdul Aziz Humayun Harirud 3-1593-34 14,690 17.1 2 12 Al Hajj Mir Rahman Rahmani 3-1093-1 10,693 12.4 3 1 Sediq Ahmad Osmani 3-1541-2 9,961 11.6 4 17 Al Hajj Abdul Zaher Salangi 3-1441-18 9,329 10.8 5 7 Zakia Sangin 3-1306-4 5,415 6.3 6 24 Master Samia Aziz Sadat 3-1177-15 2,900 3.4


4. Maidan Wardak: has five seats, including two for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 26,407 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 7 Al Hajj Abdul Ahmad Durani 4-1185-6 7,731 13.2 2 8 Abdul Rahman Wardak 4-1593-8 6,893 11.7 3 26 Muhammad Mahdi Rasekh 4-1297-27 6,025 10.2 4 18 Halima Askari 4-1541-31 3,219 5.5 5 30 Engineer Hamida Akbari 4-1477-40 2,539 4.3


5. Logar: four seats, including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 4,427 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes %

  1 1 Muhammad Khaled Momand 5-1437-22 1,474 9.5 2 29 Shahpur Khan Hussainzai 5-1022-41 1,361 8.8 3 12 Engineer Muhammad Asef Nabizai 5-1185-12 1,016 6.5 4 30 Humma Ahmadi 5-1397-27 576 3.7


6. Nangrahar: has 14 seats, including three for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 86,104 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 2 Abdul Karim Karimi 6-1274-12 10,437 3.9 2 7 Feraidun Khan Mumand 6-1441-9 8,311 3.1 3 92 Malek Qais Nur Aghah Malekzai 6-1401-31 7,966 3.0 4 36 Abdul Rauf Shpun 6-1593-83 7,706 2.9 5 73 Amir Muhammad Yar 6-1265-145 7,137 2.7 6 69 Nabiullah Baz 6-1185-6 7,106 2.6 7 71 Mirwais Yasini 6-1297-32 6,858 2.6 8 82 Al Hajj Hazrat Ali 6-1034-57 6,463 2.4 9 56 Abrarullah Murad 6-1093-99 6,273 2.3 10 20 Nayaz Wali Muslim 6-1261-172 5,652 2.1 11 72 Arian Yun 6-1609-7 4,446 1.7 12 41 Bibi Haji Lailuma Wali Hukmi 6-1305-78 3,340 1.2 13 32 Saima Khogyani 6-1330-69 2,692 1.0 14 84 Anisa Omrani 6-1637-235 1,717 0.6


7. Laghman: four seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 11,740 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 23 General Abdul Munir Tarakhel 7-1297-6 4,048 9.1 2 10 Muhammad Rafi Mamuzai 7-1174-64 3,021 6.9 3 19 Engineer Muhammad Alem Qarar 7-1441-13 2,884 6.5 4 1 Al Hajj Zifnon Safi 7-1305-2 1,787 4.0


8. Panjshir: two seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 10,033 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 12 Haji Zal Muhammad Zalmai Nuri 8-1265-2068 8,456 27.2 2 4 Qazi Rahela Salim 8-1250-7 1,577 5.1


9. Baghlan: eight seats including two for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 43,271 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 72 Al Hajj Asadullah Shahbaz 9-1274-91 8,738 7.2 2 4 Muhammad Azem Mohesni 9-1329-120 6,481 5.3 3 25 Atiq Ramin 9-1541-33 5,828 4.8 4 44 Al Hajj Mamur Ahmadzai 9-1249-41 5,508 4.5 5 86 Dr Muhammad Nasim Mudaber 9-1009-48 4,895 4.0 6 41 Al Hajj Ustad Abdul Razaq Hashemi 9-1273-15 4,345 3.6 7 69 Shurkia Essakhel 9-1197-54 4,701 3.8 8 62 Nurian Hamidi 9-1553-9 2,775 2.3


10. Bamyan: four seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 35,662 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 38 Muhammad Rahim Aliyar 10-1297-134 10,529 8.4 2 1 Al Hajj Zahiruddin Jan Agha 10-1461-3 9,945 7.9 3 35 Sayyed Muhammad Jamal Fakur Beheshti 10-1094-8 9,021 7.2 4 29 Nekhbakht Fahimi 10-1009-62 6,167 4.9


11. Paktika: has four seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 11,094.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Canadidate No Votes % 1 18 Muhammad Mirza Katawazai 12-1182-12 5,142 17.6 2 24 Nader Khan Katawazai 12-1665-8 2,756 9.5 3 6 Khalid Asad 12-1234-72 2,701 9.3 4 5 Suraya Akbari 12-1133-64 495 1.7


12. Paktia: has five seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 12,145 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 56 Muhammad Ibrahim Ghukhtalai 13-1173-46 3,206 6.3 2 18 Dr Yarbaz Khan Hamidi 13-1298-62 2,544 5.0 3 76 Nasib Muqbel 13-1289-10 2,465 4.8 4 1 Sayyed Hassan Gardizi 13-1141-5 2,214 4.3 5 30 Razia Saadat Mangal 13-1542-1075 1,716 3.4


13. Khost: has five seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 23,086 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 7 Kamal Naser Osoli 14-1541-88 7,758 9.7 2 11 Engineer Helmand Helmand 14-1593-47 4,438 5.6 3 12 Dr Muhammad Musa Khawarin 14-1001-92 4,202 5.3 4 17 Ghaffar Khan 14-1637-2 4,127 5.2 5 22 Sahera Sharif 14-1505-17 2,561 3.2


14. Kunar: has four seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 23,577 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 5 Jawid Sapai 15-1437-1006 6,909 8.4 2 19 Ustad Neamatullah Karyab 15-1273-6 6,326 7.7 3 24 Ziaurahman Kashmir Khan 15-1665-1024 6,036 7.3 4 8 Wazhma Sapai 15-1233-5 4,306 5.2


15. Nuristan: has two seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 2,761 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 1 Ismail Atikan 16-1297-19 2,271 16.4 2 7 Dr Omar Banu Akbari Nuristani 16-1606-1337-36 490 3.5


16. Badakhshan: has nine seats including two for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 54,450 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 51 Abdul Rauf Enami 17-1553-23 7,392 4.6 2 52 Abdul Shakur Waqef Hakimi 17-1585-6 7,060 4.4 3 41 Hujatullah Kheradmand 17-1461-78 6,598 4.2 4 72 Abdul Wali Neyazi 17-1233-47 6,524 4.1 5 23 Mawlawi Zabiullah Attiq 17-1445-46 5,707 3.6 6 69 Fazl Azem Zalmai Mujaddedi 17-1169-15 5,589 3.5 7 18 Dr. Ahmad Zia Yaftali 17-1313-12 5.508 3.5 8 69 Nilofar Ibrahimi 17-1537-10 6,717 4.2 9 13 Sadeqa Adib 17-1477-79 3,355 2.1


17. Takhar: has nine seats including two for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 67,724 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 1 Abdullah Bek 18-1141-4 13,818 7.9 2 4 Rais Abdul Baqi Malekzada 18-1050-257 8,469 4.8 3 15 Muhammad Alem Sa’i 18-1094-24 7,762 4.4 4 46 Engineer Amir Muhammad Khaksar 18-1429-13 6,985 4.0 5 5 Ghulam Sarwar Sadat 18-1274-18 6,835 3.9 6 52 Dr Sayyed Ashrafuddin Aini 18-1225-3 6,767 3.9 7 12 Dr Hamiduddin Yoldash 18-1269-10 6,380 3.6 8 61 Habiba Danesh 18-1339-87 5,817 3.3 9 20 Nazifa Yusufi Bek 18-1009-79 4,891 2.8


18. Kunduz: has 9 seats including two for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 16,378 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 62 Al Hajj Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi 19-1265-30 2,986 5.7 2 21 Engineer Kamal Safi 19-1185-43 2,276 4.4 3 32 Shah Khan Shirzad 19-1142-9 1,996 3.8 4 31 Engineer Muhammaduddin Hamdard 19-1141-13 1,905 3.6 5 2 Muhammullah Batash 19-1273-8 1,699 3.3 6 13 Haji Muhammad Omar Khan 19-1553-42 1,631 3.1 7 49 Fazel Karim Aimaq 19-1149-35 1,586 3.0 8 5 Nilofar Jalali Kufi 19-1161-47 1,257 2.4 9 67 Dr Fatema Aziz 19-1226-56 1,042 2.0


19. Samangan: has four seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 27,681 votes (

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 28 Hayatullah Samangani 20-1685-1020 9,256 12.2 2 23 Makhdum Abdullah Muhammadi 20-1418-1 9,000 11.8 3 25 Ziauddin Zia 20-1241-2030 6,261 8.2 4 3 Ustad Mahbuba Rahmat 20-1185-1006 3,164 4.2


20. Balkh: has 11 seats including three for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 97,727 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 68 Ghullam Abbas Ibrahimzada 21-1185-10 17,543 9.0 2 2 Ahmad Shah Ramazan 21-1329-1 11,238 5.8 3 74 Alam Khan Azadi 21-1074-27 10,448 5.4 4. 43 Abdul Hamid Sharifi 21-1141-9 10,148 5.2 5 36 Sayyed Zaher Masrur 21-1306-3 10,030 5.2 6 65 Muhammad Ali Mohaqeq 21-1118-4 9,683 5.0 7 58 Gul Rahman Hamdard 21-1273-58 9,598 4.9 8 53 Rais Abdul Khaleq 21-1257-28 9,486 4.9 9 47 Saifura Nayazi 21-1049-81 3,377 1.7 10 15 Fawzia Hamidi 21,1250-64 3,157 1.6 11 52 Breshna Rabi 21-1150-78 3,019 1.6


21. Sar-e Pul: has five seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 34,621 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 13 Muhammad Akbari Sultanzada 22-1185-1 9,242 12.1 2 20 Sayyed Muhammad Hassan Sharifi Balkhabi 22-1094-16 7,358 9.7 3 31 Al Hajj Hamidullah Bek 22-1297-72 6,260 8.2 4 3 Haji Sayyed Hayatullah Alemi 22-1417-91 5,746 7.5 5 32 Aziza Jalis 22-1305-22 6,015 7.9


22. Ghor: has six seats including two for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 57,361 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 8 Muhammad Ibrahim Malekzada 23-1441-56 19,438 17.5 2 12 Atta Muhammad Dehqanpur 23-1094-12 11,828 10.6 3 19 Keramuddin Rezazadah 23-1605-59 8,823 7.9 4 17 Gul Zaman Naib 23-1329-89 8,131 7.3 5 5 Fatema Kohestani 23-1541-1 5,247 4.7 6 28 Ruqia Nail 23-1581-4 3,894 3.5


23. Daikundi: has four seats including one female seat (two female MPs have been elected from Daikundi this time). The elected candidates represent a total of 46,705 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 15 Sayyed Muhammad Daud Naseri 24-1441-6 13,055 9.7 2 35 Raihana Azad 24-1297-16 12,680 9.4 3 3 Ali Akbar Jamshidi 24-1581-41 10,490 7.8 4 4 Shirin Mohseni 24-1325-65 10,480 7.8


24. Uruzgan: has three seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 3,367 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 6 Besmellah Jan Muhammad 25-1593-33 1,420 11.4 2 7 Qudratllah Rahimi 25-1313-24 1,394 11.2 3 12 Bibi Gulalai Muhammadi 25-1601-1 553 4.4


25. Zabul: has three seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 3,767 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 5 Abdul Qader Qalatwal 26-1461-2 1,825 14.1 2 15 Hamidullah Tokhi 26-1593-5 1,458 11.2 3 6 Zahra Tokhi 26-1273-7 484 3.7


26. Kandahar: has 11 seats including three for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 50,797 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 52 Sayyed Muqtada Miran 27-1387-10 7,282 4.6 2 95 Dr Mahmud Khan Nasrat 27-1197-41 6,377 4.1 3 53 Rohullah Khanzada 27-1009-57 6,312 4.0 4 82 Haji Sayyed Ahmad Khadem 27-1329-15 5,700 3.6 5 1 Gul Ahmad Kamin 27-1177-21 5,118 3.3 6 104 Sayyed Ahmad Silab 27-1010-16 4,120 2.6 7 29 Khalil Ahmad Mujahed 27-1401-20 3,967 2.5 8 19 Engineer Muhammad Aref Nurzai 27-1561-34 3,893 2.5 9 48 Freba Ahmadi Kakar 27-1541-2 3,500 2.2 10 31 Malalai Ishaqzai 27-1232-70 2,826 1.8 11 36 Parwin Nama 27-1577-62 1,702 1.1


27. Jawzjan has five seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 35,691 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 6 Haji Batur Dostum 28-1141-1030 20,045 36.0 2 15 Batash Ishchi 28-1441-3 6,818 12.2 3 12 Muhammad Karim Jawzjani 28-1397-11 4,159 7.5 4 23 Azizullah Ulfati 28-1437-1025 3,515 6.3 5 28 Halima Sadaf Karimi 28-1505-17 1,154 2.1


28. Faryab: has nine candidates including three for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 30,360 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 5 Hashmatullah Arman 29-1541-1007 8,772 12.7 2 53 Muhammad Rasul Faryabi 29-1226-2033 4,166 6.0 3 14 Sanjar Kargar 29-1141-2015 3,563 5.2 4 11 Muhammad Hashem Khan 29-1545-3 3,466 5.0 5 50 Sayyed Babur Jamal 29-1505-2034 3,174 4.6 6 59 Muhammad Shaker Karimi 29-1334-2038 3,064 4.4 7 62 Rangina Kargar 29-1329-2014 1,519 2.2 8 55 Shafiqa Sakha Yulchi 29-1346-2026 1,355 2.0 9 46 Al Hajj Fawzia Raufi 29-1005-2 1,281 1.9


29. Helmand has eight seats including two for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 19,792 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 12 Muhammad Zafar Sadeqi 30-1034-19 4,038 5.3 2 65 Haji Ghulam Wali Afghan 30-1194-24 3,267 4.3 3 2 Mirwais Khadem 30-1309-32 3,084 4.1 4 60 Al Hajj Muhammad Karim Atal 30-1092-26 2,651 3.5 5 4 Abdul Rashid Azizi 30-1545-5 2,494 3.3 6 85 Shir Muhammad Akhundzada 30-1022-39 2,317 3.1 7 21 Nasima Nayazi 30-1174-29 1,320 1.7 8 75 Shegufa Nurzai 30-1685-83 621 0.8


30. Badghis: four seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 14,572 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 10 Zaiuddin Akazai 31-1142-2 4,575 10.4 2 13 Abdul Basir Osmani 31-1333-29 4,509 10.3 3 8 Amir Shah Naibzada 31-1185-64 4,162 9.5 4 12 Ustad Farida Bekzad 31-1441-35 1,326 3.0


31. Herat: has 17 seats including five for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 116,569 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 110 Habiburrahman Pedram 32-1469-1137 16,835 5.2 2 144 Muhammad Reza Khushak Watandost 32-1329-4 16,275 5.1 3 51 Omar Naser Mujaddedi 32-1405-1092 10,896 3.4 4 154 Haji Muhammad Sadeq Qaderi 32-1141-26 9,663 3.0 5 92 Ghulam Faruq Majruh 32-1161-6 7,027 2.2 6 142 Ustad Hamidullah Hanif 31-1317-1128 6,950 2.2 7 8 Munawar Shah Bahaduri 32-1441-10 6,811 2.1 8 40 Haji Shahpur Popal 32-1257-1075 6,549 2.0 9 161 Sayyed Azem Keberzani 32-1105-1118 6,517 2.0 10 105 Qazi Nazir Ahmad Hanifi 32-1074-46 5,963 1.9 11 113 Al Hajj Ghulam Faruq Nazari 32-1074-46 5,963 1.9 12 128 Sayyed Taha Sadeq 32-1081-1096 5,729 1.8 13 45 Rahima Jami 32-1078-1064 3,118 1.0 14 44 Masuda Karokhi 32-1225-1123 2,824 0.9 15 130 Nahid Ahmadi Farid 32-1461-17 1,957 0.6 16 30 Simin Barakzai 32-1249-1110 1,665 0.5 17 115 Shahnaz Ghawsi 32-1685-1068 1,662 0.5


32. Farah: has five seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 8,524 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes %

  1 17 Humayun Shahidzada 33-1397-26 2,457 9.7 2 37 Abdul Satar Hussaini 33-1305-4 1,859 7.4 3 11 Abdul Nasir Farahi 33-1541-1 1,642 6.5 4 40 Abdul Ghaffar Arman 33-1505-16 1,468 5.8 5 39 Belqis Roshan 33-1142-15 1,098 4.4


33. Nimruz: has two seats including one female seat. The elected candidates represent a total of 12,148 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 11 Gul Ahmad Nurzad 34-1033-16 5,812 18.8 2 9 Farida Hamidi 34-1390-6 6,336 20.5


34. Kuchis: there are ten Kuchi seats, including three for women. The elected candidates represent a total of 49,033 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 37 Al Hajj Shah Wazir Tarakhel 35-1231-77 21,738 32.7 2 26 Habib Rahman Afghan 35-1185-61 5,148 7.7 3 21 Mirwais Hussiankhel 35-1780-1100 4,671 7.0 4 25 Nangyalai Lawang 35-1687-23 4,147 6.2 5 5 Haji Parwiz Arabzada 35-1687-90 3,629 5.5 6 17 Al Hajj Haidar Jan Naimzoi 35-1186-15 3,270 4.9 7 11 Rasul Khan Kuchi 35-1439-17 2,853 4.3 8 31 Hamida Ahmadzai 35-1585-85 1,940 2.9 9 9 Mariam Sulaimankhel 1-1080-172 839 1.3 10 1 Farzana Kuchi 35-1672-151 798 1.2


35. Sikh: there is one seat reserved for the Hindu and Sikh communities in a country-wide constituency. The elected candidate has a total of 303 votes.

No Ballot No Candidate Name Candidate No Votes % 1 1 Narender Singh Khalesa 1-1217-259 303 100.0





Categories: Defence`s Feeds

Rug Weavers and Bride Prices in the Northwest: Still expensive in spite of government and Taleban rules

Sun, 12/05/2019 - 04:00

Weddings in Afghanistan are often an expensive and ‘back-breaking’ affair. A government law to change the expensive wedding culture remains largely unimplemented and there seems to be little will to enforce it. The Taleban have also imposed an assortment of rules for controlling wedding costs in areas under their command, which vary depending on the area and commander. In practice, their edicts have had limited impact. This is particularly the case in the Turkic dominated provinces of the northwest, where bride prices and wedding ceremony costs are often driven up by a bride’s carpet-weaving skills. In this dispatch, AAN’s Obaid Ali looks at the social culture of weddings among the Turkic community and finds that in spite of government laws, Taleban pressure and local initiatives, the culture of holding expensive weddings remains firmly in place.

A wedding in Afghanistan tends to be an expensive affair. There have been several attempts by the Afghan government, social activists and community elders, as well as by the Taleban, to change this culture. While their attempts have had some impact in certain local communities, they have not led to a larger cultural shift.

Practices with regard to bride price and wedding expenses are different for different ethnic groups, communities, and regions (see also AAN’s previous report here). The ‘bride price’ in the northwest, for instance, is not a mahr (dowry), a sum of cash that should be given to a bride by her groom as a financial pledge and which remains the property of the bride. Rather, in Turkic communities where women are often employed as professional rug makers, the bride price is known as qaleen.

Bride prices and wedding expenses in northwestern Turkic communities (including provinces like Faryab, Jawzjan, Sar-e Pul, and Balkh) tend to be high, largely due to the fact that a woman’s skill makes her a high earner. Moreover, in the Turkic community (e.g. among Uzbeks and Turkmen), an expensive wedding party is considered an honour for both the groom and bride’s families.

Weddings in Turkic communities

The qaleen for a rug-weaving bride in the provinces of Faryab, Jawzjan, and Balkh tends to range from 15,000 USD to 25,000 USD. The price variation is often affected by the reputation of the family and the skills of the woman. Skilled women weavers from these provinces are famous for their ability to produce some of the most sought-after and hard to find rugs in the country (listen, for instance, to this famous Afghan song about rug weaving in Jawzjan province). The skill involved in producing such rugs means that they are often sold even before they are completed or on the market. The high prices of such carpets means that a prospective groom can expect a relatively prosperous life. Therefore, the bride price a groom has to pay is considered to be not only for the girl herself but also for the income her unique skill will provide for the rest of their lives as husband and wife. Because of the extra high costs of the qaleen and wedding party for skilled brides, it is actually very difficult to find a rug-weaving woman to marry.

When a groom’s family initiates a marriage proposal for a rug-weaving woman they face huge expenses. Although the high asking price is often an indirect way for the bride’s family to deter unsuitable marriage proposals, in many cases this does not prevent the groom’s family from persisting. The groom’s side will often try to negotiate the cost down to a manageable amount. However, high interest in a particular bride and her skills means that her family can insist on the price and even add additional wedding costs. These include the costs of the marriage and wedding parties, as well as items that the groom’s family must provide.

A list of items

In many northern provinces, the bride’s family submits a long list of items that the groom must purchase. The list often includes jewellery for the bride, clothes and gifts for the bride and her close relatives, food for the guests, other expenses of the bride until she leaves her parent’s home and a guarantee that the groom will provide two fully-furnished rooms for his bride. The groom’s family is then left with two options: to accept the conditions or to step away from the negotiations.

Haji Khalilullah Azizi, a former speaker for Sar-e Pul’s provincial council, described weddings among the Turkic community as kamarshekan (‘back-breaking’). He told AAN that an ordinary wedding for a woman without carpet weaving skills, including the qaleen price, averages a total of at least 1,500,000 Afs (19,000 USD).Qubuddin Kohe, a local journalist and a civil society activist from Faryab province, said that the qaleen in Maimana city, Faryab’s provincial centre, normally exceeds 800,000 Afs (nearly 10,000 USD). He added that the groom must submit the money in a number of instalments before he gets married. He told AAN that there had been several attempts by social workers, the educated generation, and community elders – both at the local and national levels – to advocate for reduced wedding expenses. Their efforts, however, had only had a limited impact.

Durtaj, the district governor for Khan Charbagh district in Faryab, said the high qaleen prices have compelled some girls to flee. Speaking to AAN, she said that since her appointment in mid-2017 more than ten cases of girls who had fled their home “largely due to their parents’ unwillingness to marry them for a lower qaleen” had been registered. She told AAN that most of these girls ran away with their partners of choice to a hiding place. Community elders then had to mediate between both families, often convincing the girl’s family to allow her to marry the boy after all. In other cases, girls fled to local government-run women’s shelters, refusing to return to their families unless their parents guaranteed their safety and security. In the worst case, she said the girls could face death if captured by their parents, because of harsh traditions and the perceived damage to their family’s reputation.

If a groom’s family cannot provide enough cash for a qaleen, they can offer livestock and other goods during the engagement period instead, particularly in rural areas where goods are acceptable currency in the marriage market. The rest of the wedding expenses, such as jewellery for the bride, clothes for her and her close relatives, as well as food for guests should still be paid for and prepared by the groom’s family.

According to Haji Khodai Dad, a local elder from Faryab who has mediated several negotiations between brides and grooms’ families, as soon as the bride’s family accepts a groom’s family proposal and has fixed the price of the qaleen, any goods the groom sends to the bride’s family counts as cash. The price for these items is calculated based on their local market value. This is not, however, without occasional trouble. Haji Khodai Dad said that a quarrel erupted recently between two families over a dairy cow that was sent to the bride’s family, which stopped producing milk after a couple of weeks. The issue was taken to village elders for a resolution. They decided that the cow should be sold and the groom’s family should add money so that the bride’s family could buy another cow that could produce milk.

In most of the Turkic-dominated provinces of the northwest, the bride’s family agrees to arrange the nikah (a legal contract between man and woman to marry) during the engagement party. After the nikah, the groom becomes a mahram (the male companion for his bride) and he can meet and sometimes stay at his bride’s home. According to Durtaj, during the engagement period, which can last several years, the bride may already become a mother of two or three children. This pushes the groom to work even harder, as he now not only has to earn the qaleen, but also has to provide food and clothes for both his wife and children while they are still in his father-in-law’s home. Some of the grooms who take a long time to submit the qaleen not only bring a bride back to their family’s home, but also an already established family.

There seems to be a general reluctance to give up on expensive wedding parties. For the Turkic community, expensive weddings are not only a social demand but also an opportunity: for the groom to make a name within the community by holding a remarkable wedding, and for the bride’s family to increase their reputation by having secured an expensive wedding for their daughter. This has spread an ideology among villagers that, for the last few decades, has compelled them to invest in enormous weddings and high qaleen prices. But these expensive weddings also mean that grooms have to start a long and difficult journey to earn money. They often leave the country for Iran or Turkey, where they spend years working to save money, which can delay a wedding ceremony for years.

The government law on wedding ceremonies  

The Afghan government published a wedding ceremony law in the official state gazette in December 2017. The law includes clauses on the bride price and ceremony expenses. According to article six, the bride’s family and relatives cannot force the groom to pay a bride price as a condition for getting married. The law also limits the number of guests at a wedding party: article ten says the groom and bride’s families may hold the wedding party in a wedding hall or a restaurant, but should not invite more than 500 people (full text in Dari and Pashtu here).

According to Azizi, Sar-e Pul’s former provincial council speaker, the local government is not seriously committed to enforcing this law in the Uzbek dominated provinces of the northwest. He told AAN there were no outreach teams or public awareness programmes to inform people about the new rules. To enforce this wedding law, the Afghan government would probably face serious problems as it would see itself confronted with the expectations of guests and the interests of the prosperous wedding hall industry. (1)

There have been some local initiatives in Faryab, Sar-e Pul and Jawzjan provinces to reform the costly wedding culture, which have seen limited results. In some parts of Faryab’s provincial centre, Maimana, local elders say they have achieved a minor shift in that the qaleen. Here, wedding expenses are said to have been reduced from an average of 800,000 Afs (nearly 10,000 USD) to around 400,000 Afs (around 5,000 USD). Similar efforts have taken place in some parts of Jawzjan and Sar-e Pul provinces. According to Durtaj, the local government has held several gatherings and carried out campaigns to reduce wedding expenses in local districts. She told AAN, however, that because of the insecurity, these efforts had only affected district centres and nearby villages. (2)

 Taleban restrictions and rules on wedding ceremonies

In some areas, according to local sources, Taleban rules and restrictions were being enforced instead of the government’s law. These Taleban rules on wedding ceremonies are largely enforced by their local vice and virtue committee, known as the religious police, tasked with enforcing Sharia law. The rules themselves seem to vary in different parts of the country, as does their enforcement. There seems to be no general or national Taleban regulation with regard to wedding ceremonies.

When it comes to public awareness of these disparate rules on weddings, the Taleban use local mosques and public gatherings to inform people and announce new restrictions, as well as the consequences for those who violate them. Taleban regulations that have been announced in parts of Faryab, Jawzjan, and Sar-e Pul provinces include that:

  • The bride price should not be more than 200,000 Afs (2,650 USD);
  • Men and women should be segregated and/or attend wedding parties at different times;
  • Playing music and recording videos is prohibited;
  • The bride and groom should receive only three suits of clothes each (normally the bride’s family asks for up to 20 suits of clothes for the bride and, in return, prepares five to ten suits of clothes for the groom).
  • The wedding ceremony should take place in the groom or bride’s family home;
  • The number of guests should be low (there is, however, no requirement to actively reduce the number of invitees, since it is understood that villagers will often attend the party without official invitation);
  • The food for guests should be simple food, common among villagers: palao (rice with meat).

In practice, in the Taleban-controlled areas of Faryab, Jawzjan and Sar-e Pul provinces, locals often obey the Taleban’s rules in public but ignore them in private. For example, in Taleban-controlled areas, though the qaleen is presented as low in public, both families will often negotiate a confidential deal with a higher qaleen.

Even in the government controlled areas of Faryab and Sar-e Pul the local Taleban has tried to prevent people from holding parties in wedding halls. In July 2017, for instance, the Taleban issued warnings against wedding halls in the provincial centres of Sar-e Pul and Faryab. Speaking to AAN, Mahsuma Ramazan, a female provincial council member for Sar-e Pul, said that because of these warnings, the wedding halls in her province remained closed for a couple of months (see this media article). She said it was a clear indication of the Taleban’s influence on people’s social lives even in government-controlled areas. Eventually, the wedding halls reopened. It was unclear whether this was due to a deal between the Taleban and owners of the wedding halls, or whether pressure had simply subsided. (3)

Given that in Turkic communities wedding ceremonies usually take place in the bride and groom’s houses anyway, without much pressure to hold the party in a wedding hall, the impact of this specific restriction is limited. But other aspects of the wedding ceremony that the Taleban try to regulate are a common practice among locals, including the qaleen negotiation and payment, live music during the party, and the video recording of the wedding ceremony. The Taleban rules, if enforced, would thus surely impact the ways the Turkic communities marry in the northwest.

According to Sayed Fazel Agha, a former member of the Sar-e Pul provincial high peace council, neither the government law on wedding ceremonies nor the Taleban’s regulations were being obeyed by the population, at least not in his province. Wedding expenses, he said, thus remained a serious issue within the local community.

Conclusion: The cost of high expenses

Despite the government law on weddings, Taleban pressure and local initiatives to change the expensive wedding culture, the phenomenon of expensive parties and high qaleen prices remains firmly entrenched within the Turkic community. This comes at a high cost, in particular for the next generation. The need to meet qaleen prices has prevented many young men from studying, as they need to work and save money to get married. The high qaleen expenses also narrow the bride’s options for what she can do with her life, as she is under pressure to continue rug making instead of pursuing other possible futures. Even though she may have entered into marriage with seemingly high status, in reality, her marriage merely moves her as a worker from one rug making factory to another for the remainder of her life. So far, neither the government law on weddings nor the Taleban rules have solved this problem. Both laws and regulations are largely ignored: at best observed in public and ignored behind closed doors; at worst, openly flouted.


(1) The wedding halls in Kabul, for instance, located only a few kilometres away from the Ministry of Justice, host thousands of people every night in luxury wedding parties with expensive food. According to a wedding hall manager from Kabul, the prices for the wedding party’s menus ranged from 400 Afs (5 USD) to 1200 Afs (16 USD) per head. He said they would not host parties with fewer than 500 guests, since preparing food for fewer people wouldn’t allow them to make a profit (see for instance these pages for wedding halls in Kabul here and here which show a clear lack of awareness of, or refusal, to obey articles 17 and 18 of the law that limit the wedding menu price to 300 Afs (4 USD) and the number of guests to 500).

(2) At the national level there are ongoing efforts to reduce wedding expenses by holding mass wedding ceremonies, for instance in Kabul, Herat, Balk and Bamyan provinces. These ceremonies, organised by charity foundations and local businessmen, are aimed at shifting away from the expensive wedding culture (see a media report here, here, here, here and here. But there is little sign of such initiatives in the Turkic communities of the northwest.

(3) During the Taleban regime (1994-2001), holding a wedding party in a hall was prohibited. Wedding ceremonies in wedding halls, however, have a long history in Kabul and other big cities. After the Taleban’s government collapsed, weddings were again held in halls, and the number of wedding venues in Kabul alone now stands at over 200.


Categories: Defence`s Feeds

One Land, Two Rules (5): The polio vaccination gap

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 03:54

While researching the delivery of health, education and other services in districts affected by the insurgency, we found that three of our featured districts, in Helmand, Nangrahar and Kunduz provinces, had seen cases of polio leading to paralysis in the last five years. There is no cure for polio, but there is an effective vaccination, so why, more than forty years since polio vaccination began in Afghanistan, are some children still not being protected? AAN’s Jelena Bjelica (with input from the AAN team*) finds some answers in the impact of the conflict, a mobile population, patchy and scarce health care, women being unable to take decisions on health care, and vaccination strategies that might need to be re-thought.

Service Delivery in Insurgent-Affected Areas is a joint research project by the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

Previous publications in the series include an introduction, with literature review and methodology, “One Land, Two Rules (1): Service delivery in insurgent-affected areas, an introduction” by Jelena Bjelica and Kate Clark; and three case studies: on Obeh district of Herat province by Said Reza Kazemi; Dasht-e Archi district in Kunduz province by Obaid Ali; and Achin district in Nangrahar province by Said Reza Kazemi and Rohullah Sorush.

In this dispatch, the author first looks at what polio is and how efforts to eradicate it began, in the United States in the 1950s and globally, including Afghanistan in the late 1970s. She plots how polio has declined since then, before looking at why it continues to circulate here. She assesses current strategies for reaching newborns and under-fives. She then looks at three case studies, districts where polio has resulted in paralysis in recent years: Achin district in Nangrahar province, Nad-e Ali in Helmand province and Dasht-e Archi in Kunduz province.

What is polio?

Polio, short for poliomyelitis, is an infectious disease that is caused and transmitted by the poliovirus. The name ‘poliomyelitis’ is derived from the Greek for grey (polios) marrow (myelon) and refers to the tissue inside the spinal cord.

There are three types of poliovirus, all members of the enterovirus genus. (1) Poliovirus only infects humans. It is very contagious and spreads through person-to-person contact. The virus is most often spread by the faecal-oral route, ie it enters through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine. Infected individuals shed poliovirus into the environment for several weeks, where it can spread rapidly through a community, especially in areas of poor sanitation.

One of the severe symptoms of polio in childhood is paralysis, and the disease is therefore also known as ‘infantile paralysis’. Polio can interact with its host in two ways: as an infection that does not affect the central nervous system and only causes a minor illness with mild symptoms; or, as an infection affecting the central nervous system when it may cause paralysis and in some cases even result in death. In about 98 per cent of cases, polio is a mild illness, with no or only flu-like symptoms. In paralytic polio, the virus leaves the digestive tract, enters the bloodstream, and then attacks nerve cells. Fewer than two per cent of people who contract polio become paralysed, but they are disabled for life.

Global eradication

In the early 20th century, polio was one of the most feared diseases. In 1916, for example, New York experienced its first large epidemic, with more than 9,000 cases and 2,343 deaths. Nationwide in 1917 in America, there were 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths. Polio struck in the warm summer months, sweeping through towns in successive epidemics every few years.

It was only in the mid-1950s that a preventive vaccine was found and tested. In 1952, Dr Jonas Salk began to develop the first effective vaccine against polio. Mass public vaccination programmes followed and had an immediate effect; in the US, cases fell from 35,000 in 1953 to 5,300 in 1957. In 1961, Albert Sabin pioneered the more easily administered oral polio vaccine (OPV). (See this BBC timeline on the history of polio and this timeline on the history of polio vaccine).

It took somewhat longer for polio to be dealt with as a major problem in developing countries. It was only in the 1970s that routine immunisation was introduced worldwide as part of national programmes. By 1988, polio had been eliminated from the US, UK, Australia and much of Europe, but remained prevalent in more than 125 countries. The same year, the World Health Organisation adopted a resolution to eradicate the disease completely by the year 2000. Since then, through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, more than 2.5 billion children have been immunised against polio.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) certified the Americas as a polio-free region in 1994 and the European region in 2002. India reported the last positive case in January 2011 and was certified polio-free in 2014; China was certified polio-free in 2013. Since 2012, polio has remained officially endemic in only three countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Although the global incidence of polio has decreased by 99 per cent since the start of the global vaccination campaign, tackling the last one per cent of polio cases has proved difficult, as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative reported on its website:

Conflict, political instability, hard-to-reach populations, and poor infrastructure continue to pose challenges to eradicating the disease. Each country offers a unique set of challenges which require local solutions.

In Afghanistan, between January 2001 and March 2019, there were 414 cases of individuals contracting polio and becoming paralysed.

Positive polio cases in Afghanistan: 1980 to 2018   

Despite the ongoing conflict, the number of paralytic polio cases in Afghanistan has decreased over the last 40 years. The publicly available historical data on positive paralytic polio cases in Afghanistan that can be found on the website ‘Our World in Data’ by Oxford University, shows that the number of positive polio cases dropped from almost 2,000 in the mid-1980s to four in the early 2000s. (See graph 1 below for an overview of positive cases between 1980 and 1990 and graph 2 for 2001 to 2018). Although the numbers fluctuate, positive polio cases in Afghanistan in the 2000s and 2010s have been as low, annually, as in the dozens and even fewer than ten. This compares positively to the number of cases in the 1980s, which ranged from several hundred to often more than a thousand, indicating a relatively effective immunisation campaign (more on this below).

Graph 1: Positive polio cases in Afghanistan in the period 1980 – 1990. WHO data cited on the Oxford University’s website, ‘Our World in Data’. Graph by AAN, 2019.

Graph 2: Positive polio cases in Afghanistan in the period 2001 – 2018. WHO dataset of positive polio cases in Afghanistan, which AAN received from the organisation, segregated by province, district and date. Graph by AAN, 2019.

Data on positive polio cases in Afghanistan for the first half of the 1990s is almost non-existent. There is only a figure for 1991 when two cases were documented. It is nevertheless interesting to note that an almost complete dataset exists for the period of Taleban rule. According to the WHO, 19 cases were documented in 1997; 59 in 1998; 150 in 1999, and 120 in 2000. The data for 1996 is missing; that year saw the increased conflict as the Taleban moved to consolidate their power. How reliable these datasets are, given the WHO’s limited access during the civil war and subsequent Taleban rule is another question. The presumption that the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan during the 1980s had accurately reported the health situation in the country is also suspect. As usual, caution is needed when using historical datasets for Afghanistan.

An analysis of the WHO dataset of positive polio cases in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2018 segregated by province, district and date, which AAN received from the organisation, shows that the poliovirus has most often been detected in the eastern and especially the southern regions in Afghanistan. (See graph 2 for an overall number of positive polio cases between 2001 and 2018.)  In the south, they were mainly in Kandahar province, with spill-over transmission observed into other southern provinces, mainly Helmand and Uruzgan. In the eastern region, the epidemic is part of what is called the northern corridor transmission zone extending from Nangrahar, Kunar and Nuristan into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas in Pakistan. There was also a smaller number of positive polio cases during this period further north, for example, in Kunduz and Balkh, as well as one case in Kapisa, the easternmost province of the central region. Herat province in the west of the country also had positive polio cases, as did Farah, which neighbours both Herat and Helmand.

Taking 2018 as an example, 21 children were paralysed by the poliovirus in Afghanistan. Despite this high number of cases, the transmission was geographically limited to the southern and eastern regions and reported from only six of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. 15 of the cases were in the southern region – nine in Kandahar province and with spill-over transmission to Helmand and Uruzgan. In the southern region, a major issue is lack of access: more than 840,000 children have missed out on the vaccination since May 2018. Inaccessibility coupled with some communities refusing to allow vaccination (more on this below), particularly in and around Kandahar, is a major obstacle for polio eradication in the country. It also makes responding to detected polio transmission difficult. The six cases in the eastern region are in the northern corridor transmission zone.

What causes the poliovirus to spread?

The vital question for those trying to protect children against the poliovirus is what drives it to spread in Afghanistan? According to experts, it boils down to two factors: lack of access for vaccinators and a highly mobile population. The 2017 report of the Afghanistan Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on polio eradication, looking at the epidemiological evidence, said it showed that “the vulnerability of pockets of unreached children” and “the role of population movement” are the key factors for poliovirus transmission across Afghanistan. The number of positive polio cases in Pakistan plays an important role in the virus spread through population movement across the border. In 2017, this number declined to only eight, from 306 cases registered during 2014, 54 in 2015 and 20 in 2016.

Afghanistan and Pakistan’s eradication efforts are interlinked and the two countries are dependent on each other’s success in eliminating polio – or held back by the other’s failings. This is why the two countries established a daily communication channel on polio in 2016 (see here) and why Afghanistan established compulsory vaccination at border crossings with Pakistan for children under five years of age. However, poor access to health services at the sub-national level, a lack of professional health staff and in particular limited access for women to health services play an equally important role in the spread of the virus in Afghanistan.

Immunisation in Afghanistan

Routine immunisation against polio, launched under the name of ‘Mass Immunisation Programme through the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), has been mandatory since 1978 in Afghanistan. This followed the global trend of mandatory immunisation against polio introduced in the 1970s. This so-called ‘routine immunisation’ against polio means that every newborn child should be given his or her first oral polio vaccine within their first 14 days of life, with four more vaccines to follow in the sixth, tenth and fourteenth weeks and a final one at nine months. However, the reach of mandatory routine immunisation, despite improvement over the years, has remained limited – because of the conflict and lack of access to health services.

According to publicly available WHO data, immunisation coverage among Afghan one-year-olds rose from three per cent in 1981 to 33 per cent in 1989. (A word of caution here: all percentages are estimates rather than hard statistics.) During the 1990s, it dropped back to an annual average of 25 per cent. The first supplemental immunisation activity, ie national immunisation days or polio vaccination campaigns aimed at children under the age of five, was launched in 1997. These campaigns, that usually last several days, have been conducted on a yearly basis since 1999. Their aim is to reach as large a population as possible and create an immunological barrier against the spread of wild poliovirus and risk of outbreaks. During these designated days, tens of thousands of polio workers go from door to door, making sure that every child under five, “including new-borns, sleeping, sick, and visiting children,” receives the polio vaccine. However, this approach has often been met with resistance and scepticism by local communities, especially since 2001, as will be explained in more detail in the following sections.

Nevertheless, the coverage of immunised children has increased over the years, from 24 per cent of one-year-olds in 2000 to 66 per cent in 2010. It rose further in 2011 and 2012, reaching 68 and 67 per cent, respectively. Progress was halted in 2014, the year when most foreign troops left Afghanistan and a presidential election was held, both events which lead to a general deterioration of security and consequently less access for vaccinators. The number of children immunised dropped to 50 per cent in 2014. In 2015, it increased again, to 60 per cent, and remained stable during both 2016 and 2017 (the latest available figures). This, however, is still too low: Afghanistan’s aim is to reach and immunise up to 80 per cent of newborns every year; this is the universally-accepted threshold for full immunisation.

Health sector shortfalls and some cultural considerations

Low routine immunisation coverage is one of the reasons the poliovirus continues to circulate in the country, said a 2011 UNAMA report. Even so, routine immunisation of all newborns, infants and pregnant mothers is only one of the strategies for polio eradication. Other strategies include: supplementary immunisation activities, surveillance, ‘mop-up’ campaigns, ie door-to-door immunisations that are carried out in specific areas where the virus is known or suspected to still be circulating and care for post-polio paralysis – part of the strategy because an infected person can spread the virus. Afghanistan’s health sector, however, is still not at the required level to systematically deliver basic routine immunisation.

Health expenditure in Afghanistan, although pretty high – 9.5 per cent of GDP according to the country’s Central Statistics Office (2) – is heavily dependent on donors, with around 75 per cent financed by foreign aid (see page 10 of this report). It is thus mainly driven by donors’ policies. For example, programmatic decisions as for major on-budget aid investment, such as the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF,  through which the Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) (see also endnote 7) is entirely funded, although it is a fully ‘on-budget’ programme,  are still made by the World Bank (see this AAN analysis on aid and poverty in Afghanistan).

The number of health workers is also too low. Nationwide, there are 2.3 physicians and five nurses and midwives per 10,000 people, 2011 WHO study found. The global average is 13 physicians and more than 20 nurses and midwives per 10,000 people. (3)

A minimum of 23 health workers per 10,000 people, according to 2006 WHO report, is required to achieve “80 per cent skilled coverage of births, one of the interventions considered by the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).” In Afghanistan, only 50.5 per cent of births are attended by a skilled health worker, as the latest available WHO estimate for 2015 shows. This is important for two reasons: it is one factor behind the still-high maternal mortality rate, which was at 396 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015, (4) and the high mortality rate of children under 5 years of age, which was 91 per 1000 live births in 2017 and; secondly, the presence of skilled personnel at birth means mothers can be informed in a timely manner about vaccination. The first polio vaccine can also be administered by health personnel. This may be why only 15 per cent of surveyed mothers that had newborns in 2015, a year when the first ever Afghanistan Demographic and Health Survey was carried out, reported that their children had been vaccinated against polio at birth. (5)

A journal article on routine immunisation coverage in Afghanistan, published in 2017 in BMC Public Health, an open access, peer-reviewed journal that focusses on the epidemiology of disease and the understanding of all aspects of public health found that, nationally, only 51 per cent of children participating in the survey had received all the vaccines included in Afghanistan’s routine immunisation schedule. (6) The survey found that 31 per cent of surveyed children had only been partially vaccinated and for the following reasons: the place to vaccinate child was too far (23 per cent), mother was not aware of the need to vaccinate (17 per cent), mother had no faith in vaccination (16 per cent), mother was too busy (15 per cent) and had fear of side effects (11 per cent). The remaining 18 per cent of mothers in the survey sample had never had their children vaccinated, mainly for the following reasons: place for vaccination being too far (40 per cent), no faith in immunisation (34 per cent), unaware of the need for vaccination (33 per cent), concerns about conflict-related security (21 per cent) and not being allowed to go to a clinic without a male family member (or mahrahm) (21 per cent).

Women’s lack of access and lack of power to make health-related decisions are detrimental to their own health and make significant obstacles for them to get their children vaccinated. 2013 WHO study on gender-sensitive health service delivery said that:

For health-related decision-making, the findings were unanimous that women cannot take independent decisions on their own health and often need accompaniment for seeking health services. The heads of households (i.e. husband, father or brothers) are the ones who make those decisions for the women and this inhibits their timely access to health care services.

It is not only cultural norms that prevent women from accessing health services. The way health services are provided in the health sub-centres in villages is equally limiting. A 2017 study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases found that, although the average availability of essential vaccines, such as OPV (Oral polio vaccine), BCG (Bacillus Calmette–Guérin, against tuberculosis) and measles vaccines were generally high (above 90 per cent) at the various types of health facilities, in the health sub-centres (HSCs), it was typically below 80 per cent. (7) The study said:

Compared with other facility types, HSCs were less likely to have adequate stock of vaccines, essential cold-chain equipment, or proper documentation of vaccination activities […] Staffing inadequacies at the HSC level, which averaged 1 vaccinator compared with 2 for other types of facilities, may hamper the ability to deliver RI [routine immunization] services. Furthermore, unlike other facility types which had an average of 1 trained female vaccinator, most HSCs had none. This could hinder compliance with immunization, especially among women of childbearing age, given cultural sensitivities.

In 2018, as a result of all of these factors, according to UNICEF, only one in three children less than a year old received a vaccine through routine immunisation.

Door-to-door campaigns

Supplementary immunisation activities, commonly known as ‘door-to-door campaigns’ have intensified over the years in the form of national and subnational immunisation days, ie short and intensive campaigns. Usually, there is more than one campaign a year (see, for example, details about the national immunisation campaign from July 2018 here; from August 2018 here: and from November 2018 here). These campaigns are intensive, massive and sometimes geographically defined, ie vaccinations are targeted at particular provinces or districts. They also come with pre-defined targets. In July 2018, for example, the target was 6.4 million children under five; in August 2018 it was 9.9 million and; in November 2018, 5.3 million.

An Afghan health worker administers the polio vaccine to a child during a vaccination campaign on the outskirts of Jalalabad in November 2018. Supplementary immunisation activities, commonly known as door-to-door campaigns have intensified since 2001 in the form of national and subnational immunisation days. Photo: NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP

However, this ‘targeted outcome’ approach also has a downside. In the past, it repeatedly resulted in dishonest services, as AAN heard from two different sources in international organisations involved in the vaccination campaign. In some instances, the vaccinators simply dumped vaccines in the garbage, but counted them as administered, in order to reach their quota. In another case, according to the sources, the vaccinators took responsibility for areas they felt were too dangerous to work in, but did not report this lack of coverage back. This was also possible because there were no means to verify the number of vaccinated children. According to the director of the National Emergency Operation Center, Dr Maiwand Ahmadzai, they managed to overcome these limitations on monitoring in 2016. Through a presidential decree, a call centre was established which used GPS tracking of phone calls. Through this call centre, Dr Ahmadzai said, almost 95 per cent of physically-inaccessible areas could be communicated with and monitored. This, however, happened without sufficient consideration that the tracking method might amount to a violation of privacy or safeguards for the data collected not being used for other purposes.

The campaigns also often cause political tensions. Although organisers regularly highlight their neutrality, see for example in the 2019 National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication, which says that the goal is to “maintain dialogue with AGEs [anti-government elements, ie the insurgents] at local, provincial and higher level on programme neutrality for polio and supporting activities” (see here), this is often disputed by the Taleban. Their spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahed, told AAN via WhatsApp that the polio vaccination had most recently been misused in Helmand, Kandahar, Ghazni, Uruzgan and all other areas where fighting was intense. “The enemy was misusing vaccinators for collecting intelligence data,” he said, adding that:

Several people were arrested, who had entered Taleban-controlled areas, calling themselves vaccinators, but actually collecting intelligence data.  Such had been appointed to identify the houses [and] residential areas of Taleban commanders and leaders. The vaccinators would leave chips [GPS tracking devices] in houses, so that the government would identify that house and locate it for targeting. This clearly shows that the enemy was seriously misusing the polio vaccination drive.

The director of the National Emergency Operation Center, Dr Maiwand Ahmadzai, said it was not easy for them to deal with these issues:

I have only a few people that I can send to these [contested or controlled] areas and who are technically able and trustworthy to us and to the Taleban […] and there are more than 50 districts that are in need of these kinds of people.

Mistrust has led to low levels of immunisation acceptance in some communities, (8) although acceptance has improved over time. The government’s National Emergency Action Plan 2019, for example, foresees a publication of the qualitative analysis aimed at understanding why people might refuse the vaccine. The government also plans to engage with media and social media to address rumours undermining the drive to vaccinate.

Nevertheless, the political tensions surrounding vaccinations still most often result in bans, which can be imposed by a local insurgency commander or at the regional level, as was the case in 2018 in Helmand, Kandahar, Ghazni and Uruzgan provinces (more on this below).

Three district case studies

1. Achin, Nangrahar province

Achin is a long-embattled district with complicated conflicts (see this AAN report). As of early 2019, most of the district was under government control. But, before that, in the 2015-18 period, the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), the Islamic State’s Afghan-Pakistani franchise, also known as Daesh – controlled most of it. The ISKP still continues to operate from mountain strongholds in the southern parts of the district. Before ISKP, between 2009 and 2015, the Taleban were in control of much of Achin. These power shifts, messy and often brutal, have resulted in the frequent internal displacement of people (see here and here) and a lack of access to health providers. Additionally, most health facilities have been damaged in the fighting. Even though, as of early 2019, health service delivery had only been hindered in ISKP-ruled areas, there are more general problems. For example, there are no female doctors in the district.

According to the WHO database on polio cases in Afghanistan, six positive polio cases were recorded in Achin between January 2001 and March 2019: one in 2012, one in 2014 and four in 2015, ie two were during Taleban rule and four during the shift in power in 2015 when ISKP captured Achin and turned the Mamand Valley into their local headquarters. It was also in 2015 that the Taleban banned vaccinations in areas still under their control in Nangrahar province. That ban included Achin, Dehbala and Rodat districts (see here). Both of these security-related factors were probably behind difficulties in vaccinating and the four positive polio cases, as this report) also found. Dr Sebghatullah, in charge of polio vaccination in Achin at the time, told AAN that he remembers that two of four children infected in 2015 were from Taleban families.

It is interesting, however, that there were no positive polio cases in Achin during most of the ISKP rule over the district, despite their strict ban on the government provided public health services. AAN research on service delivery in Achin found that the ISKP opposes both the running of health services, as well as the administration of any vaccination campaign in areas under its rule. The significant factor here may be something different, however, a doctor from Achin, Ezzat Shah Samim, told AAN that between 2016 and 2018, there had not been any positive polio cases in Achin because most of the people had fled areas under ISKP rule.

The history of positive polio cases in Achin shows the impact that lack of access for vaccinators, either because of bans or insecurity, can have on community health.

2. Nad-e Ali, Helmand province

The ethnographic make-up of Nad-e Ali district is somewhat different from Achin’s, although the communities in both districts are largely monoethnic, predominantly Pashtun. Achin is traditionally inhabited by members of the Shinwari tribe and as such is a homogenous community, albeit with significant sub-tribal conflict (see this AAN report). Nad-e Ali has a diffuse tribal structure as a result of large-scale government-led irrigation and settlement schemes that began in the 1950s. According to David Mansfield in his 2016 book A State Built on Sand (p 247), the mixing of new settlers with the original population resulted in a rural élite that is “fragmented, competitive and limited in its geographic sphere of influence.”

Nad-e-Ali communities are extremely dependent on opium cultivation. The district frequently featured as either the top or second place opium poppy-cultivating district during the mid and late 1990s. During the 2000s, opium poppy cultivation decreased, and the Helmand Food Zone project that began in 2008 aimed to replace illicit crop with licit ones. This led to the loss of income for many farming families and lowered health expenditure. By, 2018 Nad-e Ali was yet again the top opium cultivator in the county with 21,396 of a total countrywide estimated 263,000 hectares.

According to the data received from WHO, the district has had at least one positive polio case on an almost annual basis during the past 14 years, apart from a four-year break between 2014 and 2017. The number of cases was respectively: one in 2005; three in 2006; two in 2007 and 2008; four in 2009; three in 2010; up to a maximum of eight in 2011; and down again to two in 2012 and one in 2013, followed by four years without any recorded cases. A new case was registered in 2018. The increase in positive polio cases between 2009 and 2011 may have been indicative of lower incomes for most of the farming communities in the district.

There are other theories, too, as to why polio has persisted in Nad-e Ali. UNICEF’s communication specialist for polio eradication, Sayed Kamal Shah, told AAN that, of the 80 positive polio cases in Afghanistan in 2011, 11 in Helmand were transmitted by people who often go to Pakistan. According to this theory, cross-border transmission played a key role in spreading the virus. Helmand’s provincial WHO coordinator, Tahsil Khan, offered a more comprehensive explanation. He told AAN that the reasons for the 2011 polio cases were the bad quality of the vaccination campaign, the lack of cooperation from communities, fighting and the negligence of polio vaccinators and supervisors.

Cultural considerations also play a role, according to one of the interviewees from the province consulted as part of AAN’s service delivery in insurgent-affected areas research:

Because of traditional restrictions, families do not want their women going out of their homes. The people are poor, and the male members of the families are busy in daily labouring or working their lands. Therefore, a number of children have been deprived of immunisation. It is why we have polio positive cases in Helmand province.

According to the national eradication programme, Nad-e Ali’s poor immunisation record is mainly due to persistent access problems caused by insecurity. Added to this, the illicit nature of most of Nad-e Ali’s agriculture also ensures farmers and their families stay away from government-provided health services.

At the same time, the Taleban, who have controlled most of the district since 2016, do not generally oppose polio vaccinations. On the contrary, according to the respondents in AAN’s research, they recommended their own people for hire by the health department. Despite this, the Taleban have imposed occasional bans on immunisation, the most recent one, between May and December 2018, covered four provinces – Helmand, Kandahar, Ghazni and Uruzgan. According to Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed, the decision to ban vaccinators was made by the movement’s health commission and approved by the Emirate’s leadership and was motivated solely by security. He repeated the Taleban’s allegation that immunisation staff doubled as ‘spies’:

The enemy was misusing the polio vaccination process in Helmand, Kandahar, Ghazni, Uruzgan and all other areas where the fighting was intense. The enemy was misusing vaccinators for collecting intelligence data. […] We have witnessed some night raids and bombings in some areas where the enemy had collected intelligence information via the polio vaccination process. In such raids, commanders of the Islamic Emirate were targeted and their houses identified.

Yet, Mujahed also underlined the general need for vaccination:

At the same time, there is a serious need for people to vaccinate their children. Therefore, the [Taleban] Health Commission worked on another solution. They decided that, as every village has a mosque and a malek, so the children should be vaccinated either in the house of the malek or in the mosque of the village. This way, the vaccinators will go to the mosque or the malek’s house where people will bring their children to vaccinate them. The commission also told the people that when vaccinators come to a village, a public announcement should be made via the mosque loudspeakers. […] When it was decided, mujahiden [sic] go from village to village and inform the villagers about the new procedure for vaccinating children.

However, he said the ‘intelligence collecting’ had not been witnessed in other parts of the country in 2018, so in other provinces, health staff were allowed to go door-to-door to vaccinate children. (9)

Public health officials and other stakeholders AAN spoke to in Nad-e Ali said the Taleban plan was inadequate. They said that most people, especially women, cannot bring their children to the mosque. Because of the difficulty of getting to a central location, all parties agreed to open polio vaccination centres in each village on 25 February 2019, when the last polio campaign resumed in Nad-e Ali.

Nad-e Ali district is an example of how polio-related politics in Afghanistan work and the array of actors involved. It is also interesting that the Taleban sometimes take a regional approach in their health-related decision-making and that bans are not left only to the will of the local commander, as was the case in Dasht-e Archi in Kunduz province in 2017 (more on which below). It also shows that polio policies have consequences. The form of polio vaccination favoured and supported by the Taleban was implemented too late for one three-year-old from Nad-e-Ali, who became the latest positive case from the district and who will remain permanently paralysed. 

3. Dasht-e Archi, Kunduz province

Dasht-e Archi, a district in the northeastern corner of Kunduz province, is almost entirely controlled by the Taleban (see this AAN report). They have established shadow sub-national governance structures, while most Afghan government officials are absent and work remotely from the provincial capital. Although the Taleban do not provide any services themselves, they have co-opted many governmental and non-governmental organisation (NGO) services in the district and these continue to run.

According to the WHO database, Dasht-e Archi had one positive polio case in February 2017. This happened after a local Taleban Committee for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue introduced a district ban on Kunduz’s door-to-door campaign between March 2016 and February 2017. There were two reasons for this ban, according to AAN sources in the district. First, the local Taleban representatives had argued that the polio vaccination was “harmful” for children and the vaccine “useless.” The second reason was security-related – the Taleban said the vaccinators took photos of their location and shared it with the government. According to WHO estimates, because of this ban, 176,000 children were unable to access the vaccination programme in 2016 and 2017. As seen in the 2016 UNAMA Civilian Casualties report, during the November 2016 vaccination campaign “50 per cent of children missed vaccination due to active fighting while the remaining half missed it due to a ban on the house to house polio vaccinations imposed by Anti-Government Elements.”

The ban was lifted after the intervention of local elders who put pressure on the Taleban, locally, to allow vaccinators to carry on with their campaign. The solution at the local level ie, between community elders, provincial government officials and Taleban shadow provincial government officials, shows how powerful and successful communities can be, if united on an issue of concern. It was essentially local elders who stood firm for vaccinations to be carried out, in opposition to the Taleban committee’s decision.


The three case studies show that local security and political context plays an important role in any successful immunisation campaign. In Achin district in Nangrahar, a complicated and often brutal conflict between three warring parties has been the main obstacle for the delivery of health services, and, in particular, the timely immunisation of children. In Nad-e Ali and Dasht-e Archi, which are also sites of armed conflict (although only between two parties) and political tensions, a combination of fighting and bans have been the main obstacles. Bans may be imposed locally (and may be resolved at a local level) or regionally, covering several provinces.

It may be that in the country’s south (Uruzgan, Helmand, Kandahar and Ghazni), bans are mainly imposed by Taleban central command, based on a strategic approach to safeguarding territorial gains and not allowing any suspected intrusion of the government’s security apparatus. The 2018 ban in four provinces for a particular method of immunisation indicates that the Taleban there may be ready to propose and accommodate different solutions to the problem of getting children immunised during the conflict, ie immunisation in mosques or maleks’ homes, rather than the more intrusive, as they see it, door-to-door campaigns. That the Taleban should want to try to accommodate polio vaccinations should not come as a surprise, as the historical records on polio immunisation in Afghanistan show that the first national supplementary campaigns were carried out during their rule in the late 1990s, when the south was firmly under Taleban control. As the door-to-door campaign has become a cause of tensions since 2001, this approach probably requires some rethinking. While such campaigns would ideally guarantee that the majority of children are immunised, they may ultimately fail if both insurgents and communities perceive them as intrusive and harmful.

Fundamental for carrying out a successful door-to-door campaign would seem to be focused interaction between government and Taleban stakeholders on the timing and planning of the campaigns to build up trust and ensure better information. The examples of the past indicate that solutions were generally found, but post-facto, rather than in a pre-emptive fashion. Even if the Taleban are not part of the discussion on the timing of national immunisation days, health providers could consider including them at the planning phase and seek their consent and get guarantees of support for the campaigns.

The eradication of the poliovirus in Afghanistan will remain a top health priority in years to come. A reduction in violence, or indeed an end to the conflict, would be the single most useful factor for ensuring success in immunising Afghan children. However, regardless of how well or badly the current talks on a political settlement go, there are still changes that could be made to how immunisation is carried out to make better coverage more likely.

The AAN series on service delivery in insurgent-affected areas found that in most districts, health services at the local level are sub-standard. Health facilities lack the basics, from a scarcity of female health workers to a scarcity of electricity for the refrigerators used to store vaccines. In some districts, health facilities have been destroyed by fighting or temporarily occupied by parties to the conflict. Especially in remote villages, health facilities may not be available at all.

Afghan women, who are the primary target group for the timely vaccination of their children, face an additional obstacle: they lack the power to make health-related decisions due to ‘traditional’ cultural norms which mean men are responsible for the decisions affecting the health of their women and children. If more women had access to skilled health personnel during child delivery then compulsory vaccination at birth could easily be achieved. However, given that education of girls is often poor in these districts as well – often because of conflict and the same conservative norms – there are not the educated young local women coming through who could become midwives, nurses or doctors. Meanwhile, women from outside the districts do not want to work there.

The reasons for the persistence of polio in Afghanistan are many, but basically boil down to several difficult-to-tackle issues – conflict, poverty and lack of women’s rights – and the geographical fact that Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to provide a reservoir of the poliovirus for the other.

Maybe it is time in Afghanistan to rethink the delivery of health services in general and consequently to mend the health of the nation, which is still characterised by one of the highest rates of maternal mortality at birth and children’s mortality in the first five years. Empowering women and educating both men and women on health-related issues through all available channels, such as through radio, television and mosques, could also be used in a bottom-up approach to achieve a society that is more gender equal and thus more equitable

* Rohullah Sorush and Said Reza Kazemi reported on service delivery in Achin district in Nangrahar province, Obaid Ali reported on Dasht-e Archi in Kunduz province, Ali Mohammad Sabawoon who will be publishing on Nad-e Ali in Helmand province, and Fazal Muzhary helped with additional research.


Edited by Christian Bleuer and Thomas Ruttig


(1) Enteroviruses belong to a group of ribonucleic acid (RNA) viruses which typically occur in the gastrointestinal tract and sometimes spread to other parts of the body, including the central nervous. They also include Hepatitis A (see here).

(2) This is not a low percentage. By way of comparison, in high-income countries, the average health expenditure is just above 12 per cent of GDP.

(3) Life expectancy in Afghanistan remains low, for women it is 63.2 years and for men a little higher, at 63.6 years. Interestingly, while in most countries, female life expectancy is higher, in Afghanistan, it is men who tend to live a little longer.

(4) According to The Guardian report from 2017, the real number of maternal deaths at birth could be much higher. The newspaper quoted an unpublished report which said that the Afghan government found an average level of maternal deaths between 800 and 1,200 for every 100,000 live births.

(5) For the 2015 Afghanistan Demographic and Health Survey, 24,395 households were interviewed, including individual interviews with 29,461 married women age 15-49.

(6) The routine immunisation schedule in Afghanistan includes: Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) against tuberculosis; a pentavalent or five individual vaccines given in one go, intended to protect against Haemophilus influenza type B (bacteria causing meningitis, pneumonia and otitis), whooping cough (or pertussis), tetanus, hepatitis B and diphtheria; oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV); and the first dose of the measles vaccine.

The interviews for the study published in the BMC Public Health journal were conducted in 34 Afghan provinces with 6,125 caregivers of children aged 12–23 months at the time of the survey who were identified as eligible.

(7) In 2003, the government of Afghanistan introduced the Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) programme. BPHS was established to improve access to healthcare services in rural areas, which account for more than 70 per cent of Afghanistan’s population. BPHS comprises several key elements, including maternal and newborn care, child health and immunisation, and communicable disease control. These services are provided through different tiers of the primary health sector, ranging from small health posts catering to approximately 100–150 families to district hospitals, which serve populations of tens of thousands of people. Health services administered through BPHS are provided on a graduated scale, with the higher tiers of health facilities providing a more comprehensive package of services compared with smaller health facilities. The tiers of BPHS facilities include: health sub-centres (HSCs) that represent the smallest and lowest levels of service delivery, with higher levels of services offered by basic health centres (BHCs) and comprehensive health centres (CHCs). District hospitals (DHs) represent the highest level of service delivery. All tiers provide immunisation services.

(8) In an attempt to confirm their suspicions that al-Qaeda’s leader was living in a compound in Pakistan, the US launched an immunisation scheme in 2011 with the objective of obtaining DNA from a resident in the property that would confirm any family link (see here and here). This event fuelled conspiracy theories about vaccines in Pakistan and Afghanistan (see here), and communities sometimes refuse vaccinations on the grounds that the government is collecting biodata.

(9) On 11 April 2019 the Taleban said that it has temporarily stopped the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) from carrying out relief work in the areas it controls in Afghanistan and it has revoked security guarantees for their staff. The Taleban said in a statement that they have found WHO staff involved in “some suspicious activities” during vaccination campaigns and that the ICRC failed to practically implement pledges given to the Taleban. (see more here).






Categories: Defence`s Feeds

The End of the Jirga: Strong Words and Not Much Controversy

Fri, 03/05/2019 - 21:04

The Consultative Peace Loya Jirga has ended in Kabul with reports back from the fifty committees of delegates, a speech from President Ghani and a communiqué which he said is now the government’s ‘roadmap’. Key points emerging from the jirga were calls for an ‘intra-Afghan’ dialogue with the Afghan government in charge, for a ceasefire and protection of women’s and other rights. Kate Clark, Ehsan Qaane and Ali Yawar Adili (with input from the rest of the AAN team), report on the jirga’s conclusions and ask whether it will strengthen the government’s hands vis-à-vis the Taleban.

The Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, described by the head of the organising commission of the jirga, Omar Daudzai, in his opening speech to the 3,200 delegates as “an opportunity for representatives from provinces and districts to share their views and thoughts on peace and stability in Afghanistan,” has wrapped up. It was a day later than planned – it had taken longer than expected to elect the various jirga officials which meant the main ‘meat’ of the jirga, the delegates’ discussions, only began on day 3, rather than day 2 as planned.

The delegates

The jirga’s organisers said the delegates were representative of the nation; along with MPs and provincial council members, there were also delegates selected at the district level; how free and fair those selections were is not clear or how much influence the Palace had. There should have been at least some type of voting, but reports varied on how this was carried out (see this AAN backgrounder).

30 per cent of the delegates were women. They also featured reasonably well in the line-up of jirga officials (this after a delegation of women, Killid editor and delegate Najiba Ayubi told AAN, met Sayyaf to demand 50 per cent of the jirga officials). At the end (and after elections) four out of the ten members administrative board of the jirga were women, as were 13 heads and 28 secretaries of the fifty committees (see this favourable comment by women’s activist Mary Akrami here).

As in previous jirgas, the delegates were split into committees, fifty in this jirga, and asked to consider four questions:

1. How can we convince the Taleban to participate in [an intra-Afghan] negotiation? What has not been done so far that should be done?

2. What are the values and achievements that the Afghan government should not compromise on? Why they are important?

3. What are your views on the make-up of the Afghan delegation for peace? What should be the characteristics of the delegates?

4. How should the Afghan government deal with the neighbouring countries, especially the country which is financially supporting the Taleban and providing them weapons [a reference to Pakistan]? Generally, what is your expectation from countries who are involved in Afghanistan?

The committees’ proposals

These committees then reported back at the end of day four. The AAN team monitored their conclusions as broadcast on Radio Television Afghanistan. We only managed to get three of the fifty committees’ conclusions in written form (they have not been published yet), so we could only make a ‘rough and ready’ assessment of what we thought were their main proposals:

1. Almost every committee stressed the crucial need for a ceasefire, at least during Ramadan (which begins on 5 or 6 May).

2. Almost every committee demanded intra-Afghan talks, ie the Taleban talking not just to the United States, but to other Afghans.

3. Almost all of the committees stressed that representatives of women, civil society, youth, religious scholars and academics should be part of any delegation that negotiated with the Taleban. Some also said representatives of war victims and political parties should also be included.

4. Almost all committees said that women’s rights and the last 18 years of ‘achievements’ should not be negotiated away.

5. Some committees stressed the desirability for a slow and pre-scheduled withdrawal of international troops, which should not take place before direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taleban began.

6. Some committees suggested that the United Nations should supervise talks between the government and the Taleban.

7. Some committees said the provisions of the constitution, but not the constitution as a whole, could be amended if the Taleban asked for this, but it had to be according to the procedures laid out in the constitution (i.e. through a Constitutional Loya Jirga – information on this in our backgrounder).

8. Some of the committees said a regional consensus was essential and the countries supporting the Taleban should stop doing so. Almost no committee was specific on this issue.

9. A few committees asked the government to open a political office for the Taleban in Afghanistan and demanded an end to talks behind closed doors (whether this pointed to talks between the Taleban and the US was not clear, but implied).

Today, on the final day of the jirga (3 May 2019), President Ghani delivered a speech (read it here in Pashto) saying he endorsed the committees’ recommendations and said they would form the government’s ‘roadmap’ for peace.

The final communiqué

The final communiqué was released as the jirga ended. It was composed in suspiciously well-written language for a document compiled from fifty other different documents at speed  (see the Annex for AAN’s translation of the original Dari). It does contain many of the committees’ reported recommendations, but not all, and also features items not prominent in the reports back. Delegates that AAN spoke to (perhaps a dozen out of the 3,200, so a limited sample) said they generally thought it reflected the views they had heard.

The communiqué does not challenge the Palace view of what is needed from negotiations with the Taleban. In particular, it puts the government at the centre of any talks. It also excludes by omission the idea of an interim government taking over when the president’s constitutional mandate ends on 22 May. This idea is still on the table, despite the Supreme Court ruling, two weeks ago, that Ghani’s term can be legally extended until the results of the much-delayed presidential election are eventually in. The court’s ruling is not without controversy or opposition; as we reported, most of the other presidential candidates had already called on Ghani to stand down. One delegate told the media (see here) that his committee had reached a consensus on the need for an interim government, but this had not been reported to the hall. There is no way of checking this or whether other committees may also have reached this conclusion.

The placing of the government at the heart of any negotiations with the Taleban is also a ‘Palace-friendly’ answer to the Taleban’s dismissal of Kabul as a ‘puppet government’ that is not worth talking to and to the US acceptance of the Taleban demand that it speaks directly to the US and, at least initially, without the government being present.

Some items in the communiqué were equally prominent in our assessment of the committees’ reporting back. They include the urgent need for a ceasefire, the need for an end to interference by (unspecified) neighbours and the prospect of the withdrawal of foreign troops. Common items also included the value put on protecting the rights of women and the other ‘achievements’ of the post-2001 polity, and of having a representative negotiating team. However, here, the communiqué puts the need for “jihadi personalities” at the top of the list of necessary participants in any delegation – not mentioned much, we thought, in the committees’ reporting back – and then, as an apparently separate (mutually exclusive?) category, those who value human rights, have good reputations and are expert. Women, young people, those with disabilities, academics and ulema were also necessary members.

Both committees and the communiqué thought the constitution could be amended, if the Taleban wished it, but only according to the constitution, ie through a constitutional loya jirga. The communiqué said this could only happen “after a peace agreement” (emphasis added).

Other issues mentioned by the committees did not appear in the final communiqué, for example, some committees called for the United Nations to ‘supervise’ talks. Other proposals in the communiqué were not, we thought, mentioned much by the committees; for example, the idea (made by Chairperson Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf in his opening and closing speeches) that the dispute with the Taleban lay in ‘different interpretations’ of Islam. Also not featuring prominently, we thought, in the committees’ reporting was the release of Taleban prisoners; the communiqué says the “exchange of captives and release of prisoners” could build confidence between the two parties. Ashraf Ghani, in his speech, said the government was already identifying 175 Taleban prisoners it would free as a gesture of goodwill. He also said they were ready to discuss the technicalities of a ceasefire, although it would have to be bilateral.  The Taleban, reported the BBC, have already rejected this.

Two side issues can be mentioned here, to do with provisions in the 2008 Amnesty Law, usually cited for its controversial blanket immunity for those who perpetrated war crimes before 2001 and any current or future war criminals who reconcile with the government. It specifies that parliament must choose any delegation that negotiates with insurgents (art 5). It also says that the release of detainees and persons convicted of crimes related to the conflict is only possible if proposed by the now defunct Commission for Consolidation of Peace (kamisyun-e tahkim-e suh) (art 5). (For more details about the Amnesty Law, read AAN’s analysis here.)


Depending on what the actual aim of the jirga was, it could be viewed as a success or a failure. If the jirga was aimed at projecting a united front and forging a common negotiating position with the Taleban, among those Afghans broadly supportive of the post-2001 polity (the authors were not sure how to refer to this ‘side’), then it was a failure as soon as it was boycotted by major opposition figures, including other presidential candidates, Chief Executive Abdullah, the chairperson of the High Peace Council, Abdul Karim Khalili and eleven political parties. (1)

Opposition figures and parties have said, all along, that the jirga was “a political trick” and “election campaign” (see here), aimed at strengthening the Palace position that there is no need or obligation to have an interim authority. If this was the jirga’s real aim, to project Ashraf Ghani’s legitimacy as continuing president, then it could be seen as a reasonably successful, if minor, propaganda victory.

All that having been said, however, much of the substance of the communiqué and the committees’ conclusions were not controversial. Many, from all sides – Palace, opposition and civil society including women’s groups – have been united in calling for the protection of ‘post-2001’ rights and for those representing non-Taleban Afghans in any negotiations to be representative of the country at large. As former governor of Balkh province Atta Nur Muhammad, who has shared the communiqué on his Facebook page said, there was nothing in it that has not been discussed before). Atta also thanked the participants for not allowing the government to ‘deviate’ the jirga from its course. (As of yet, there has been no official opposition reaction to the jirga).

If this jirga had been convened last summer after the Eid ceasefire put peace on the agenda, before election campaign season and before the US’s decision to talk to the Taleban, it could have been a much stronger vehicle for creating consensus. Instead, with the opposition angry and suspicious and with the Taleban already speaking to those it considers the ‘real’ power facing it in Afghanistan, the United States, the point of this jirga was diminished.

As it is, this gathering of more than 3,000 Afghans has come as US Special Envoy Zalmai Khalilzad and the Taleban were beginning their sixth round of talks in Doha (it began on 1 May 2019) and after the failure of an attempt at intra-Afghan dialogue, also scheduled to be held in Doha, on 19–21 April. The Doha talks were cancelled after either the hosts or the Taleban (it was never clear) became unhappy at the size and unwieldiness of the ‘Kabul delegation’ – 250 people who would supposedly talk to 25 Taleban representatives. Referring to this in his speech today, Ghani said that, “Mandated and inspired by the resolution of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, I will assign a negotiating team, not an army of negotiators.” However, if the Palace again tries to organise the non-Taleban side of the dialogue, the team might – if Taleban sentiments remain consistent – still be rejected.

This is not to say that the Taleban should have a veto on which Afghans they talk to, or that the US should ‘exclude’ the government from talks with the Taleban (as Ghani and many other Afghans believe it is doing). However, despite the strong intent of the final communiqué, it is difficult to see how this jirga will strengthen the hand of the Palace vis-à-vis the United States or of Afghans supporting the 2001 settlement against the insurgents.


Edited by Rachel Reid


Resolution of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga

 9-13 Saur 1398 (29 April-3 May 2019)

Taking inspiration from the holy verse (wa amruhum shura bainahum) and pursuant to decree number 162, dated 20/12/1397 (11 March 2019), of the president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, we, the 3,200 members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, including women and men, elected representatives of the nation in the two houses of the National Assembly, ulema [religious scholars], rohaniyun [clerics  and influential and tribal elders, members of the provincial councils, members of the High Peace Council, representatives of civic and social organisations, women representatives, representatives of the private sector, academic institutions, writers and poets, artists, national and civil organisations, young people, media, associations of lawyers and association of defence lawyers, registered political parties, athletes, people with disabilities of [caused by] war, families of victims from the security and defence forces, families of victims of war, representatives of  the Popular Helmand Peace Movement, representatives of refugees residing in Iran and Pakistan, representatives of Afghan experts residing abroad, Kuchis, Hindus and Sikhs, and other influential and expert groups of the society, came together for five days from 9 to 13 Saur 1397 [29 April to 3 May 2019] to present our advice on the definition of peace and setting the parameters and framework for peace negotiations with the Taleban Movement for the parties involved in the Afghan peace process.

We, the members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, representing the noble and proud nation of Afghanistan, having endured long years of war and bloodshed, poverty, deprivation, migration and displacement; realising our religious and national obligations, the vital need of the people of Afghanistan for peace, and that honourable and durable peace does not mean only an end to fighting [but also] requires the protection of national interests, economic and social development, the elimination of poverty, bringing about political stability and regional and international consensus; also recognising the determination, forbearance, patience and sacrifices of the great nation of Afghanistan, especially of the security and defence forces of the country for achieving a durable peace and general prosperity [;recognising] the initiative of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to seek advice from the nation to end the war and bloodshed and to achieve durable peace, and the efforts of the international community in ensuring peace in Afghanistan; and reiterating [the need to] preserve Islamic principles and national values and jihad and resistance, and preserve the national sovereignty and territorial integrity, have gathered to convey peace-loving messages to the different parties involved in the Afghan peace process.

We, the members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, in accordance with the agenda of the meetings of the 50 working committees and the plenary session, conducted comprehensive discussions and agreed on the following articles:

Annex: The Final Communiqué of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga (29 April – 4 May) (AAN translation from the original Dari)

1. We, the participants in this Jirga, are determined and committed to bring durable peace to the country.

2. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga call on the Taleban Movement to, given the unpleasant consequences of war and bloodshed, listen to the voice of this great mass of people who represent every corner of Afghanistan and denounce animosity and participate in the building up and prosperity of their homeland. War does not have a winner and peace does not have a loser.

3. One of the big factors of war in Afghanistan is different perceptions and interpretations of the religion of Islam. Members of the Consultative Peace Jirga suggest to the government, the Taleban and religious scholars to unify their perspective on the interpretation of Islam and pave the way for national unity and accord.

4. The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taleban Movement should accept the voice of the absolute majority of Afghans and declare an immediate and permanent ceasefire from the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan of this year and implement it across the country in order to respect the will of the people, honour the holy month of Ramadan, end violence, build confidence between the two parties, and put an end to the negative propaganda.

5. The Islamic Republic system is the great achievement of the people of Afghanistan and is the outcome of years of sacrifices and endeavours. Establishment and consolidation of peace in Afghanistan should be achieved by protecting the type of the system (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) and through a direct negotiation channel.

6. The current constitution of Afghanistan is a national and invaluable document for the people of Afghanistan which should be preserved; but if needed, an amendment to some of its articles through principled and favourite mechanisms [envisaged] in this law is possible, after a peace agreement.

7. The fundamental rights of the citizens, enshrined in the constitution of Afghanistan, including the rights of women and children, political and civil right to participation, the right to freedom of expression, the right to education and labour, the right to access public services as well as the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, people with disability, heirs of martyrs, as the fundamental pillars of consolidation of peace, should be preserved and strengthened in the peace process

8. The security and defence forces are the pride of the country. Consolidation and continuation of durable peace require strong national security and defence forces. Therefore, the people of Afghanistan, through this Jirga, emphasise on protection and strengthening of these institutions.

9. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga request the warring parties and the countries involved in the Afghan peace process to, through understanding and collaboration, paving the way for opening the political office of the Taleban in Afghanistan.

10. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga call on the government of Afghanistan to, in close coordination with the international community and after understanding among all factions (parties) involved in the peace process, and to preserve the values and achievements of close to two decades, prepare a feasible timetable for responsible exit of foreign forces from Afghanistan

11. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga call on the government of Afghanistan, all political parties and currents and effective national personalities to use the currently available opportunities to build a domestic national and political consensus at this historical and critical situation to advance the peace process and enter into peace negotiations from a single and Afghanistan-wide address.

12. All the involved parties should avoid preconditions that restrict the ground for the beginning of direct negotiations.

13. All parties involved should treat the captives and prisoners of the other in an Islamic spirit and with good behaviour and take actions, using constructive and flexible methods, [aiming at] the exchange of captives and release of prisoners for the purpose of further building confidence and goodwill between the two parties.

14. In order to achieve durable peace, regional and international consensus is imperative and vital. Therefore, members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga call on the regional and trans-regional countries and the international community to coordinate their efforts to establish peace in Afghanistan with the government and put the role of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan at the centre of their initiatives and efforts.

15. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga call on the government to emphasise, in all negotiations and talks, a policy of good neighbourliness with the countries of the region and the neighbours. If there is continued interference by the regional countries or some of the neighbours in the affairs of Afghanistan, [the government should] formally lodge the complaint of the people of Afghanistan with the UN Security Council.

16. The government should, in consultation with influential national, political and social ‘addresses’ [influential people or groups], develop and enforce a comprehensive and all-inclusive plan for accelerating the peace process and beginning direct negotiations with the Taleban Movement, in considering of the advice of this jirga.

17. Realising the urgent need for an impartial body to facilitate the peace process, members of this Jirga recognise that, for the purpose of making the High Peace Council transparent and effective, fundamental reforms to the structure, organisation and performance of this Council should be carried out.

18. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, considering the past experiences, advise that the negotiating team be formed of jihadi personalities and [those who are] national, expert, experienced, have good reputations, are committed to human rights values and are peace-loving, with a manageable composition (maximum 50 people); [it should be formed] considering the ethnic balance and the presence of learned ulema, tribal elders, women, young people, the families of victims, people with disabilities, minorities, representatives of civil society, refugees, the media, Kuchis and of different classes and strata of the society, including some of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga members.

19. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga ask the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to, for the purpose of facilitating and accelerating the peace process, identify the legitimate and reasonable wants and demands of the Taleban and take necessary actions vis-à-vis them for further confidence building

20. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga commit to convey this jirga’s message of peace to their people upon return to their areas and localities as messengers of peace and to start a comprehensive effort in cooperation with local administrations, ulema, tribal elders, young people and women, so that we can play our religious and national part in the ensuring peace.

21. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga call on the government to maintain its relations with members of this jirga and with the influential institutions and constantly keep members of the jirga posted on the implementation of the jirga’s advice and the progress of peace talks and negotiations

22. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, emphasising the articles of this resolution, address the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Islamic Movement of the Taleban, the International community, regional countries and other factions (parties) involved to respect the rightful wants and demands of the people of Afghanistan and the advice of this historic loya jirga and seriously and honestly make efforts and take practical steps to establish and consolidate a durable peace and prevent the continuation and intensification of the war and [continuing] casualties among ordinary people.

23. Members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, due to the significance of this historic loya jirga, want the president and administrative board of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga to print and publish all the views, opinions and recommendations of the 50 committees in a formal document.


[1] A day before the Jirga, on 28 April 2019, 12 presidential hopefuls issued (available in Dari here) a statement announcing their boycott of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga. They said (AAN’s translation of the original Dari):

We, the 12 presidential candidates’ election tickets of 2019 and a number of political parties of the country, believe that the consultative loya jirga which has been called by the president is untimely, unnecessary and a waste of state resources. In the current situation in which almost all international partners and Afghan politicians have intensified their efforts to ensure durable peace, the government of Afghanistan wants to consult with the people now.

We believe that this jirga is untimely and in contradiction with the peace-seeking efforts.

Ambiguity in the agenda, on one hand, and non-inclusiveness of the members of this Jirga, on the other, calls to question the effort to ensure peace as being national.

We believe that any initiative at the national level in the run-up to the presidential elections is an abuse of state resources for election campaigning in favour of a particular person.

Moreover, the Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, which according to the constitution has the duty to only compare the ordinary laws with the constitution, under the influence of the government and contrary to its authorities, has recently extended the term of the president until the elections are held.

This action is against the constitution and political consensus on one hand and a serious obstacle to bringing peace and holding transparent elections on the other.

The government had better spend the financial resources used for the jirga for the victims of the recent national disasters and fighting [and] for improving the lives of our people, around 52 per cent of whom are under the poverty line.

Therefore, we, 12 presidential candidates and our political partners, will boycott this jirga and will not participate in it.

Nur ul-Rahman Liwal

Enayatullah Hafez

Muhammad Ibrahim Alekozai

Muhammad Hakim Tursan

Ghulam Faruq Nejrabi

Faramarz Tammana

Sheida Muhammad Abdali

Ahmad Wali Massud

Nur ul-Haq Olomi

Rahmatullah Nabil

Muhammad Hanif Atmar

Muhammad Shahab Hakimi

The spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah also announced his boycott, saying the jirga was unnecessary, not necessarily legitimate and would have no result. The party of Second Chief Executive Muhammad Mohaqeq, Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-e Mardom declaring its boycott said no one “will participate in this cosmetic Jirga on behalf of the party and those who will participate in the Jirga want to counter the deceits and khaima shab bazi (marionettes, puppet shows) advanced by the government as the agenda of the Jirga.” Boycotts were also announced by former president Karzai (available in Dari here) and Herati strongman, Ismael Khan.



Categories: Defence`s Feeds