The South Asia Channel

A new, new Taliban front?

The Taliban successfully have infiltrated northern and northeastern Afghanistan and destabilized certain areas, mainly in Kunduz province. Now, there are signs that they might attempt to push forward into mainly Hazara-settled areas in the central region. The main road into Jaghori, an important Hazara area, has been blocked, raising fears of a new economic blockade ...

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

The Taliban successfully have infiltrated northern and northeastern Afghanistan and destabilized certain areas, mainly in Kunduz province. Now, there are signs that they might attempt to push forward into mainly Hazara-settled areas in the central region. The main road into Jaghori, an important Hazara area, has been blocked, raising fears of a new economic blockade or event an attack.

The Taliban might plan an advance into the central region of the Hazarajat, one of the last areas of the country that hitherto have only been marginally affected by insurgent activities. This has been reported by Kabul-based Hasht-e Sobh daily last Thursday (‘Taleban dar pay-e nufuz ba munateq-e markazi / Taliban begin to influence central areas’) on the basis of Taliban nightletters distributed at the border of Qarabagh and Jaghori districts, in southeastern Hazarajat. Both districts belong to Ghazni province but the border between them marks the limit between Pashtun (Qarabagh) and Hazara-settled (Jaghori) areas.

The nightletters shown in the newspaper are handwritten (as they are often), carry the official letterhead of the Taliban Islamic Emirate’s Qarabagh district administration but are not dated. They declare the road linking Jaghori, through Qarabagh, with the Kabul-Kandahar section of the great Afghan ringroad closed. The traffic on this road, the quickest connection between Kabul where many Jaghori Hazaras live, and their area of origin has been difficult since at least two years but was made almost impossible in the last few months. This has forced travelers to take the detour through Kabul, Behsud and Nawur, increasing travel time between Ghazni city and Jaghori from three to 12 hours. Before, when the road was still open, travelers did not carry any paperwork with them that could indicate employment with foreign organizations and deleted phone numbers from their mobile phones before passing Qarabagh for the fear of Taliban makeshift roadblocks.

According to Hasht-e Sobh, commodity prices in Jaghori have already soared. The local population is afraid of a repetition of the Taliban blockade of Hazarajat in the late 1990s.

Most significantly, the Taliban nightletters also appeal to the local population, as Hasht-e Sobh writes, ‘not to prevent the [Taliban’s] entry into this area.’ This could be a sign for an imminent — or at least a planned — attack on Jaghori, a district that is characterized by relatively high standards of boys’ and girls’ education. The newspaper further quotes analysts who say that this might indicate ‘a new plan of the [Taliban] to expand their influence on the country’s central [mainly Hazara-populated] areas.’ This would follow successful inroads into the north and northeast of the country where insurgent activity has abruptly increased of late.

Most Hazaras had been hostile to the Taliban’s advance into their region in the 1990s after the movement that considered Shia non-Muslim had committed some mass murders against the minority group, for example in Mazar-e Sharif, Yakaolang (Bamian province) and at the Robatak Pass (Samangan). The Taliban conquered Bamian, the largest town in Hazarajat, late in their campaign that brought them control over more than 90 percent of Afghanistan’s territory in that period. It was supported by an agreement with one faction of the main Hazara party Hezb-e Wahdat, led by Ustad Muhammad Akbari (now an MP in Kabul), a rival of the leader of Wahdat’s main wing Abdul Karim Khalili (now a Vice President). Under this deal, Akbari’s fighters guaranteed that Bamian remained calm and accepted a presence of Kandahari Taieban in the town.

In the meantime, the Taliban have — at least officially — moderated their position vis-à-vis the Shia community. Mullah Omar has declared repeatedly that the movement would not tolerate any ‘sectarian’ bias. This can be interpreted as an attempt to woo the Hazara population that feels neglected by the central government in Kabul.

Apart from Qarabagh and Jaghori, Taliban activity in peripheral areas of the Hazarajat has increased markedly. Over the past months, sporadic Taliban attacks or fighting was reported from the Shibar Pass in Bamian province, from Sarepul in the north and Ghor in the West. In most of those areas, as in the Afghan north, the activity seems to origin in neighboring Pashtun areas.

Some of the most recent fighting took place in Kejran district in western Daikondi, when large groups of Taliban fighters who had gathered in neighbouring Baghran district attacked a police post not far from the district centre in the night of June 12. The attackers were repelled by the police and local forces, leaving behind 16 dead, and the fighting that had lasted a few days has for the moment stopped. Inhabitants however report that several hundred Taliban fighters are still gathered and ready for renewed attacks, particularly after reports of exaggerated violence against them by the Hazara defenders. Kejran had been attacked before by the Taliban, in November 2007. Then, they even took the district center, but apparently prepared by a deal with one of the local government officials.

An earlier attack in Ghor had also seen the congregation of up to hundreds of Taliban fighters from the whole region and seem to represent a new development in the remote areas that seem to hold little importance for the coalition and government forces. Taliban involvement also was presumed in this year’s renewed clashes between settled Hazaras and incoming Pashtun nomads in Behsud and Daymirdad districts in Wardak/Maidan province.

These activities, however, cover a large area across different regions of the country which are under different parts of the Taliban’s shadow administration. Coordination is, therefore, unlikely. If an attack on Jaghori happens, however, this could represent a major thrust of the Taleban that are well-established in the Pashtun-inhabited areas of Ghazni province.

Thomas Ruttig is the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, where this was originally published. He speaks Dari and Pashto.

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