Kabul Despatch | International

Afghanistan’s battle against warlords

Hazara people demonstrating against the Afghan government in Geneva.

Hazara people demonstrating against the Afghan government in Geneva.   | Photo Credit: Salvatore Di Nolfi

Kabul was brought to a virtual standstill last week after protests broke out in the western parts of the city over the arrest of Abdul Ghani Alipoor, a Hazara militia commander. He was arrested on charges of operating illegal armed groups. Hundreds of members of the Hazara Shia minority thronged the streets of the capital, demanding his release.

Mr. Alipoor was eventually released on Monday evening, but not before armed protesters clashed with the local police, resulting in at least four civilian deaths. According to sources in the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s spy agency which made the arrest, Mr. Alipoor’s illegal militias were engaged in blackmailing, extortion and arming criminals in in the central provinces.

Previous attempts to arrest him in Ghor and Maidan Wardak provinces failed and resulted in violent clashes with the local police. “The police in Maidan Wardak were attacked, five policemen captured and their weapons seized when they attempted to stop Alipoor’s illegal activities,” an NDS official said in a statement to the media.

However, the Hazara community, which recently came under severe attack from various insurgencies, sees Mr. Alipoor as a saviour of sorts. “Commander Alipoor is a leader of the people who fought to protect the Hazarajat (central Afghan provinces with Hazara population) as the government is weak and failed to protect these areas,” Hamida Fikrat, a 23-year-old protestor, said.

Ms. Fikrat and other protestors this writer spoke to insisted that Mr. Alipoor and the demonstrations were not anti-government. “He formed the resistance with the people, alongside the Afghan security forces within the purview of the rule of law, to fight against terrorists and thieves. He defended the lives of the civilians and the government,” she claimed.

In Afghanistan, where ethnic fault lines run deep, local strongmen often assume power in smaller regional centres, in exchange of promise for security. The government as well as international stakeholders have also in the past funded militia groups who have shown positive results in the fight against the Taliban.

Attempts were also made to bring the militia men under the purview of the government by reinstating the Afghan Local Police (ALP), funded by the U.S. and the U.K. The ALP sought to train, equip and monitor local militias. While the programme has seen some success, it has been widely criticised for empowering strongmen such as Mr. Alipoor who are accused of rights violations.

‘Let the law decide’

“It is not in hands of people to judge whether Alipoor is criminal or not. It is the responsibility of the court, and the people should let the law decide. If he is a criminal, he should be treated like one,” said Idrees Stanikzai, a political activist.

Mr. Stanikzai further encouraged the government to take bold steps to curb other militia groups around the country. “The government should make a list of these militias across the country and share it with the people and media. These men should be given a timeline to hand over their weapons and surrender to the government or face the court.”

However, despite the government’s best efforts, militiamen continue to find popular support in several parts of Afghanistan, owing to their anti-Taliban and anti-insurgency stand. “The country is in a very critical situation and terrorists are killing civilians and soldiers everyday. Arresting Alipoor at such a time when nearly 50% of the country has been taken over by terrorist groups, is a big mistake,” Ms. Fikrat said.

Ruchi Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 3:23:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/afghanistans-battle-against-warlords/article25643119.ece

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