Death of an Afghan strongman

November 03, 2018 09:00 pm | Updated 09:00 pm IST

The grave of former Kandahar police chief, Abdul Raziq, who was killed by a guard in October.

The grave of former Kandahar police chief, Abdul Raziq, who was killed by a guard in October.

Afghanistan concluded its much-delayed parliamentary election on October 27, amid insurgent attacks and logistical delays. More than 2,500 candidates were in the fray for 249 seats in Parliament. The final polling was held in the southern province of Kandahar, which saw a massive voter turnout despite the tense security situation.

Voting in Kandahar had been delayed by a week following an attack on the provincial Governor’s compound on October 18, which claimed the life of local strongman and police chief General Abdul Raziq. The attack, claimed by the Taliban, also targeted U.S. Commander General Scott Miller, and injured at least three foreign nationals.

Raziq’s assassination is seen as a significant game changer by many political analysts. Raziq, backed by U.S. forces, was credited with keeping the Taliban in check in the south. Despite several allegations of human rights violations and drug trafficking, Raziq, who held the title of a provincial police chief, remained a dominant power in Kandahar and surrounding provinces. “[Raziq’s] rule drove the insurgency, but also contained it. Kandahar, under his watch, especially in recent years, has been relatively stable,” noted Thomas Ruttig, co-director of Afghan Analyst Network. He predicts a grim future for stability in southern Afghanistan after Raziq’s death. “The death of [Raziq] could reduce the southern region to turmoil,” he warned, adding that an imminent Taliban attack on Kandahar city could be ruled out.

The assassination of Abdul Raziq, the Kandahar police chief credited with containing the Taliban insurgency in southern Afghanistan, could prove to be a game changer in the conflict

Mr. Ruttig’s assessment of the deteriorating security has echoed in a cross section of Afghan society. “Gen. Raziq was a great commander who watched over Kandahar for more than a decade and was more effective than any other military entity,” a 28-year-old Kandahar-based civil activist said, on the condition of anonymity.

“He kept a close eye on every security detail of the province and had developed strong relations with tribal elders and leaders,” he said, adding that Raziq’s loss was not just a military setback but could also create a political vacuum.

Environment of fear

Raziq was known to micro-manage security affairs in the south, and had evaded several assassination attempts, mostly by the Taliban. “With Raziq gone, there is an environment of fear and dread among the locals who are vulnerable to insurgent attacks. They feel they are now exposed to increased instability and insecurity,” said the activist.

Expecting such attacks on the polling day, the Ministry of Interior had deployed an additional 6,000 forces to the province to ensure smooth electoral process. There were no reports of major security incidents. However, there were several allegations of fraud and armed gunmen of some of the candidates putting pressure on voters. Complaints have been registered with the Independent Election Commission and are under investigation.

Despite security threats and reports of fraud, an estimated 2,04,000 Afghans cast their votes in Kandahar, to chose 11 parliamentarians from 112 candidates. Preliminary results are expected to be announced on November 10, according to the Election Commission.

“I voted because I belong to this country and it was needed of me,” said Mohammad Sadiq, a resident of Kandahar city who came out to vote. “If we don’t participate in the democratic process, it will provide insurgents a moral boost. My vote is a slap on the face of the insurgents. We have to show that we can never be broken,” he said.

Ruchi Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul.

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