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The Killid Group

The 'Northern' Taliban insurgents

Written by Antonio Giustozzi and Christoph Reuter
Saturday, 14 May 2011 10:34

The 'Northern' Taliban insurgents

The rise of the Taliban, the self?abandonment of the Afghan government and the effects of ISAF's 'capture?and?kill campaign'. Taliban not only want to fight the Afghan government but to replace it.
Until recently, it was believed that the Northern provinces were immune from Taliban infiltration, mainly due to two reasons:
--The Taliban were perceived as a purely Pashtun movement by some foreign and Afghan analysts who thought the insurgency could only sustain in the predominantly Pashtun areas in the south and east;
--In practice, the level of Taliban infiltration from southern Afghanistan and activity of other insurgent groups remained very low until 2008, compared to the south and east of Afghanistan. Attempts by the Taliban to gain support and build cells in the so?called Pashtun pockets from 2005 onwards did not translate into military actions quickly and were rated by U.S./NATO forces and the Afghan government as a failure.
The picture changed drastically in 2008-2009 with attacks and roadside bombs and even large?scale ambushes involving dozens of fighters. The argument that the Taliban could only attract Pashtuns became controversial.
Obviously, what had looked like failing Taliban attempts to build up local structures was in fact a patient effort of systematic infiltration, reflecting a strategy to extend their control beyond their traditional strongholds in the south.
The Taliban repeated patterns of infiltration that had been utilised elsewhere in the country: they initially allocated material resources and manpower to the North, sent political agents to recruit sympathetic mullahs and appeal to disgruntled Pashtuns, and installed sympathetic mullahs in local madrassas and mosques - with visible results from 2008 onwards.
By early 2010, the Taliban had brought the northern half of Baghlan, parts of Kunduz, Takhar, Faryab and Jowzjan provinces under their military control or influence. They attacked German troops in Kunduz province and even aggressively pursued them in retreat.
During the Taliban's build?up phase, ISAF contingents in the North had followed a reluctant approach: avoid direct conflict, military escalation and casualties. When the situation deteriorated, they had no answer to the growing insurgency - mainly because they lacked political backing to pursue a more aggressive counter?approach in the European capitals.

Taliban building governance
In the grand debate concerning Taliban strategy, including whether it exists in the first place, the North bears witness that it is indeed real.
At the same time, the Taliban opened their ranks for non?Pashtuns and managed to form cells in Uzbek and Tajik areas. From 2009 onwards, the evidence that the Taliban were recruiting significant numbers of Uzbeks and Turkmen and smaller numbers of Tajiks was overwhelming. As of spring 2010, ethnically mixed groups of insurgents were reported, but as exceptions rather than the rule, in the North. The Taliban leadership in Pakistan has started to appoint non?Pashtuns as local commanders in an effort to systematically install deputy district governors and district?level military chiefs all over the north. This helped them gain strength beyond the 'Pashtun pockets'.
While Taliban recruitment among Pashtuns in the north often attracts elders and non?clerical elements, the clerical presence seems to be much stronger among Uzbeks and Turkmen. In some areas, the Taliban also have used social fault lines - for example, among the Pashtuns of Baghlan, they drew the lower strata of society towards the insurgency.
A new trend in the Taliban recruitment strategy could be observed particularly in provinces dominated by non?Pashtuns, such as Aryab, Jowzjan, Sar?e Pol and Takhar, where the Taliban emphasised a religious and ideological approach rather than an ethnic one in their recruitment drives.
In the areas they controlled and influenced, the Taliban established their shadow administration, starting in the fields of justice and taxation, followed (in some cases) by education and health, with a significant impact on the lives of sections of the population. First and most importantly, their justice system delivered quick and rather non?partisan justice through their mobile courts, normally consisting of a mullah and two assistants travelling on motorbikes. Taliban justice lacks sophistication, but offers institutional coherence: cases are decided quickly and without demands for bribes; verdicts are respected; an integrated chain of security and justice is maintained.
All of the above indicates that the Taliban not only want to fight the Afghan government but to replace it. Moving north and establishing their shadow structures strengthened the Taliban's claims to be the legitimate government of Afghanistan, a nation?wide movement, and that they are fighting for more than just a region or a particular ethnic group.
The arrival of US Special Operations Forces (SOF) in the North had a major military impact in pushing back the insurgents. The Afghan government was neither providing even the basic services the Taliban was nor filling the vacuum created by the SOF campaign that managed to push the Taliban out of areas they had recently controlled. Political calculations and manoeuvres of President Hamid Karzai and his government even strengthened the Taliban, at least in Baghlan province. The government's actions backfired when the Taliban in Baghlan suspected Hezb?e Islami of clandestinely cooperating with Karzai's government and defeated them militarily in March 2010.
A withdrawal of ISAF combat forces in 2014 - or at any other time - might facilitate a return of the insurgents. Furthermore, judged from its performance in 2010, doubts are justified that the Afghan government will be able to contain the insurgency on its own.

*This is a summarized version of the executive summary of an Afghanistan Analyst Report.


Comments (2)

  • Saturday, 07 April 2012 06:32 | Stewart
    Excellent. Some great insights. Would like to know more about the shadow Taliban administrations in different areas of Afghanistan. Why are the local non-Taliban governments unable to establish/maintain judicial systems? Lack resources? Are intimidated by the Taliban? Are simply indifferent about maintaining a judicial system?

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