After demonstrating their strength through increasing suicide bombings, car bomb attacks, kidnappings and ambushes, insurgents in Afghanistan have now taken a step forward in an attempt to weaken the Afghan government. The new step is their complete control over Afghan districts. This process began three months ago in Disho district in southern Helmand province, when reports suggested that there was limited government presence in the area.
An Afghan journalist reporting from Helmand said in an interview with Terrorism Focus on April 16 that the district was still controlled by Taliban fighters. “Now the Taliban are ruling Disho, Sangeen, Baghran and some other districts of Helmand,” said the journalist, who declined to be named. He added that “music is banned, men are not allowed to shave their beards, they cannot dress in Western style and they are forced to attend prayers in mosques five times a day.” Meanwhile, the BBC’s Afghan service correspondent in Helmand reported on May 2 that Taliban fighters have gained full control of Baghran.
The latest district target for insurgents was the central city of Ghazni’s Andar district. The district—lying some 20 kilometers east of Ghazni—came under the Taliban’s control on April 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News, April 20).
The “Taliban have forcefully banished all vehicles from the district in a tit-for-tat reaction to the provincial government’s ban on motorcycle riding in the district,” reported Pajhwok Afghan News. The government announced restrictions on riding motorcycles, claiming that terrorists use motorbikes to carry out attacks. People use donkeys and bicycles to shift patients to clinics; the government did not step in to alter the Taliban’s vehicle ban. Ghazni, however, is located some 145 kilometers south of the Afghan capital where the presence of a central government is much established. This makes it more difficult for the central government to retain control in the area.
The failure of the Afghan government to meet people’s expectations, its inability to establish strong ties with suburban people and its unclear foreign policy—especially concerning Pakistan—are the key factors that have led to the strength and spread of insurgents in Afghanistan. These factors provide more opportunities for the armed opposition groups to live and spread an anti-government ideology among the people. Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, who has now joined the peace process in Afghanistan, said that in some areas Taliban leader Mullah Omar is still know as Amir-ul-Mumenin (leader of Muslims), especially among the younger generation (Tolo TV, April 15).
These factors demonstrate that Afghanistan could become increasingly unstable. The recent announcement by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar—a former U.S. ally in the war against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the former Afghan interim prime minister—is another destabilizing development. In an interview with al-Jazeera on May 4, Hekmatyar announced his support for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s battle against the United States. Since Hekmatyar is an ethnic Pashtun, he has significant influence among the people in the southern Pashtun provinces; additionally, he has much more knowledge of Afghan beliefs and traditions. Furthermore, Hekmatyar has 14 years of guerrilla war experience against the Russians throughout the country. These factors suggest he might be a convincing leader for the so-called “holy war” by Islamic militant groups in Afghanistan.