How to Gauge Victory (in the North)

by Joshua Foust on 1/12/2011 · 1 comment

Noor TV is reporting some wonderful news from Baghlan province:

Text of report by privately-owned Noor TV on 11 January

[Presenter] The security forces in northern Baghlan have said that they have annihilated the main centres of the Taleban in that province following an operation called “New Baghlan”. According to the officials, the Taleban cannot operate in the corresponding areas of Baghlan.

My colleague, Zabihollah Payman, is reporting:

[Correspondent] At present the “New Baghlan Operation” continues in some parts of central Baghlan of Baghlan Province, but the local security officials claimed that the Taleban had been defeated in the province and they did not exist in groups.

If true, that is huge news. Of course, New Baghlan is the fifth operation to “sweep” the province this year. And many locals are skeptical that other militant groups won’t filter back in. Neither the Noor presenter nor correspondent mentioned local militants or the IMU, which makes me wonder just how many militant cells this operation actually broke up.

Of course, like all regions of Afghanistan, if you step outside the military bubble, a rather dramatically different picture emerges. Al Jazeera reports:

The Arbakai, semi-official local militias, have committed tremendous abuses in Afghanistan’s northeastern provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan. President Hamid Karzai finally ordered their disarmament last month…

In Baghlan province, too, the Arbakai have harassed locals for funds and worse. In Central Baghlan district, for example, 600 Arbakais are active. According to the source close to the National Security Council, Arbakai have raided homes at night, forced taxes on people, and killed as many as 15 individuals in clashes within two weeks.

“They have committed tens of murders in Baghlan, yet no one is able to bring them to justice,” says Abdul Shaker Erfani, member of the Baghlan Development Council. The Arbakai, he says, has turned into a liability for the government, derailing any sense of legitimacy.

“In areas under Taliban control, murders are investigated swiftly,” says Mr. Erfani. “In the government areas, unfortunately, no one asks about such murders.”

Notice how the Taliban’s ability to secure areas is compared favorably with the Arbakai’s. The Al Jazeera report goes into much more detail, including the plan, hatched jointly within Afghan and ISAF headquarters, to integrate the Arbakai into the ALP, or the local variant of the Afghan police.

The ALP are meant to be screened before being lavished with weapons and money and being sent out into their communities to make them safer. There is little indication, beyond solemn assurances, that this actually takes place. Furthermore, considering the ALP are modeled almost precisely after the Arbakai, there is no indication that the ALP won’t (or haven’t) fallen into the exact same pitfall: namely that they become a vehicle for petty thugs to steal from the local populace.

Or, as Lt. General Hadi Khaled, a former Deputy Minister of the Interior, said, “These men will answer to their own bosses, and not to the government. With their presence, law and order will be impossible.”

Victory is within our reach. I just know it.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

sayke January 18, 2011 at 12:20 am

relying on militias, whatever their name is this time around (i forget how many iterations of this dumb idea there have been), is doomed to fail. there are no shortcuts to stability. if the ANP is corrupt, we must end that corruption. creating parallel forces to the ANP solves nothing, and creates new problems on top of the old ones…

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