Suicide attack in Afghanistan's north signals broader reach of Taliban
An Afghan Taliban suicide bomber killed at least 31 people today in Afghanistan's northern Kunduz Province. The north has long been devoid of the Taliban's influence.
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After spending nearly a quarter of a century in a refugee camp in Pakistan, Mr. Zahir decided to return to his home in the north of Afghanistan. The United Nations assured him and other villagers that the government would help them with the resettlement process.Skip to next paragraph
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When they arrived, the district governor urged them to stay the night in a compound before returning to their village in the morning. Unbeknownst to them, the compound was a prison, and the refugees say that the district governor and Kazikabeer, an Uzbek warlord, kept them locked in it for more than a month, daily threatening them and telling them to leave the province.
In their absence, Mr. Kazikabeer had divided up the Pashtun refugees’ land among his supporters, none of whom intended to return it to the original owners.
Four years after their unwelcome return, the refugees are free to come and go from the prison, but with no place else to go, they now live in the jailhouse. A government court ordered the return of their lands about eight months ago, but the local government says it is unable to enforce the decision.
“If this situation continues much longer, I think all of us will be forced to fight the government,” says Zahir. “I believe that Pashtuns all over the north have faced the same situation and that is why they’re now in the Taliban.”
Local militias rise to protect ethnic groups
In addition to land disputes like Zahir’s, local governments began raising militia groups to supplement security in the region. The militias are composed almost exclusively of members of the same ethnic group and tend to be loyal to that group alone.
During the parliamentary elections this fall, Pashtuns in the north complained that Uzbek and Tajik militias stopped them from reaching the polls. Now there is only one Pashtun member of parliament for the 11 northern provinces.
“When one is ignored like this and doesn’t hold any positions in the government, the enemy will benefit from the situation and work with the minority,” says Asadullah Omar Khel, a tribal leader in the Chahar Dara district of Kunduz Province. “If the situation keeps going like this, I’m afraid there will be a war between the different parties and ethnic groups.”
Unlike the south, where NATO and Afghan government forces have experienced the heaviest resistance, the problem in the north is mostly an internal power struggle. Without serious action on the part of the Afghan government, a number of northerners say they worry that the situation could spiral down into another civil war.
“I think the foreigners will not be able to solve this problem, it needs an internal solution from inside Afghanistan,” says Mohammed Awrang, a Tajik member of parliament from Badakshan province. “The Afghan sides should try hard to reconcile with the Taliban. This is the only solution for this cancer that has overtaken our country.”