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The shadow of the arbaki: Taliban appeal against local militias

December 10, 2012

By Tim Foxley

Summary: The Taliban have issued a statement criticising the use of arbaki (local militia) forces by the Afghan government on the grounds of alleged atrocities committed by them.  The Taliban appeal to international human rights organisations on this basis. 

CIP, ALP, Arbaki...?

The Taliban have released a statement attacking the idea and reality of “Arbaki” – in essence the recruitment of local militia units where the Afghan National Security Forces cannot reach.  The Taliban provide a detailed list of atrocities and human rights abuses allegedly attributable to Arbaki groups and call upon international Human Rights organisations to protest and investigate.

Taliban website statement, 10 December 2012:

“Ever since the process of ‘Arbaki’ was initiated about 2 years ago where a number of gangs were armed by the foreign Taliban flaginvaders throughout the country, the daily life of most Afghans has largely been negatively affected in many of those parts.

Arbarki’s, most of whom are drug addicts, crooks, thieves, former gunmen, rejected family members and other knee deep offenders, have reached out to heart rending crimes in the various regions. Below are examples of some of the crimes committed by Arbaki’s in the past month regarding which we have been informed…”

Analysis and Outlook

The sense of irony as the Taliban raise human rights issues will of course be lost on them once again.  But the issue goes deeper than this.  The idea of local militias really enrages the Taliban and it has been a feature of their media campaign to which they keep returning.  They frequently link the notion of local militias to warlords and, ultimately, to the idea of a “partition” of Afghanistan.  It is likely that a combination of factors are behind this:

  • Their concern that effective establishment of militia groups will hinder their own ability to spread influence across the districts and provinces
  • The anarchy, corruption and abuses associated with Arbaki – the Taliban draw direct comparisons to the 1990s corrupt warlords – are, in Taliban folklore at least, cited as a main reason behind the formation of the Taliban
  • Criticising arbaki groups in this way is easy to do – it resonates with the memory of many of the population and is therefore – likely to play well with local villagers this time around
  • Reconciliation programmes targeting the Taliban have involved former Taliban fighters being recruited in to local police units – seen by the Taliban as arbaki or militia by another name
  • The Taliban are keen – for genuine reasons – to portray themselves  as moral guardians of the population.  Many people still remember the Taliban favourably for this phase of their existance for removing the road blocks and corrupt warlords…

Taliban flag“Today’s Arbaki’s are the exact replicas of yesterday’s gunmen, ‘Gilam Jam’ and highway robbers who have decided on looting the honor, wealth and lives of our nation; are fanning the flames of tribal conflicts; are encouraging youth towards drugs, moral degradation, robbery and are pushing the society towards total anarchy.”

“Gilim Jan” means “carpet thieves” and is a term usually attributed to Dostum’s Uzbek fighters as they looted and plundered during the 1990s civil war.  The “crimes” allegedly committed have a ring of cliché about them – they seem very stylised descriptions presented in ways that will resonate with the Afghan populace rather than incidents that can be proved to have taken place:

Taliban flagOn the 04/12/12 in Zhari district’s Kadal area, an Arbaki commander (Sher Agha) lost 6 of his men in a firefight with Mujahideen. A Mujahid was also martyred in this face to face fighting and his body left behind on the battle field. The said commander tied the body of the martyr to his vehicle and dragged it for three kilometers, and then he hung the body for two days in Siya Choyo Dukano area after which he set it on fire only leaving behind the bones of the martyr.

A few days later, the same Arbaki’s detained an unarmed Mujahid in the same area and after repeated torture; they brutally cut off his arms and legs before twisting and breaking his neck.

Similarly, the same commander (Sher Agha) detained an innocent man charging him of being a Taliban member in Kolak village a few days later. The body of the innocent civilian was found in a bag a couple of days later with his eyes gouged out, both of his arms and legs severed and the rest of it cut to pieces.

A few ago in Zhari district’s Nada village, armed Arbaki’s charged and detained two memorizers of the Holy Quran of being Taliban members, tied both of them between two pickup trucks before driving both of the vehicles in opposite directions, martyring both of the ‘Hufaaz’ by splitting them in two.

I don’t necessarily mean that these reports are deliberate fabrications, and the arbaki are notorious for a range of unpleasant acts, (US-funded Afghan Local Police under Scrutiny after Claims of Abuses, Infighting and also Why the Plan to Arm Local Militias Is Bound to Backfire) but that the filtering of information can get very distorted by rumour and perception.  (See here as a representative example from the 1980s).  The Taliban have an “on/off” relationship with the human rights organisations within the international community, being happy to rail against them if a report criticises them (eg UN and Human Rights Watch) for their indiscriminate use of IEDs and suicide bombers, but appealing to them if an issue is going against them.

This lack of consistency would make it very difficult to engage seriously with them, but I am increasingly in favour of the international community “calling the Taliban’s bluff” and being prepared to investigate reports when they register these semi-formal complaints in this fashion.  High risk of failure, of course, but anything that involves setting up a “joint commission” where Taliban, Afghan government and the international community have to sit down together, face to face, and work something out could be a useful confidence building measure.

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