“Defection” of a low-ranking government official to the Taliban
Summary: a low level government official declares he has joined the Taliban. Local issues might turn out to be a significant factor. Broader defections probably unlikely. Lets wait and see.
There is an interesting story developing from Afghanistan. The BBC report that a district governor in Sar-e Pol province has reportedly defected, leaving the government to join the Taliban:
A former Afghan senator and district governor has defected to the Taliban in the northern province of Sar-e-Pol, officials have told the BBC. Qazi Abdul Hai served as a senator between 2004 and 2008 and was later made a district governor in Sar-e-Pol. Correspondents say he is thought to be the highest-ranking civilian official to have joined the Taliban…Officials say it is unclear why he decided to join the Taliban and played down the impact of his decision. “His defection does not have any impact on his people in the district, because he was not a very influential person,” Abdul Ghafore Dastyaar, deputy governor of Sar-e-Pol, told the BBC’s Jafar Haand in Kabul. He added that Mr Hai had left Afghanistan and was believed to be over the border in Pakistan. The Taliban welcomed the move, describing it as an achievement that supports their cause and said that it was partly due to their efforts in the area. Mr Hai also appears in a video posted on the Taliban website in which he describes himself as a former mujahideen fighter and says that in his four years in Kabul he saw what he describes as “the corrupt face of the government”. Correspondents say the video is being used as an opportunity to bolster their propaganda effort as well.
In civil war and counter-insurgency theory, defections one way or another can provide an indication as to who may be “winning” the conflict. The Rand Study “How Insurgencies End” highlights defections as a key indicator of this:
The rate at which these phenomena [desertions, defections and infiltrations] occur, as well as changes in these rates, often indicate significant trends and occasionally, tipping points…
I wrote on defections just over a year ago, here and here as well. We have still not seen significant movements of numbers either way – a handful of Afghan (often local) police one way, similar number of “reconciled” insurgents the other way. Nothing that leaps out as a “tipping point”. This is billed as the highest-ranking defection to the Taliban but it would perhaps have been more significant if Qazi Abdul had jumped ship with a large group of fighters, some weapons or money (or all three). Its still quite low level and, as ever, it is a little early to make a confident assessment on what has really taken, but I suspect the intricacies of local political power rivalries may be at the root of it. Sar-e Pol is in northern Afghanistan, just below Balkh province It is not known for a significant level of Taliban insurgent activity. There is a brief biographic snippet of Qazi Abdul Hai thus:
Senator Qazi Abdul Hai Khadem, son of Murtaza, was born in 1956 in the village of Deh Surkh in Kohistanat district of Sar-e Pul province. He completed his primary education at the Hemat Primary School of Kohistanat in 1971, and his secondary education at Abu Hanifa School in Kabul in 1977. He was admitted to the Islamic law Faculty of Kabul University in 1978. Following the Communist coup in 1979, he fled to Pakistan where lived until 1981. As part of his religious duties, he re-entered Afghanistan in 1981 to join the armed resistance against the Soviets. He was subsequently captured by the Soviet puppet government and spent a year in the Sherpur Temporary Jail and at the Directorate of National Security. He was released in 1982, and again headed to the front lines in Jawzjan and Saripul provinces. He served in the Kohistanat front line until 1992. From 1992 to 1994, he served as the chief of staff in the 26th Jihadi Division in Saripul. In 1994, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general by then-President Ustad Rabbani. In 2006, President Karzai awarded him with a Medal of Honor for Jihad and Resistance. Sen. Qazi Khadem speaks Dari and Pashto and some Arabic. He traveled to Pakistan in 1978 and 1981, Saudi Arabia in 1981 and 1982, and Iran in 2004. He was indirectly elected to the Meshrano Jirga as a temporary senator. He is married and has twelve children.
Did he jump or was he pushed?
Which to be honest, doesn’t really advance our thinking much: he is a good Sar-e Pol jihadi, did his bit fighting the Soviets, spent some time in government. It may be significant that this has happened as the election manoeuvring hots up – perhaps Qazi Abdul is a casualty of preliminary electoral posturing. It may be that his reported concerns with corruption are genuine or simply that he is about to be removed – possibly for some kind of corruption/collusion with insurgents activities. We need to wait a little and see what additional snippets of information fall out of the next week or so, but I would definitely shy away from seeing this as any kind of insurgency “tipping point”.