Afghan leader prefers to fight Taliban his own way

AFP, PULI ALAM, Afghanistan

Sun, Oct 14, 2012 - Page 4

He took up arms after the Taliban killed his mother in a hail of bullets and inspired a local uprising that ousted the insurgents from his area.

However, Sayed Farhad Akbari, a 32-year-old construction company director, says he has refused to be co-opted into a government-sponsored police program, branding the authorities corrupt and ineffectual.

The interior ministry has arranged funding for 300 new Afghan Local Police (ALP) in Logar Province, just south of Kabul and an area considered key to protecting the capital.

According to both Akbari and a senior provincial police commander, he and his followers have been invited to join up as the government tries to capitalize on the uprising and fill a gaping hole in security.

The ALP is a branch of the Afghan National Police, with members intended to act as local security guards.

However, the program has proved controversial with critics, including Human Rights Watch, likening the force to a militia amid accusations of serious rights abuses and fears over the proliferation of armed groups.

Speaking by telephone Akbari, who has two wives and 10 children, said he fought back after a series of Taliban atrocities.

They killed seven schoolgirls from his village and closed their school, as well as killing five members of a family whose son worked for the government and also a local mullah who had called on the insurgents to stop the violence.

“They also killed my mother who was traveling from Kabul to Logar with my brother and four other people. They opened fire at their car. All the others were wounded, but my mother died,” said Akbari, from Kulangar district in central Logar. “After that incident I was fed-up and angry. I wanted to leave the country, but I changed my mind. I thought I should stay and help save my village from the Taliban.”

What started as a gathering at a mosque grew until he had the support of 50 villages and 200 armed men, with 2,000 more waiting to join once weapons are available, he said.

He claims to have spent US$160,000 of his own money to buy guns, cars and motorcycles, while local people have provided fuel, food and drink.

The uprising in Logar followed similar anti-Taliban movements in Ghazni and Laghman provinces, but those came amid fears local militia leaders were trying to reassert their authority ahead of the planned 2014 withdrawal of NATO troops.

Akbari said his group had killed 23 Taliban in three clashes since the uprising started in August, but were simply villagers fighting through necessity.

Colonel Mohammad Tahir, a senior police officer in provincial capital Puli Alam, said the same people who joined the uprising were now set to join the ALP program.

“They want to continue their mission, but they want help from the government,” he said, adding that the Afghan army and police had already been providing them with ammunition.

However, Akbari said his group had no desire to join, dismissing the ALP as “not very effective” and claiming members of the ALP had complained of not being paid for several months.

“Yes, the government has asked us to join the ALP, but we will not. The government is corrupt, they keep freeing the Taliban they arrest. The government has lost its strength and effectiveness,” he said.

With the departure of about 30,000 US “surge” troops this month the NATO footprint in Afghanistan is shrinking.

Lieutenant Colonel James Wright, commander of 1st Squadron (Airborne) 91st Cavalry Regiment, the US force currently stationed in Logar, said local police were a necessity.

“Frankly, they’re at the point now where they flat out have to do it. They’ve come to their senses that something is better than nothing,” he said, adding that the Kolangar uprising and the ALP program were at least seen as “mutually supportive.”

“They would either be recruits or help augment what’s going on with it,” he said.

However, interior ministry spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said: “We have no plans to incorporate the uprisings into the ALP. They are by the people and the people are leading it.”

NATO is trying to build trust in the Afghan government through adviser programs that target policing and the court system, but when it comes to the release of suspected insurgents, Akbari may have a point.

Of about 70 people detained by NATO and handed over to Afghan investigators in the province over the past six months, only six cases have gone to trial, said Navy Lieutenant Anthony Sham, part of a two-man rule-of-law team based near Puli Alam.

There have been no convictions.

“There’s a lot of things we see in the Afghan system that we deem as corrupt and sometimes they deem as cultural,” Sham said.

“One of the big things we see in Logar is not necessarily payment to get somebody out of jail, but people vouching for each other, somebody in a position of leadership saying: ‘No, this detainee is a good person.’”

Having lost faith in the government, Akbari prefers to tackle the Taliban himself and he said he had heard of three other areas of Logar where people were preparing to rise up.

“We are not against Islam, we are against those who misuse Islam for their own benefit and terrorize people,” he said.

“The area is now cleared. We are also helping young boys who study and get brainwashed in Taliban madrasahs to come and study in our schools,” he added.