Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Villagers Rise up Against Taleban

Locals fight back after losing patience with militants’ hard-line approach.
By Mina Habib
  • Taleban in Musa Qala, Helmand province. (Photo: Aziz Ahmad Tassal)
    Taleban in Musa Qala, Helmand province. (Photo: Aziz Ahmad Tassal)

Villagers in various parts of Afghanistan have staged localised uprisings against the Taleban in an apparent rejection of the insurgents’ increasingly draconian actions.

The small-scale revolts came as the Taleban tried to distance themselves from the execution-style killing of a woman in Parwan province in late June, which revived bitter memories of the group’s worst excesses when it controlled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

In more recent years, the Taleban have appeared to adopt comparatively moderate policies towards populations in areas where they are present, in what looked like an attempt to win hearts and minds.

Now, though, politicians say the Taleban are sowing resentment by conducting extrajudicial trials, forcing schools to close, blocking reconstruction projects and generally behaving brutally and harassing civilians.

Nawab Mangal, a member of parliament from Paktia province in southeastern Afghanistan, described how the Taleban mounted an attack in the Mirzaka district on July 9, and local residents fought back and successfully expelled the insurgents from the area.

The Taleban had angered people in the district by taking food by force, destroying bridges and roads and closing schools for boys as well as girls.

Mangal said Mirzaka's residents did not believe Afghan government forces would protect them, so they decided to take matters into their own hands.

“The Taleban’s cruelty has become intolerable,” Mangal said. “The people have been forced to launch spontaneous actions to defend their lives and honour, as well as the interests of the region.”

Similar uprisings have taken place in other districts of Paktia including Jani Khel and Dand-e Patan, Mangal said.

He said that when he met elders from seven districts in the province recently, they told him support for the Taleban movement was collapsing. They said people in their areas believed the insurgents were working for Pakistan and aimed to destroy Afghanistan.

In the eastern Nuristan province, Taleban members have also encountered resistance. Ahmadullah Mowahedi, a parliamentarian from the province, said that when insurgents attempted to close a school in the Waigal district in June, staff and local officials first tried reasoning with them, and then assaulted them and violently ejected them from the building.

“Teachers, pupils and members of the [local] council started a one-on-one fight with the Taleban,” he said. “They beat them up, and the Taleban were forced to make their escape. They failed to close the school.”

In Andar, a district in the southern Ghazni province, residents took up arms against the Taleban two months ago and forced them out of the area after they closed schools and clinics and halted reconstruction projects.

Describing this uprising, member of parliament Chaman Shah Etemadi said there were rumours that similar events were in the offing in other districts of Ghazni.

Etemadi called on the Afghan government to support such revolts, to prevent them being hijacked by other groups.

“The people neither support the Taleban nor the government. They only support their regional interests,” he said.

In the northwestern province of Faryab, residents of the Almar district are also reported to have risen up against the Taleban, expelling them from the area.

Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mojahed acknowledged that rebellions were taking place, but denied they were spontaneous. He said those involved were paramilitaries acting on the government’s instructions and supported by “foreigners”. He also accused the media organisations of exaggerating the situation.

“If we didn’t enjoy popular support, it wouldn’t have been easy to fight against a huge number of foreign forces over the course of ten years. We have relied on God and our people,” he said. “The people have risen up against the occupation. An uprising against this uprising is meaningless.”

The government denies backing the villagers. Interior ministry spokesman Mohammad Sediq Sediqi said that while the government viewed the insurrections as admirable, it had provided no assistance.

“The Taleban want to misrepresent what is a spontaneous movement by the people,” he said. “The truth is that people are fed up with their cruelty.”

Abdul Satar Sadat, a political analyst, said the rebellions reflected the now common view that the Taleban were agents of Pakistan.

“People now believe that those carrying out actions in the name of the Taleban and jihad are not Afghans, but enemies of the Afghan people, and that they have to rise up against them,” he said.

Sadat argues that Afghans have grown less tolerant of the Taleban as they have found out more about them, thanks to better journalism and increased free speech over the last decade. As people gain access to more information, the militants’ popularity is likely to decrease further, he predicted.

“People have put up with their houses being destroyed, but when their schools were burned and public roads and institutions were destroyed, they ran out of patience,” he said.

The Taleban’s reputation was further damaged this month when the group was linked to the extrajudicial killing of a woman in her twenties, which went viral on the internet and was viewed around the world.

On July 8, Reuters news agency released amateur video footage that showed a man shooting a woman several times at close range while she sat on the ground. After the woman, identified as Najiba, collapsed, the footage showed a crowd of men cheering enthusiastically.

Quite why Najiba was killed is unclear, though Reuters said officials in Kabul blamed the Taleban. The New York Times identified the killer as Najiba’s husband, though it claimed Taleban fighters encouraged him to move closer to his wife before pulling the trigger, then cheered as she died.

Parwan provincial governor Abdul Basir Salangi told CNN that two Taleban commanders may have had some kind of relationship with Najiba, then accused her of adultery in order to save face.

The incident inevitably revived memories of Taleban rule, when women were publicly executed in a Kabul stadium.

Taleban spokesman Mojahed told IWPR that the group had conducted its own investigation, and established that its members were not involved.

Instead, he said, Najiba had left her husband and gone off to live with another man. She was “arrested” by her in-laws and her own family, while the man escaped, Mojahed said.

While describing the killing as unjustified under Islamic law, and describing adultery cases as complex matters that should take up to six months to investigate, he said Najiba was “executed out of Afghan zeal and honour, and on grounds accepted in that region”.

He also said similar incidents had been incorrectly blamed on the Taleban, and accused journalists of being biased against the group.

“The media adopt an inappropriate stance against us either because the government demands it, or because of their own personal opinions,” Mojahed complained. “They don’t publish the truth, or the things we tell them.”

President Hamid Karzai called the killing a “heinous and unforgivable crime”, while the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, described it as “an atrocity of unspeakable cruelty”.

On July 11, more than 100 people took to the streets of Kabul to protest against Najiba’s murder.

Mina Habib is an IWPR-trained contributor in Kabul.