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

Crime Increasing in the North

Three failed presidential candidates with power-bases in the region deny speculation that they are behind a sudden increase in violence.
By Wahidullah Noori

An apparent surge in the number of violent crimes being committed in the Mazar-e-Sharif area since the October presidential vote has led some to speculate that three failed candidates with strong ties to the region are behind the attacks as a way to demonstrate that their authority is needed to maintain peace in the region.


It’s an allegation that spokesmen for the individual commanders and the parties they’re associated with strongly deny.


A police official confirmed that crime appears to have increased in recent weeks, although he was unable to provide statistics documenting the size of the increase.


Some of the crimes reported include: the killing on November 2 of two farmers in the Sholgara District, 50 kilometres from Mazar, which two unidentified commanders are suspected of having committed; the discovery of a grave on November 5 containing the remains of a man, a woman and two unidentified children who appear to have been killed the previous week; the looting of a vehicle on November 7 that was loaded with goods belonging to a merchant in Gur Mar, 20 km west of Mazar; a burglary on November 10 at a house belonging to Atiqullah Samangani, the brother of the director of a power station and fertiliser factory 20 kilometres west of Mazar which police say may have been carried out by men wearing army uniforms; and the theft on November 15 of more than 6,200 US dollars from the Pakistani consultate in Mazar.


Some analysts argue that many of the crimes are politically motivated.


"These individuals are behind any crime [that is committed],” said Qayum Babak, a political analyst based in Mazar, referring to Mohammad Younis Qanuni, Haji Mohammed Mohaqiq and General Abdul Rashid Dostum. "Based on the experience we have with these warlords, there isn't any doubt that they will try any possible way to maintain their power."


Qanuni, Mohaqiq and Dostum, who came second, third and fourth respectively in October’s presidential elections, are the most powerful figures in the northern provinces and in Balkh. The militarised factions they are linked to, which have local commanders as members, have control over almost all the weapons in the northern region.


Mohaqiq runs the northern faction of Hezb-e-Wahdat, while Dostum heads Junbish-e-Milli. The northern branch of Jamiat-e-Islami is run by General Mohammad Atta, until recently a militia commander and now governor of Balkh province. Atta is a strong supporter of Qanuni, who is also a member of Jamiat-e-Islami.


Habibullah Rafi, a political analyst in Kabul, agreed with Babak.


"The warlords are involved in all cases of violence that took place after the announcement of results of election,” he said.


He alleged that the failed candidates want President Hamed Karzai to believe he can’t keep control in the north without giving them positions in the next cabinet.


Representatives of Mohaqiq and Dostum have categorically denied their involvement in any increase in crime, and have pledged cooperation with the government. A spokesman for Jamiat-e-Islami, who did not want to be named, told IWPR that “gunmen in groups involved in the crimes in the northern region are not linked to our party”.


Sardar Saeedi, a deputy of Mohaqiq, dismissed suggestions that Hizb-e-Wahdat has been involved in criminal activities in the region, calling them “totally baseless”.


"Anyone armed does not belong to our party and we are wholly a political party," he told IWPR. "Since we were defeated in the election, we have no desire to trouble people. We are just continuing our political struggle, and we are not trying to put pressure on the government via arms or power either directly or indirectly. On the contrary, we will be cooperative with the government."


Azizullah Kargar, Dostum’s deputy, told IWPR, "We are by no means involved in such matters, and these are baseless allegations that are fabricated against us. Analysts who link all [criminal] cases to us are making mistakes."


It is unclear whether Karzai will award Dostum, Qanuni, or Mohaqiq seats in his next administration.


Mohaqiq, a former planning minister, and Qanuni, the previous minister of education, told IWPR last month they were willing, if asked, to participate in the new government. Dostum, deputy minister of defence before he ran for president, said publicly said that any cabinet formed without him would be “illegal.”


General Khalil Ziayee, chief of security for Balkh province, offered two possible reasons for the apparent increase in violent crimes.


"One is indirect pressure by those [failed] candidates backed by weapons, and the second is the dispersal of armed men following the DDR process,” he said, referring to the UN-sponsored Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme that seeks to decommission the militia forces and retrain gunmen for civilian jobs or national army jobs.


Ziayee said be believes decommissioned militia commanders continue to hold a significant number of weapons and that some disarmed men have taken up arms again. He believes they may be responsible for the recent crimes.


Meanwhile, popular frustration with the power of warlords and criminal activities continues to grow.


On November 19, in the Sang Charak district of Sar-e-Pul province, 1,000 people protested against the “cruelty and injustice” of the local commander, Abdul Rahim, who was recently decommissioned as head of Division 26. Rahim, who is a member of Jamiat-e-Islami, reportedly opened fire on the crowd, wounding one person.


Residents of Mazar expressed concern about the growing level of lawlessness.


Mohammed Zaman, 28, said, "If it goes like this, one day I'll be killed too."


Shah Mohammed, a street vendor in the city, said, “This situation is frightening and we are scared."


Habibullah, a shopkeeper in Mazar said, "If thieves are able to loot the [Pakistani] consulate, then they could easily loot our shops."


He said that the government must ensure security in the city or else normal life will not be possible.


Wahidullah Noori is a freelance reporter based in Mazar-e-Sharif.