Khost in Turmoil

Local warlord Pacha Khan Zadran appears to have fallen out with just about everyone.

Khost in Turmoil

Local warlord Pacha Khan Zadran appears to have fallen out with just about everyone.

Khost may have grabbed the headlines last week after the death of an American soldier, but for most people living here the four-hour gun battle was nothing out of the ordinary.

After months of anarchy and a stand-off between the local warlord, Pacha Khan Zadran, and just about everybody else, some people in the town now say life was better under the Taleban - at least there was relative peace then.

“The Taleban were dangerous for the world but they were better for us because they brought security. When the western forces drove them out, we were left in the middle of local conflicts like before,” said one citizen who did not want his name to be published.

US military officials said one of their soldiers was killed and another wounded when a group out with Afghan allies came under fire, about seven miles east of the town of Khost. Five of the Afghans were also killed - it’s unclear which faction they belonged to.

Later, American officials announced they had bombed a compound where Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters were regrouping.

Next to the border with Pakistan, the province has been a focus of US military operations in recent months because officials believe student militia fighters are passing back and forth across the frontier.

Meanwhile, Zadran continues to dominate the region, despite having alienated the Kabul government, his own proclaimed patron ex-king Zahir Shah, and, reportedly, the Americans. He pointedly walked out of the recent Loya Jirga and warned President Hamid Karzai the assembly’s failure to elect Shah head of state would cause bloodshed. The latter subsequently disowned him.

“All the administrations of Khost are in our hands except for the department of education. You go and ask them who they are with,” said Kamal Khan, Zadran’s brother. “And 11 out of the 12 districts of greater Paktia province are with us and under our control.”

Greater Paktia is the name given to the four Pashtun-dominated provinces of Paktia, Logar, Paktika and Khost, in the south east of the country.

Zadran was appointed governor of Paktia in the first days of the interim administration, but Karzai sacked him after fighting in April that left dozens dead. The former, though, continues to exercise control over the region - so much so that the new governor, Hakeem Taniwal, can’t get into his office, and sits in the provincial guesthouse.

”My brother was promised in Bonn (conference) his opinion would be respected in the selection of officers and governors in greater Paktia. But they’ve gone back on their word. Instead, they send governors one after another. The situation will get worse,” Kamal Khan said.

The confused situation has led to anarchy on the streets of Khost town, whose streets bristle with men – and boys as young as 12 - carrying Kalashnikovs, with no policemen in sight. Some residents have taken the law into their own hand, forming a local self-defence group, called the Qawmi Orbaki (People’s Militia).

Greater Paktia has played an important role in the modern history of Afghanistan. Zahir Shah’s father Nadir Shah took control of the country with men from the region and they also predominated in government at the time of the Soviet invasion, owing to the fact that ex-president Najeebullah came from the district. During Taleban rule, there were 10 full or deputy ministers from Zurmat, a district of Paktia.

Despite the chaos, Taniwal was upbeat, “We are in contact with the tribal council and Qawmi Arbaki. I have a group of 700 men in Khost. Pacha Khan has no mandate. It’s just a question of days before security is in my hands.”

Most residents think it will take longer than that.

Sultan Aziz Zahid is a freelance journalist in Khost.

Pakistan, Afghanistan
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