Return of the Warlords
Image Credit: Jayanth Vincent

Return of the Warlords

 
 

It’s eight in the morning and Nabi Gaichi, or Commander Nabi as he’s known in the Qalaizal district of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, is cleaning his Kalashnikov rifle as he discusses plans for the day’s patrolling duties with fellow ‘commanders.’

Gaichi’s 8-year-old daughter, Ashma, brings us cups of tea and thick Afghani naan bread served with lamb meat as the group spends the next half hour discussing ways to expand patrols in the district.

Gaichi, 35, is the head of a 145-member strong private militia in Qalaizal—a sleepy town of mud houses interspersed with a few concrete buildings whose inhabitants, until recently, lived in fear of the Taliban.

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In the absence of an Afghan Police Force presence in the area (the case in many parts of Afghanistan) Taliban fighters were levying taxes at will and forcing villagers to grow poppies for opium production in their fields. But six months ago, a village doctor dared to defy the Taliban and was killed for his ‘impertinence’. The killing may well have been the final straw for the villagers and prompted its elders to turn to the militia for help.

‘I was working in Hairatan (on the border with Uzbekistan) before I joined this militia,’ Gaichi says. ‘I got the invitation to lead a militia from some village elders who were being harassed by the Taliban. I was reluctant at first, but felt compelled by the situation.’

Located almost 400 kilometres north of Kabul, Qalaizal is home to a mix of ethnic groups. Its population of about 100,000 is about 80 percent Turkman, around 18 percent Pashthu and also has a Tajik presence.

Today’s team of 20 men have started their patrol on Chinese-made motorcycles—2 men per vehicle—and respond quickly when one of the group receives a call on his cell phone informing him of suspicious activity in a nearby village.

The rough and bumpy road hardly seems suitable for motorized vehicles, but the bikers ride quickly and reach the location the call was placed from. They dismount their bikes and begin searching for the militants suspected of hiding in the area, but after an hour of searching decide the information was inaccurate and set off to follow up on another call.

Northern Afghanistan, particularly Khunduz Province, was at one time considered relatively safe and out of reach of the Taliban, and was one of the reasons why Germany chose the area for its reconstruction activities.

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