‘(But) the passivity of the Germans when fighting the Taliban here turned this safe area into a safe haven for the insurgents,’ complains Haroon Mir, co-director of the Afghanistan Centre for Research and Policy Studies in Kabul.
As I travel with Gaichi and his team to different parts of the district, I note how enthusiastically they are welcomed. At one point the militia stops off in the village of Qaila, where a group of elderly residents sit by the road talking among themselves.
After the usual exchange of pleasantries, the villagers thank Gaichi for providing security to locals.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
‘We’re very grateful to Nabi-jaan and his team for providing us security,’ one of the residents, Masood Ahmad, tells me. ‘But we want help from the government—it isn’t giving us any support.’
Another elderly man, Nabi Ahmad, is quick to join in with the criticism of the central government. ‘We voted for (President Hamid) Karzai hoping things would change, hoping our lives would be secure,’ he says. ‘But where is the security? If we hadn’t called them (the militia), our lives would have been hell by now.’
Of course, one of the key questions is—who finances these militias? Meanwhile, their often sophisticated arms and ammunition have left some wondering if the groups enjoy the patronage of the government itself.
In 2003, the fledgling Afghan government started a disarmament programme called the Afghan New Beginnings Programme—a three-year project aimed at collecting weapons from an estimated 100,000 fighters to help pave the way for their reintegration into civilian life. The idea was to instead put the defence of the country in the hands of a new, centralized, ethnically balanced national army.
Yet, seven years later, areas like Qalaizal are seeing the emergence of a new kind of militia. These groups are not based on ethnic lines, but are amalgamations of different ethnic groups established to protect specific villages or districts.
‘The interior ministry doesn’t have any militias under its control and we don’t have any information about the establishment of specific militia groups because we haven’t had good experiences with them,’ says Afghanistan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemari Bashary. ‘The Afghan people don’t welcome the creation of militias.’
Gaichi, a former Mujahedeen who fought with the Taliban against the Russians in the 1980s, agrees that the Afghan government hasn’t really played much of a supporting role—up to a point.
‘Our main support comes from the people of Qalaizal, and it’s through their help we get weapons,’ he says, adding that the Afghan government has provided his group with ‘only’ 17 guns. ‘But there’s other support too…The Germans know about us and they’re also supporting us by giving us blankets and such. [And] we have assurances of more support from the Afghan government.’