Asked about this support, Interior Ministry spokesman Bashary admits that the government has been taking steps to shore up local support for the police and army’s broader efforts to repel insurgents.
‘In some parts of the country, people in villages are trying to stop the infiltration of insurgents in their village,’ he says. ‘This is a way of the people supporting the central government and security forces.’
Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith Militia, Director of Communications for the International Security Assistance Force and United States Forces in Afghanistan, is more forthright in admitting the existence of private militias, though he avoids actually using the word ‘militia.’Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
‘There’s always been a culture here for protecting one’s own village or compound and using that natural source of culture, the local community initiatives, they are partnering with the government to secure that area of the village,’ he says. ‘That’s a positive step to give a wider sense of security across the country, because there aren’t many forces to protect the people.’
But the case of Qalaizal begs the question as to why a once peaceful area now requires a militia to provide protection.
Zalamai Masood, a clergyman and teacher in a local Islamic school, says he has been disturbed by the gradual but steady infiltration of Taliban in his district. He blames the ‘prevalence of poverty and lack of opportunities’ for young people in the area picking up guns and joining the Taliban’s ranks to engage in extortion.
‘Tell me how much you can earn cultivating fields? Joining the Taliban gives them a chance to earn and support their family,’ he says. ‘But this is also very dangerous and the government presence is really negligible here.’
Gaichi says poverty was also the reason he picked up a gun again. He says that forming a private militia means he now has a ‘steady income and the satisfaction of protecting my people from the barbarity of the Taliban.’ His story chimes with others I spoke with while travelling in the area, including Khaleefa Naseer, another militia leader. Thirty seven-year-old Naseer told me he has eight children and elderly parents to support and that the income from his small farm just isn’t enough to support a large family.
So, is the rise of these militias in parts of Afghanistan any different from the earlier warlords who used to operate in the same areas?
Mir sees the emergence of such militias as ‘a failure of the Afghan government to provide security to its own people…this absence of the Afghan police force from large parts of the country is a potent reason for the growing clout and spread of Taliban in the country.’
Meanwhile, the residents of Qalaizal seem happy with their new protectors. Schools are functioning normally and people can go out to work freely. They don’t think—or at least try not to think—about the broader implications of relying on a private militia.
But while Afghans are living in the present, will the Afghan government and international forces be able to stop the country sliding back into its past?