To push back the advancing Taliban, the Afghan government has turned to the local armed militias at grassroots levels with tainted past of rights abuses.
In the wake of the US withdrawal, the Taliban are on a nationwide offensive, overrunning more than 30 districts, while the Afghan security forces claim killing more than 100 insurgents in counter-terrorism operations daily.
Key Afghan politicians with a background of anti-Taliban or anti-Soviet resistance are converging in their areas of influence to mobilize forces for a likely faceoff with the marching Taliban.
Supportive of the idea is the new hawkish Defense Minister Gen. Bismillah Muhammadi, who served as a key commander of the former Northern Alliance against the Taliban in the 1990s.
“Don't worry, we are alive, defending Afghanistan at all costs and not allowing the Taliban to achieve their nefarious goals and re-impose their illegitimate regime on our countrymen,” said Gen. Muhammadi in a message on Wednesday.
With the new defense and interior ministers taking charge this week, the process of forming “popular uprising forces” gained momentum.
“We have communicated to the ‘Jihadi’ leaders in neighboring provinces of Parwan, Kapisa, and Panjshir to provide at least 10,000 men each for resistance against the Taliban,” Noor Habib, an uprising force leader in the northern Jabal Siraj district told Anadolu Agency.
He said needs for arms and other resources would be assessed and the militiamen would be properly registered.
Similar anti-Taliban fronts are emerging in the southern as well as eastern provinces as the Taliban’s advance seems more focused on the northern provinces at the moment.
The latest observation by Long War Journal, an American news website, suggested that out of 398 districts in Afghanistan, the Taliban now control 107 while the government controls 92 and some 199 remain contested between the two. According to the population, an overwhelming majority of Afghans, nearly 12 million, live in the government-controlled areas, around 6 million in areas under the Taliban control, while some 15 million people live in the contested areas.
“The entire family of persons providing support to the Taliban would be expelled from the area,” says a declaration by the uprising forces in the eastern Nangarhar province.
“At least 200 men in Guzara district of Herat have taken up arms and are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the security forces against the Taliban,” announced the governor’s office in the western Herat province bordering Iran.
In the restive southern Kandahar province, described as the hub of the Taliban movement in the 1990s, a 100-member uprising force has emerged in the Arghandab district.
District Governor Mohammad Sharif Rasuli told Anadolu Agency that the men are well-armed and will be paid a special salary. “They will be deployed in five key areas of Arghandab, and will fight alongside the Afghan police and the Afghan National Army against the Taliban.”
Fears of militias becoming abusive force
Analysts, however, remain skeptical of the drive to form militias.
Nezam Uddin, the chairman of the Peace and Human Rights Organization, feared that without a robust regulatory mechanism, the distribution of arms and extension of impunity would plunge the country further into a deeper crisis. “The drive of forming and arming local militias in remote areas away from regulatory mechanism and oversight means anyone can exploit the situation for personal or factional gains in a lethal way,” he told Anadolu Agency.
The idea of forming a militia had previously also caused concerns among the rights group, with the Human Rights Watch calling for completely scarping the idea. It warned in a report that such militias with reduced training and potentially less oversight risk being yet another abusive power group operating outside the military’s chain of command.
“The Afghan government’s expansion of irregular forces could have enormously dangerous consequences for civilians,” said Patricia Gossman, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Instead of creating additional local forces, which are hard to control and prone to abuses, the Afghan government, with the US and NATO support, should be strengthening training and oversight to ensure that all forces respect the law.”
Fears gripped Afghanistan’s remote districts and countryside where lethal turf wars continued to drive more and more people out of their homes.
Taliban warn against forming militias
On the heels of a stalled peace process and an uptick in violence, the Taliban’s Deputy Chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar last week issued a statement to solace the masses.
"We take it on ourselves as a commitment to accommodate all rights of citizens of our country, whether they are male or female, in the light of the rules of the glorious religion of Islam and the noble traditions of the Afghan society," he said in a statement, vowing to establish a "genuine Islamic system" in Afghanistan.
The Taliban also issued a stern warning on Wednesday against those forming the militias.
"Those individuals who are still fanning the flames of war and conflict in the country, arming Arbakis (militias) in the name of defense or exploiting common people in the name of uprisings to maintain their illegitimate hold on power, should know that the attitude of the Islamic Emirate towards them will be stern and they will be deprived of amnesty.
"Hence, they should refrain from engaging in hostile activities and the general public should also stop and not place their children in the service of such war-mongering circles," said the group in a statement.