What's Behind Former Afghan Warlord Ismail Khan's Public Call to Arms?

Fears of Fragmentation

Ismail Khan's idea to rearm local militias is nothing new. In fact, the United States has made it its policy in recent years to rearm many of the same militias it disarmed and demobilized at the beginning of the war. Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, Washington has spent millions on a Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program for former mujahedin, members of Western-backed jihadist groups who fought the Soviet Union and later the Taliban. Former mujahedin commanders like Ismail Khan were given high-ranking positions within the government in a nod to national unity.

But with support from the Afghan Interior Ministry, the U.S. and British militaries have changed course and trained and armed the Afghan Local Police, a 13,000-strong force that is divided into some 80 units across Afghanistan. The government-sponsored militias are intended to provide security in remote villages across rural areas where the Taliban-led insurgency is strongest. In theory, these local militias are meant to come under the command of the existing national security forces' hierarchy. But in reality, their allegiance lies with local warlords.

Evans says the biggest concern about these local and regional militias is the strain they will impose on the "institutional coherence" of the Afghan security forces. He says that strain may lead to the crumbling of the national security forces along factional, tribal, and ethnic lines.

That was the case in the early 1990s, when such a fragmentation precipitated the fall of the leftist Afghan government and led to civil war. "When you create militias alongside [the national security forces] that don't fit very neatly in their command structure, you're imposing a strain on the force that could fragment the force after the ISAF draw-down," Evans says. "Afghanistan's biggest concern is actually not the Taliban but the fragmentation of the Afghan national security forces and how that can lead to civil war."

Rumors Of War

Afghan lawmakers vented their anger at Ismail Khan during a session of the Afghan upper house on November 10. Mohammad Amin Safi, a senator and head of the Internal Security Committee, said Ismail Khan's move was "illegal" and would further destabilize the country. "The consequences of these actions will be harmful. Local people will be threatened by these militias. Weapons shouldn't be distributed by individuals. I will find out where the weapons came from because they weren't from the government," Amin Safi said. "If the mujahedin want to defend Afghanistan they should do so inside the framework of the Defense and Interior ministries."

His comments come after Mahiuddin Noor, the provincial spokesman in Herat, brandished documents to reporters on November 7 claiming Ismail Khan had begun distributing small arms to the militia. Khuwaja Shamsuddin, a former militia member under Ismail Khan who was speaking the same day to Afghanistan's Tolo TV, denied weapons had been distributed but said that "30 to 40 mujahedin units" had been inaugurated and their commanders assigned.

Daud Shah Saba, governor of Herat Province, said Ismail Khan's actions were a criminal offense and were being investigated. He said Ismail Khan began reorganizing the militia several months ago. Saba said the authorities originally mistook the militia for a civil movement but soon realized its "military and political objectives."

"We are receiving information from various villages and districts that people are being mobilized and have been promised various weapons," he said. "We even have information about their salaries."

This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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