Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, January 20th, 2019

Security Assessment and the Transition in Balkh


Security Assessment and  the Transition in Balkh

People are still in shockwave after the assassination of General Daud Daud, Police Chief for Northern Zone. It has not only deep psychological impact on the security perspective of people in the North, but also insecurity has deteriorated since. Cases of murders and crimes have increased in Mazar-e-Sharif city. The other day when I was passing by a busy square early in the morning, a mine blast rocked the city, luckily no one was killed except some injured. The news spread fast, further scaring the already low security confidence of people. Such blasts are rare in Mazar city, where people credit Governor Ata Muhammad Noor for the relative security and development.

Nobody knows where the investigation of Daud's death has reached, or if there was such a thing at all. There were serious questions of security breach inside the Takhar Governor's compound. Who changed the venue of that meeting in the morning, which was supposed to be held at the PRT compound? If not the Interior Ministry from Kabul, at least Governor Ata himself should have ordered a thorough investigation. The impact of Daud's assassination is visible in the increasing sense of insecurity among people in the North. Governor Ata has limited his public appearances. In events where he used to give speeches previously, now written messages are read or a representative sent. He rarely goes to events outside his compound, and all officials visiting him must go without arms. His guards are close aides, and common soldiers from security forces are not fully trusted. In such an environment, you can imagine the concerns of a common person.

Officials in Kabul beat the drum of transition, and Mazar is on the list of 7 areas to be transferred to Afghan security forces. The control is set to be transferred next month. In-charge of the Transition, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was here two weeks ago. In a joint press conference with Governor Ata, they 'hoped' the transition will be a success. I visited many districts of Balkh Province during the past week. The general sense among masses is of an uncertain situation and fear of insecurity.

Previously there had been reports of insecurity and Taliban influence in four districts of Balkh including the ancient town of Balkh, Charbolak, Chemtal and Sholgara. But now incidents of insurgent insecurity have gripped Kaldar, Dawlatabad, Shor Tepa and Nahr Shahi districts also.

For instance, In Kaldar district of Balkh, which borders Uzbekistan, Taliban almost rule at night. Insurgents have ordered the telecommunication companies to shut down their signals at night; otherwise their towers would be blown up. The companies abide by this and cell phones do not work at night.

A friend of mine, who works for a Non-Governmental Organization, says he has been receiving calls from a Mullah Jabbar introducing himself as a Taliban commander in Mazar, and asking to leave the job with the NGO. According to Taliban spokesman, their shadow governor for Balkh is Mullah Abdul Karim, son of Mullah Abdul Jabbar. It's not clear if the Jabbars are the same.
My friend says Mullah Jabbar asks him to join Taliban as an informant in Kaldar District and he will get paid in dollars more than that of his NGO salary. Offering him $500 a month, the Taliban commander also threatens with death if he ignores the offer. He is afraid, because already insurgents have killed his one female colleague a couple of months ago, and the NGO office was once burnt at night. But he will not succumb to Taliban threats, because being a resident of the district, he despises insurgents and don't want their growing influence.

There had been rocket attacks on Kaldar District Governor office two months ago. All those feared "Taliban" in the area are local people with commanding orders and support from other networks of insurgents in the south and southeast.

I attended sermon of a Mullah in Kaldar. It was a routine talk and he was saying wherever the Americans go; they bring more harm than good. Sermons of Mullahs are the most effective channels of spreading conspiracy theories. The Mullah was saying the US has come in Afghanistan to loot our natural resources. Giving an example, he said everyday two helicopters land and take off from a hill in Marmul District, which has been a mining place in the past. The Mullah was way different than what I had expected in such a place. He didn't talk against the Government, or about violence against foreign troops.

People traveling between Mazar to Jawzjan fear the increasing insecurity in Charbolak District on the highway. The district is known for an insurgent hideout where many incidents of armed battle between insurgents and security forces have occurred. Vehicles are stopped on the highway, and it has increased the sense of insecurity among masses.

The ancient town of Balkh District some 20 kilometer from Mazar city can easily go to insurgents if the situation gets deteriorating. During the resistance of Northern Alliance forces against Taliban advancement in 90s, Mazar fell to Taliban several times because of local support from Balkh town, which is strategic to the defense of the city. Today there is visible Taliban influence in the district.
Similarly, Chemtal District is the worst insurgent influenced in the Province. Many INGOs have phased out their operations from there due to increasing attacks. Same is the situation in Nahr Shahi and Kashinda districts. Meanwhile, incidents of insecurity have increased in Dawlatabad district too.

With above picture, the situation is bleak. Governor Ata reiterates the same reasons for the deteriorating situation. He says due to the negligence of North by international security forces, the US drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas and the military operations in south and southeast, insurgents have been moving to North. Influence of Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami insurgents is growing, and Al-Qaeda affiliated activists of Uzbekistan Islamic Movement are also in the area, Governor Ata says.

The unclear transition strategy further adds to the uncertainty of the situation ahead. Ground assessment makes it obvious that Afghan forces are not fully capable of security control. In none of the abovementioned districts, there is enough number of police deployed. Given this, there is no risk calculation in the transition strategy. Let's suppose after months of security transfer, the situation gets out of control and Balkh becomes the other Kunduz, what will be the choice for international security forces? Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai can better answer this question.

Abbas Daiyar is a staff writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at Abbas.daiyar@gmail.com

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