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Afghanistan: Is The Taliban Regrouping In An Effort To Destabilize?

Afghan authorities blame remnants of the ousted Taliban for a series of attacks in recent days, including one in the town of Chaman near the Pakistani border and a mine explosion in the capital, Kabul. Some Afghan officials claim that remnants of the Taliban are regrouping and coordinating their activities with other radical forces, while others play down the role of the Taliban, saying the ousted group is no longer capable of destabilizing the country.

Prague, 15 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Are remnants of Afghanistan's ousted Taliban capable of destabilizing the region?

While blaming the Taliban for a spate of recent attacks, Afghan authorities express doubt that the group will ever be able to have a significant influence on the situation in the country.

Sayeed Ishroq Husseini is the head of the Department of Political and Religious Affairs at the Afghan Interior Ministry. He tells RFE/RL that he believes the Taliban still receives financial support from various sources to carry out violent acts, such as attacks on pro-U.S. elements in the country, firing rockets and missiles on airports and government buildings, burning schools, and destroying bridges.

"The Taliban is not an organized and powerful group with a strong leadership any more and is not capable of having an impact on the situation of the region. But since the Taliban had run the country once, its leaders have connections with drug traffickers and international terror networks that now finance the group. Besides, some forces outside the country who have an interest in the destabilization of Afghanistan provide money for the Taliban."

Afghan authorities say that remnants of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network have lately been coordinating their activities with other hard-line forces, including supporters of former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

They believe these groups found a safe haven in areas around the Pakistani border and their activities have been orchestrated from Pakistan. Last week, an unknown group, which calls itself Saif-ul-Muslimin, claimed responsibility for a missile attack on the Jalalabad airport. In faxed messages sent to the Pakistani city of Peshawar, the group promised to carry out more attacks against foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Sayeed Fazl-Akbar, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Transitional Authority, plays down the role of the Taliban, saying the group has neither the power nor the ability for large-scale attacks.

"We haven't seen a single organized attack from the Taliban. There are small groups, which have no more than 15 to 20 members. Afghan forces and the international coalition troops are destroying those groups. They can only carry out terrorist acts here and there [with no real plan]."

However, it is not only the Taliban and other radical groups who are hampering the peace process in Afghanistan. The Afghan interim government, whose authority hardly extends beyond the capital, has to deal with a number of powerful warlords and regional governments.

Basir Solangi, the head of security forces in the capital, acknowledges that local warlords were behind some of the incidents, including an attack in the northern Foryob Province. Thirteen people, including two civilians, were killed during clashes between local warlords in Faryab earlier this month.

Abdul-Rashid Dostum, the deputy defense minister and an influential warlord in the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif, and Ismail Khan, the governor of the western province of Herat, are among the most powerful figures that the central government has had difficulty getting under control.

It is believed that Ismail Khan has earned millions of dollars in customs revenues, but only a small portion of the funds has been transferred to the central government. However, Din Mohammad Jurat, the head of the Public Security Department at the Interior Ministry, insists that the central government does not have any major disagreements with local governors.

"Recently, the government sent a special mission to all provinces, and we didn't come across a restive provincial governor, which wasn't loyal to the interim government. The mission visited all provinces and areas from Foryob to Khairkhona, from Islom-Qal'a and Turghundi to Vardak and Maidon. Apart from an insignificant dispute in Khost Province, every governor and local commander proclaimed their loyalty to the central government."

Jurat even denies that the interim authority has disagreements with Ismail Khan over custom revenues.

"Ismail Khan himself welcomed the mission and took them to Islomqal'a and Turghundi. He handed over all his documents and reports about the customs and border issues to the mission. We checked them all. The mission set up a weeklong training session for his border guards and custom officers. [It was the same] with Dostum, another influential commander in the northern part of the country."

Many Afghan officials share the same opinion that Afghan government forces are not capable of protecting the peace process and providing security in Afghanistan. They say that the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) and other international coalition forces should remain in Afghanistan until the national army and Afghan security forces gain enough experience in protecting their country.

Mark Whitty, a spokesman for the ISAF in Kabul, agrees.

"The Afghan security forces are developing and they will provide a basis of security within Kabul and within Afghanistan. But as you can imagine, after 23 years of conflict and after the recent civil war, that will take some time."

As far as the Taliban and other radical groups are concerned, Afghan officials say the hard-liners have no chance of regaining power because they have no support among the Afghan population.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.