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Into Taliban Territory: The Beginnings Of The Tarbuz Guzar Militia

A group of students in Tarbuz Guzar, Afghanistan
A group of students in Tarbuz Guzar, Afghanistan
Two daughters of the commander of the village's 50-member militia, Nadir Shiekh, were with a group of schoolgirls on the street. He proudly stated that, although he and his wife had not been lucky enough to be able to study, his kids must go to school. He told the group that keeping this school open was worth fighting 1,000 battles against the Taliban.

"The neighboring districts of Char Dera and Imam Sahib used to have schools like this," Nadir noted, "But since the Taliban increased their influence in those villages, the schools were the first to be shut down, and we don’t want this situation to be repeated in our village."

In fact, the Taliban’s decision to shut down schools was one among many other factors that led Nadir and his fellow villagers to stand up to the increasing influence of the Taliban in Tarbuz Guzar. Villagers said they had felt the presence of the Taliban very soon after Char Dera fell under control of the militants.

"First, they sent a few of their members, who came and told the imam of the mosque in Tarbuz Guzar to inform people that they must deposit 1/10 of their income (mainly animal and agriculture products) to the Mosque as ushuur and zekat (i.e. alms or taxes). The announcement by the imam was enough to make people follow the order," explained Khawaja Murad, a veteran Mujahid commander and member of the local militia.

"Fear of the Taliban was so high that no one could oppose it, and while this order was being met, the Taliban announced that married couples must pay 1,000 afghanis (roughly $23) every month," Khawaja continued. "Throughout that whole time, the Taliban did not even have face-to-face contact with the villagers, but people were rushing to meet their demands without having even seen them."

From there, things began to spiral out of control.

Khawaja explained, "When the Taliban didn’t see any resistance, they ordered the imam of the mosque to form a 10-member militia force and find the means to arm these soldiers. The Taliban promised to appoint a commander for the militia. It was too much, so I called some of my long-time friends -- among them some of the local elders -- to consult on what to do about the imminent Taliban threat."

''I told them, 'If we do not stop the Taliban from taking over our village at this point, it will hurt everybody. First our school will be shut down, then you will need to send your young kids to the Taliban to fight against the Afghan government -- or else pay a large amount of money in addition to what you’re already paying. We have to make our decision now, because once the Taliban are here, it will be too late; look at our brothers in Char Dera. They let the Taliban come, just because they thought they would bring security. Security came, but now the entire village is held hostage. We can’t let this happen to us.'"

His comments were supported by the other participants, and the village council decided to contact the governor of Konduz, engineer Muhammad Omer, who was known for his support for similar initiatives aimed at stopping Taliban advances in the region. He promised to help, going so far as to say that the Tarbuz Guzar militia would be taken into the framework of the Interior Ministry’s forces.

The governor's promise helped recruiting efforts. The militia force grew from its initial five members into a force of 50 -- who unanimously elected Nadir Shiekh, former mujahedin commander and, by profession, a farmer in the same village, to lead the force.

While they are mostly ethnic Turkmen, including Sheikh, there are also ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks on the force. Most joined joined Nadir’s militia out of a similar fear of the Taliban taking over their village and holding its people hostage.

Now, because of this decision, Tarbuz Guzar finds itself on the frontline of the fight to keep the Taliban from making inroads farther north in Konduz Province. While they appear to have been successful so far, the fight is a lonely one, waged by the village’s own militia force and funded almost entirely by the village itself.

-- Muhammad Tahir

Read more from Tahir's journey:

Part 1: Arrival In Tarbuz Gazar
Part 2: The Information War
Part 3: People Politics With Rahila Qurieshi