Posted by: Christian | August 4, 2008

Tajik Taliban?

Not quite. Tajik ACM (Anti-Coalition Militia) would be a more accurate term. Fighting against the Afghan government or foreign forces does not necessarily make you Taliban, it just serves their purposes. This news report by Al Jazeera English¹ shows a reporter interviewing ACM fighters near Herat. At first I thought they were speaking Dari/Farsi to be considerate to the reporter (note that there are Pashtun Taliban operating in Herat province). But then the reporter identified the fighters as being Tajik. [added later: I’m aware that there are Pashtuns who speak dari/Farsi as a first language out West, even in rural areas, i’m just going with this reporter and assuming she knows that, or that someone would point that out to her]

Enough talking. Here’s the report:

The main points:

  • He and his men are Tajiks, not Pashtuns.
  • The commander says his “Mujahideen of Herat” group is independent of, yet shares the same goals as, the Taliban.
  • He cites the “crusaders,” the UN and the Afghan government as his enemies.
  • He notes that Arabs are stopping by on their way east to the front lines.


The report calls the leader, Ghulam Yahya Akbari, a “former high ranking official” in the Herat government as of a year ago. The subtitles and text description refer to him the former mayor of Herat. That’s not true. [Whoops. I was told he was in charge of public works. He was, but apparently he had the mayor’s position under Ismail Khan pre-Taliban over a dozen years ago] I assume they had a problem translating the position title he provided them with. So far he has been “credited with” a rocket attack on the UNAMA office in Herat province, according to Pajhwok. A modest start, but a start nonetheless.

All beyond this is speculation and this commander is, as an individual, not very significant. But what he represents is quite significant. He represents violent opposition to Karzai and the foreign forces from an ethnic group that has always been, and still is, considered anti-Taliban. International and Afghan forces already have their hands full with an insurgency based in Pashtun, Pashai and Nuristani areas. Adding an insurgency in parts of the other ~60% of the population is an additional headache.

But while there is a “certain level” of anger towards Karzai in these communities, I suspect the overwhelming vast majority will, for the time being, want nothing to do with joining any sort of insurgency. But there are some individuals and groups who have nothing to lose and can be encouraged to join the insurgency. What we know is that Akbari was in the government a year ago and now he is in the insurgency. Why? Was he fired? For corruption? For being one of Ismail Khan’s boys? For not being loyal to Karzai? Or did he just one day have the revelation that he should fight Karzai and the “crusaders?” I’m guessing he was fired or marginalized. He claims he left the government because of its corruption.

Speaking of corruption: a photo from the obscenely fascinating slideshow on Herat’s “narcotechture.” The slideshow is almost enough to make a person join the insurgency.

The Taliban are masters at exploiting divisions and grievances within the rural Pashtun population. And they proved adept at doing the same to secondary commanders in the non-Pashtun areas from the mid to late 1990s such as Bashir Salangi, Abdul Malik and some unnamed Hazara commanders (all of whom very soon regretted their decisions). But if this report is accurate, Akbari joined the insurgency of his own volition without encouragement or support from the Taliban. That would be an even more troubling example than if he, as a Tajik, was merely co-opted by the Taliban.

At the moment their numbers are quite small. Will non-Pashtun ACM groups like the Mujahideen-i Herat grow? My opinion is that the Afghan government and the international forces will have to get much weaker before this pattern repeats itself broadly. But Afghanistan is still a very unpredictable place and there are many more factors involved than just a simple reckoning of strength by aggrieved parties. I just feel that that factor, just ahead of “conflict fatigue” and Karzai’s status as the “least worst” option, is the most important variable for non-Pashtuns who maintain, in a non-violent manner, a level of hostility towards Karzai and/or foreign forces. OK, I hate speculation. I’ll quite my musings right here.

To be continued….



(1) Al Jazeera English has been generally objective in their coverage of Afghanistan. In fact, their report from Korengal last year was quite notable considering that they fairly portrayed American soldiers in a then quite unfashionable area of Afghanistan while American networks were doing the Britney Spears/Paris Hilton 24 hour watch.


  1. FYI, ACM is so two months ago. All the cool kids these day use AAF (Anti Afghan Forces) instead.

  2. In Guzara district, where he is based, there is a Pashtun significant population. Most of the Pashtun population in that area do not speak pashto but instead speak dari. They were transplants from other areas.

    My understanding is that he was the head of the ministry of rural rehabilitation and development department (MRRD) for Herat province. i could be wrong about the ministry, but I am fairly certain he was the head of a ministerial department. That was his “high ranking position”. He lost his job more than a year ago and became upset with the government. He comments on the problems with corruption in the government but he himself has profited handsomely from it. From what I have gathered, he was upset that he lost access to the rents he collected while in the government.

    There is significant conflict in the area between two pashtun tribes – the alizai and the popalzai, although they are based in the northern part of the district while Ghulam Yakhya is in the east. However, I am not sure if he is from one of these groups. I believe it was his group that was responsible for the assassination of the district governor of guzara and his young son earlier this year.

  3. Al Jazeera encourages Tajiks to fight Karzai thats it.

  4. Not to self-hype (who am I kidding), but there was an interesting discussion about whether and how much opium policies were encouraging people to join the insurgency on my blog last year. We even touched on the Naro-tecture slide show.

  5. Google Yahya Khurdturk


  6. Wow, but there are real tajik talibans and uzbak hazara etc it’s just that the leader of the talibans is a barbaric pakistani pashtoon who works for the Americans and Pakistanis and make the pashtoon name bad :(. That’s why people catogorize the talibans as pashtoons :(,



  7. […] “Since this government took over, he has been the head of the public works department. But one of his conditions for coming back was that he would be in the mountains until they replace the governor, but this condition has not been met yet.” […]

  8. bachim qumondan merdom ra ethiram koon tufangtha belo da baz sazi afghanistan sahm biger meslee dega baradara e tajik to famidee?

  9. ghulam yahya;
    aslan mifamee chi mikune ? lowda asthey ba merdumee afghanistan may gangee , ba abroyee islam bazi munee aga girr shodee zinda na memanee baraee khobee wa zindagee tu bayath az in kara khoda khala kanee ba dowlath hamkaree ko yaha chim

  10. een imtihon-i zabon-i Farsi ast? For God’s sake dar alifbo-i Farsi/Arabee navishtee. Everybody uses their own transliteration system. I would rather reads the insults in their proper form.

    And yes, fahmidam. Even the insults, both direct and indirect.


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