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Carnage and Treachery in Afghan Civil War 1997-98
Taliban Regroups After US Invades in 2001

Notes: What follows are excerpts from books, documents and articles that provide contemporary and historical background for understanding today's War in Afghanistan.

A key source is "Taliban," by Ahmed Rashid,a 320-page book that is incredibly rich and informative, which includes Rashid's eyewitness accounts as well as his research. It should be noted that many areas covered in "Taliban," such as discussions with US and Argentine gas companies to build a pipeline across Afghanistan, the heroin trade and relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are not cited here and what is cited only scratches the surface of Rashid's in-depth presentation. "Taliban" was published in 2001 and in 2009 by Yale University Press.

Carnage and Treachery in the Afghan Civil War.
The Example of Mazar, 1997-98.

from Ahmed Rashid "Taliban" p. 55

Everyone expected a Taliban spring offensive on Mazar-e-Sharif, the last stronghold in northern Afghanistan of the anti-Taliban alliance which was under the control of General Rashid Dostum and his Uzbeks. During the long winter months there was growing panic in Mazaras food and fuel supplies ran out due to the Taliban blockade and the Afghani rate of exchange doubled to US$1 and then tripled as wealthy Mazar citizens fled to Central Asia.

Although most of Afghanistan's population is concentrated in the south and was now under Taliban control, 60 per cent of Afghanistan's agricultural resources and 80 per cent of its former industry, mineral and gas wealth are in the north. During the last century, Kabul's control of the north had become the key to state building and economic development. For the Taliban, determined to conquer the country and keep it united, the autonomy enjoyed by the northern warlords had to be crushed. Yet when the Taliban offensive finally came in May, nobody expected the bloody drama of betrayals, counter-betrayals and inter-ethnic blood- shed which was astounding even by Afghan standards and would send the entire Central Asian region into a tailspin.

... (General Dostum) was a farm-hand and a plumber until he joined the Afghan army in 1978. He rose through the ranks to become the commander of the armoured corps that defended the Soviet supply line into Afghanistan from Hairatan port on the Amu Darya river. After the Soviet departure in 1989, Dostum led a ferocious Uzbek militia force called Jowzjan, named after their province of origin, which was used by President Najibullah as the regime's storm-troopers against the Mujaheddin. The Jowzjanis fought all over Afghanistan, often being flown in as a last resort to prevent a government garrison being overrun.

In 1992 Dostum was the first to rebel against his mentor Najibullah, thereby establishing his reputation for treachery and political opportunism.... Now Iran, Uzbekistan and Russia who had propped up Dostum as a secular buffer against Pashtun fundamentalism, saw him as the only leader capable of saving the north from the Taliban. If there was one consistent trait, it was his deep opposition to the extremist fundamentalism of the Pashtun factions, even before the advent of the Taliban.

Mazar, once a bustling stop on the ancient Silk Route, had regained its pre-eminence as a key staging post in the now massive smuggling trade between Pakistan, Central Asia and Iran. Dostum had inaugurated his own 'Balkh Airlines' which bought in smuggled goods from Dubai, while the truck traffic to the border with Central Asia, just 70 miles from Mazar, provided him with a steady income in transit taxes and duties. Mazar's bazaars were stocked high with Russian vodka and French perfumes for the hard-drinking, womanizing Uzbek troops. But unlike the other warlords, Dostum ran an efficient administration with a functioning health and educational system. Some 1,800 girls, the majority dressed in skirts and high heels, attended Balkh University in Mazar, the only operational university in the country.

As a consequence he guaranteed security to tens of thousands of refugees from Kabul, who had fled the capital in several waves since 1992, seeking refuge in Mazar which they saw as the last bastion of peace. Famous Afghan singers and dancers who could no longer perform in Kabul moved to Mazar. It was also a city of pilgrimage. Thousands came everyday to pray at the blue-tiled Tomb of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed and the fourth Caliph of Islam, whom Shia in particular revere. Ali is believed to be buried in what has become Afghanistan's most magnificent mosque and holiest site. Near Mazar lie the ruins of Balkh, called The Mother of all Cities' by invading Arabs in the seventh century. Here, Zoroaster preached nearly 3,000 years ago, Alexander the Great set up camp and the Persian poet Rumi was born. Balkh flourished as a centre of continuous civilization and Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Islam before it was destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1220 and the focus of culture and trade shifted to Mazar.

Dostum was revered for the simple fact that his city had not been touched in the past 18 years of war. Mazar's citizens had never undergone the devastating shelling and street battles that had destroyed other cities. All that was about to change....

There was a bitter feud between Dostum and his second-in-command General Malik Pahlawan -- Dostum was accused of murdering Malik's brother General Rasul Pahlawan, who had been killed in an ambush along with 15 bodyguards in June 1996. This feud, together with fears that Dostum had already ordered Malik's murder, and helped along by Taliban bribes and promises of power, prompted Malik's betrayal of Dostum on 19 May 1997 when Malik called on the Taliban to help him oust his leader....

The Taliban moved north swiftly from Herat and Kabul. As the northern provinces fell one after another to this unlikely alliance of Pashtuns and Uzbeks from Malik's power base in Faryab province, Dostum fled with 135 officers and men, first to Uzbekistan and then to Turkey. ...For the Taliban it was a God-sent opportunity, but they had learnt little from their conquest of other cities, where they refused to share power, remained politically inflexible and would not relax Sharia law in the light of ethnic sensibilities. If Malik thought that the Taliban would give him the kind of autonomy in the north enjoyed by Dostum since 1992, he was badly mistaken. It was a deal made in hell that unravelled by the hour.

When 2,500 heavily armed Taliban troops rolled into Mazar in their pick-ups under Mullah Abdul Razaq (the man who had ordered Najibul- lah's murder), they declined to share power with Malik and offered him the insignificant post of Deputy Foreign Minister in the Kabul government. The Taliban, the majority of whom had never been in the north before, arrogantly started disarming the fierce Uzbek and Hazara troops, took over the mosques from where they declared the imposition of Sharia law, shut down schools and the university and drove women off the streets. It was a recipe for disaster in a city where a complex mix of ethnic and religious groups lived and which had remained the most open and liberal in the country.

Pakistani diplomats and ISI officers flew into the city in a bid to help the Taliban renegotiate the terms of the agreement, which was already falling apart. Islamabad then aggravated the situation further by prematurely recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and persuading Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to follow suit. The Uzbeks had been led to believe that this was a power-sharing agreement and now they realized it was a Taliban takeover. Malik was caught in the middle and his betrayal of Dostum was made worse when he also handed over Ismael Khan to them, who had been fighting against the Taliban in Faryab.

On the afternoon of 28 May 1997, a squabble broke out as a group of Hazaras resisted being disarmed. Then all hell broke loose. First Mazar's Hazaras (an ethnic group) and then the rest of the population rose in revolt. Untrained in street fighting and not knowing the maze of city alleyways, the Taliban were easy victims as they drove their pick-ups into deadends, trying to escape the withering fire from houses and roof tops. In 15 hours of intense fighting some 600 Taliban were massacred in the streets and over 1,000 were captured at the airport as they tried to flee. Ten top Taliban political and military leaders were either killed or captured. Those captured included Foreign Minister Mullah Mohammed Ghaus, Mullah Razaq and Central Bank Governor Mullah Ehsanullah. Malik's men promptly started looting the city, including the offices of UN agencies, and forced the UN to abandon the city. Dozens of Pakistani students were also killed.

Malik's troops swiftly retook four northern provinces (Takhar, Faryab, Jowzjan and Sari Pul), which the Taliban had captured only five days earlier and there was heavy fighting for control of three other northern provinces (Balkh, Samangan and Kunduz). With their escape routes closed, thousands of Taliban troops and hundreds of Pakistani students were captured and subsequently shot dead and buried in mass graves.

... Meanwhile the Hazaras, spurred on by the Mazar victory also counter-attacked, breaking the nine-month Taliban siege of their homeland, the Hazarajat. Taliban forces at the entrance to the Bamiyan valley were pushed back and Khalili's forces moved south towards Kabul, forcing thousands of Pashtun villagers to flee to the capital.

It was the worst ever Taliban defeat since they had emerged just 30months earlier to conquer the country. In ten weeks of fighting between May and July the Taliban suffered over 3,000 casualties, killed or wounded, and some 3,600 men were taken prisoner.' More than 7,000 troops and civilians were wounded on both sides according to the ICRC. Even more embarrassing for Islamabad, over 250 Pakistanis had been killed and 550 captured during the May-July period. Morale amongst the Taliban plummeted as they had also lost some of their best and most experienced front-line units.

Mullah Omar gave an urgent call for students in Pakistan to come and help the Taliban. Once again Pakistani madrassas were closed down as 5,000 new recruits -- both Pakistani and Afghan -- arrived to enlist with the Taliban. The situation for the Taliban was deemed so serious that even the reclusive Mullah Omar was forced to leave his sanctuary in Kandahar and visit Kabul for the first time to meet his commanders and raise morale amongst his troops.

...Doubts about Malik's loyalty to the alliance appeared to be justified, when in September the Taliban force in Kunduz took him by surprise. The Taliban broke out of their Kunduz enclave and with the help of Pashtun tribes in the area launched another attack on Mazar. On 7 September 1997 they captured the town of Tashkhorgan, creating panic in Mazar. As the Taliban advanced on Mazar, heavy fighting broke outbetween Uzbek troops loyal to Malik and others loyal to Dostum. Malik's house was burnt down by Dostum's troops and he fled to his base in Faryab province and then escaped to Turkmenistan from where he went on to Iran.

In a dramatic turnaround, Dostum returned to Mazar from exile in Turkey and rallied his troops to defeat Malik's supporters and push the Taliban out of the Mazar region. Mazar descended into chaos as the Uzbeks again looted parts of the city and the offices of UN aid agencies forcing humanitarian aid-workers to abandon Mazar for the second timein a year. As the Taliban retreated they massacred at least 70 Shia Hazaras in Qazil Abad, a village south of Mazar, and perhaps hundreds more. The Taliban swept through this village like storm. They killed about 70 people, some had their throats slit, while others were skinned alive,' said Sohrab Rostam, a survivor of the massacre."

p. 72

Meanwhile (in July 1998) the Taliban had persuaded Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to back them in another offensive to take the north. The Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al Faisal visited Kandahar in mid-June, after which the Saudis provided the Taliban with 400 pick-up trucks and financial aid. Pakistan's ISI had prepared a budget of some 2 billion rupees (US$5million) for logistical support that was needed by the Taliban. ISI officers visited Kandahar frequently to help the Taliban prepare the attack, as thousands of new Afghan and Pakistani recruits from refugee camps and madrassas arrived to enlist with the Taliban. Meanwhile in March, Iran, Russia and Uzbekistan began to pour weapons, ammunition and fuel into the anti-Taliban alliance.

In July, the Taliban swept northwards from Herat, capturing Maimana on 12 July 1998 after routing Dostum's forces and capturing 100 tanks and vehicles and some 800 Uzbek soldiers -- the majority of whom they massacred. On 1 August 1998, the Taliban captured Dostum's headquarters at Shiberghan after several of his commanders accepted Taliban bribes and switched sides. Dostum fled to Uzbekistan and later to Turkey. Demoralized by Dostum's desertion, more Uzbek commanders guarding the western road into Mazar also accepted bribes, thereby exposing the1,500 strong Hazara force just outside the city to a surprise Taliban attack. It came in the early hours of 8 August 1998, when the Hazara forces suddenly found themselves surrounded. They fought until their ammunition ran out and only 100 survived. By 10.00 a.m., the first Taliban pickups entered Mazar, as an unsuspecting public was going about its daily business.'

What followed was another brutal massacre, genocidal in its ferocity, as the Taliban took revenge on their losses the previous year. A Taliban commander later said that Mullah Omar had given them permission to kill for two hours, but they had killed for two days. The Taliban went on a killing frenzy, driving their pick-ups up and down the narrow streets of Mazar shooting to the left and right and killing everything that moved -- shop owners, cart pullers, women and children shoppers and even goats and donkeys. Contrary to all injunctions of Islam, which demands immediate burial, bodies were left to rot on the streets. 'They were shooting without warning at everybody who happened to be on the street, without discriminating between men, women and children. Soon the streets were covered with dead bodies and blood. No one was allowed to bury the corpses for the first six days. Dogs were eating human flesh and going mad and soon the smell became intolerable,' said a male Tajik who managed to escape the massacre.

As people ran for shelter to their homes, Taliban soldiers barged in and massacred Hazara households wholescale. 'People were shot three times on the spot, one bullet in the head, one in the chest and one in the testicles. Those who survived buried their dead in their gardens. Women were raped,' said the same witness. 'When the Taliban stormed into our house they shot my husband and two brothers dead on the spot. Each was shot three times and then their throats were slit in the halal way,' said a 40-year-old Tajik widow.

After the first full day of indiscriminate killing, the Taliban reverted to targeting the Hazaras. Unwilling to repeat their mistake the previous year when they entered Mazar without guides, this time the Taliban had enlisted local Pashtuns, once loyal to Hikmetyar, who knew the city well. Over the next few days, these Pashtun fighters from Balkh guided Taliban search parties to the homes of Hazaras. But the Taliban were out of control and arbitrary killings continued, even of those who were not Hazaras. 'I saw that a young Tajik boy had been killed -- the Talib was still standing there and the father was crying. 'Why have you killed my son? We are Tajiks.' The Talib responded, 'Why didn't you say so?' And the father said, 'Did you ask that I could answer?'

Thousands of Hazaras were taken to Mazar jail and when it was full, they were dumped in containers which were locked and the prisoners allowed to suffocate. Some containers were taken to the Dasht-e-Laili desert outside Mazar and the inmates massacred there --in direct retaliation for the similar treatment meeted out to the Taliban in 1997. 'They brought three containers from Mazar to Shiberghan. When they opened the door of one truck, only three persons were alive. About 300 were dead. The three were taken to the jail. I could see all this from where Iwas sitting,' said another witness. As tens of thousands of civilians tried to escape Mazar by foot in long columns over the next few days, the Taliban killed dozens more in aerial bombardments.

The Taliban aimed to cleanse the north of the Shia. Mullah Niazi, the commander who had ordered Najibullah's murder was appointed Governor of Mazar and within hours of taking the city, Taliban mullahs were proclaiming from the city's mosques that the city's Shia had three choices -- convert to Sunni Islam, leave for Shia Iran or die. All prayer services conducted by the Shia in mosques were banned. 'Last year you rebelled against us and killed us. From all your homes you shot at us. Now we are here to deal with you. The Hazaras are not Muslims and now we have to kill Hazaras. You either accept to be Muslims or leave Afghanistan. Wherever you go we will catch you. If you go up we will pull you down by your feet; if you hide below, we will pull you up by your hair' Niazi declared from Mazar's central mosque.' As the Roman historian Tacitus said of the Roman conquest of Britain, 'the Roman army created a desolation and called it peace.'

With no independent observers around to do a body count, it was impossible to estimate the numbers killed, but the UN and the ICRC later estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 people were killed. It subsequently became clear that along the route of the Taliban advance similar massacres of Uzbeks and Tajiks had taken place in Maimana and Shiberghan. My own estimate is that as many as between 6,000 and 8,000 civilians were killed in July and August, including the heavy casualties amongst the anti-Taliban troops. But the Taliban's aim to terrorize the population so that they would not rise against them later, was to remain unfulfilled.

The Taliban were to target one more group in Mazar that was to bring down a storm of international protest and plunge them into near war with Iran. A small Taliban unit led by Mullah Dost Mohammed and including several Pakistani militants of the anti-Shia, Sipah-e-Sahaba party entered the Iranian Consulate in Mazar, herded 11 Iranian diplomats, intelligence officers and a journalist into the basement and then shot them dead. Tehran had earlier contacted the Pakistan government to guarantee the security of their Consulate, because the Iranians knew that ISI officers had driven into Mazar with the Taliban. The Iranians had thought that Dost Mohammed's unit had been sent to protect them and so had welcomed them at first." The Taliban had also captured 45 Iranian truck- drivers who had been ferrying arms to the Hazaras.

At first the Taliban refused to admit the whereabouts of the diplomats but then as international protests and Iranian fury increased, they admitted that the diplomats had been killed, not on official orders but by renegade Taliban. But reliable sources said that Dost Mohammed had spoken to Mullah Omar on his wireless to ask whether the diplomats should be killed and Omar had given the go-ahead. True or not the Iranians certainly believed this. Ironically Dost Mohammed later wound up in jail in Kandahar, because he had brought back two Hazara concubines and his wife in Kandahar complained to Mullah Omar. Some 400 Hazara women were kidnapped and taken as concubines by the Taliban."

Bin Laden

It was the Taliban victory, their control over most of Afghanistan and their expectation, fuelled by Pakistani officials that they would now receive international recognition, which partly prompted their guest, the Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden, to become bolder in his declared jihad against the US and the Saudi Royal family. On 7 August 1998, Bin Laden's sympathizers blew up the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people and wounding 4,500. This prompted the US to launch missile strikes on Bin Laden's training camps in north-eastern Afghanistan on 20 August 1998.

US Attacks After 9/11

(second edition) p. 223

On 7 October (2001), 'Operation Enduring Freedom' began with heavy US bombing raids on Taliban bases and infrastructure across the country, as well as against the 50,000 Taliban troops massed outside Kabul who were defending a long front line against NA (Northern Alliance) forces. Four weeks of bombing followed before the first NA breakthrough occurred, on 9 November, with the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif in the north to the Uzbek and Tajik forces of Generals Rashid Dostum and Mohammed Atta. The Taliban were routed, and within the next three days all of northern, western and central Afghanistan fell to the NA. As the Taliban fled they were pounded mercilessly from the air by US aircraft, and many were killed and wounded. Meanwhile, CIA money had persuaded many of the Pashtun commanders to switch sides and abandon the Taliban.

Editor's Note: General Dostum is currently the Afghan Government Army Chief of Staff.

- - - - - - - -

How the Taliban Reconstituted After Being Driven
Out of Afghanistan by the US in 2001

Ahmed Rashid, "Taliban" (from new chapter in 2010 edition) p. 223

Meanwhile, the Taliban, its senior leadership intact, had been welcomed back to Pakistan by a variety of former supporters. Many Taliban members returned to their families, who still lived in refugee camps in Baluchistan province; others returned to the Pakistani madrassas from which they had been recruited; while senior figures were welcomed by the ISI and the provincial governments of the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan.

The Pakistani military rigged the general elections of 2002, keeping Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the leaders of the two main parties from taking part. But although there was huge public opposition to the news of both the rigging and the fact that the two leaders had been kept out, as aresult of the military's actions the elections in the two border provinces with Afghanistan were won by the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam party, the same party that had helped launch the Taliban in 1994, whose members believed in the strict Deobandi interpretation of Islam. The JUI once again offered its support to the Taliban.

... Mullah Omar, who had been hiding out in Helmand province, arrived in Quetta in the winter of 2002. Taking key figures from the former regime to create a new Taliban Shura, Omar appointed four commanders to reorganize resistance in the four southern provinces of Afghanistan (Uruzgan, Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul). These figures were Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the former Defence Minister; Mullah AktharMohammed Usmani, the former army chief; Mullah Dadullah, the one- legged corps commander who had destroyed the statues of the Buddha; and former Interior Minister Mullah Abdul Razaq. The four began to raise funds in Karachi and Quetta from supporters and sympathizers, and particularly from the Deobandi madrassas, and they received considerable backing from the JUI-led provincial governments. Moreover, they travelled to the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia and revived their contacts there in order to enlist more Arab donations for their cause to fight US forces inAfghanistan.

In eastern Afghanistan and in the seven tribal agencies in northern Pakistan known as the Federal Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA), the reorganization was led by separate groups allied to the Taliban. The major group was headed by the former Taliban Minister of Tribal Affairs, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and his son Sirajuddin, who operated out of Miranshah in North Waziristan. The two had especially close ties to both Al Qaeda and the ISI. Other groups were led by the veteran Pashtun Islamist Gulbuddin Hikmetyar, who arrived from exile in Iran, and Saif-ur Rahman Mansur, who had led the Taliban and Arab forces in battle against the Americans in the mountains near Gardez in the spring offensive that the USA dubbed`Operation Anaconda'. The battle had raged for two weeks before the Taliban retreated into Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the ISI continued funnelling clandestine support to theTaliban, owing to the Pakistani army's fear that by backing the US invasion of Afghanistan, it had helped bring to power the NA, whom the military loathed because the NA received support from Pakistan's regional rivalsIndia, Iran and Russia. (Most of the important ministries in the Karza igovernment were held by the NA.) The army was also deeply perturbed by the sudden influx of Indians into Kabul, fearing that India would now attempt to destabilize Pakistan through its western border.

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