Monday, July 14, 2008

Kaftar the warlord

Readers may recall that condemned journalism student Pervez Kambakhsh, still locked in a Kabul jail, is said to have been arrested late last year for the purpose of intimidating his journalist brother Yaqub Ibrahimi. A correspondent for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Ibrahimi is known to be critical and vigorous, thus drawing the ire of conservative figures in Afghanistan's northern provinces.

Here, Ibrahimi writes about the famous woman warlord, Kaftar:

Female Afghan Outlaw Comes in From the Cold
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi

MAZAR-E SHARIF, July 9 (IWPR) - The Afghan government scored a minor victory last month by reeling in a rebellious “warlord” who led a band of warriors over nearly three decades. What really set this case apart is that the militia commander is a woman.

The authorities’ decision to co-opt rather than capture Bibi Aysha, who goes by the nickname Kaftar (“the pigeon”), has upset locals who say that given her record, she is unlikely to accept the strictures of civilian life, still less a job as a public servant...

Now 55, Kaftar has fought almost everyone from the Russians and the Taleban to the present government of President Hamed Karzai.

Until recently, she had the dubious distinction of being the only paramilitary commander – outside the Taleban and its allies – still in open confrontation with the Afghan state.

Last month, she surrendered to the government together with five armed men, most of them her relatives. It was the second time she had laid down her weapons since the fall of the Taleban regime in 2001.

Kaftar is a well-known figure in her native Baghlan province, which lies due north of the capital Kabul.

Legend has it that she became a fighter by accident, when she grabbed a gun to kill the Soviet soldiers who had shot her son during the mujaheddin war of the Eighties.

Her success later led to her appointment as local commander for the Jamiat-e-Islami faction, whose military leader was Ahmad Shah Massoud. After Taleban forces captured Kabul in 1996 and pushed north, Kaftar claims to have commanded 2,000 armed men resisting their advance.

After the United States-led invasion sent the Taleban running, Kafter surrendered her weapons under a government-run demobilisation programme. She even entered political life briefly, representing Baghlan’s Nahrin district during the Emergency Loya Jirga, the 2002 assembly that hammered out a structure for government and confirmed Karzai as head of state pending an election.

But apparently she was missing the thrill of the fight.

“After I defeated the Taleban militants, I surrendered all of my arms to the government,” she told IWPR and other reporters recently. “Then I had to sell my cows to buy back weapons."

In recent years, Kaftar has been accused of mounting an armed rebellion against the government, as well as other crimes such as robbery, extortion and drug trafficking.

Speaking to the reporters, she denied involvement in robbery or any other security problems.

This year, the government ran out of patience, and in May the security forces launched an operation to capture Kaftar.

She slipped away and holed up in the mountains with some of her men [but later surrendered to government officials]...

Local residents insist Kaftar is still dangerous and should be locked up.

"Kaftar is allied with a local Taleban commander Mullah Dad-e Khuda, who has recently escaped from Bagram prison,” said one resident, speaking on condition of anonymity. “She also has ties to another local warlord called Imam-e Sabz [the Green Imam]. They control all the drug trafficking routes."

According to this man, the trio have been operating in opium poppy-growing areas, offering farmers protection and fighting off the police... (link)

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