MAZAR-E SHARIF, Afghanistan -- For years, most of Afghanistan’s security problems were concentrated around its southern and eastern border with Pakistan.
But cross-border raids by Uzbekistan’s security forces highlight the concerns of Afghanistan’s northern neighbors as they scramble to deal with rising threats from insecurity in Afghanistan spilling over into their country.
Residents of Shortepa and Kaldar, two districts of Afghanistan’s northern Balkh Province, which is separated by the Amu Darya River from Uzbekistan, have accused Uzbek border forces of detaining scores of young men during recent frequent raids.
“Some of them have been missing for more than a year now, and we don’t know whether they are dead or alive,” said Mullah Abdul Rahim, a resident of Kaldar.
He said that because of the increasing insecurity across northern Afghanistan amid more frequent Taliban attacks, Uzbek border patrols have multiplied and border guards often enter Afghanistan across the Amu Darya River and detain Afghan fishermen and shepherds.
“We are seeing more economic losses and perceive these incursions as a threat to our security and well-being,” he added.
Haji Abdul Rashid, a resident of the neighboring Shortepa district, said at least 20 residents of six villages from the region are currently languishing in Uzbek prisons.
“One of them, Habibullah, is my nephew. We don’t know whether he is alive or has been killed by the Uzbek forces,” he said. “[Afghan] fishermen, shepherds, laborers -- nobody is immune from the Uzbek forces.”
The Afghan authorities have not officially raised the issue with Uzbekistan. But Balkh provincial spokesman Munir Farhad acknowledged some Afghans have been detained by Uzbek border guards.
“Poverty forces many Afghans to eek a living out of fishing or collecting plants in the Amu Darya River. Some of them are detained by the Uzbek forces,” he said.
Farhad, however, said most of the Afghans detained are released after they are questioned and interrogated by Uzbek authorities.
Uzbekistan’s 137-kilometer southern border with Afghanistan is well protected with landmines, barbed wire, and an electrified fence.
Tashkent sees robust border control as a primary means of preventing potential militant infiltration from Afghanistan since the brief Taliban capture of Kunduz, a major Afghan city on Central Asia’s border, in September.
Militants from Uzbekistan and neighboring countries played a major role in overrunning Kunduz and the overall Taliban violence in nine northern provinces bordering Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Mujib Habibzai’s reporting from Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan.