BAGHLAN, Afghanistan -- A female warlord who built a distinguished reputation by fighting against the Soviet occupation, the Taliban regime, and its insurgency in recent years has formally joined the Taliban.
Afghan officials have confirmed a Taliban statement that claimed Bibi Ayesha Habibi, also known as Commander Kaftar or The Dove, switched over to the Taliban in the northern province of Baghlan.
“Commander Kaftar, along with a number of her armed followers, has joined the Taliban,” Fazal Din Muradi, district governor of Nahrain, a rural district in the northern province of Baghlan, told Radio Free Afghanistan on October 16. “The Taliban began attacking the Sajano area in Nahrain a few days ago and captured a few villages there.”
In a tweet, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid first said that the Taliban’s Preaching and Guidance Commission officials welcomed Kaftar and her supporters to the Taliban ranks on October 15. “Female commander Kaftar mislead by enemy and forced to apparently stand against IEA [Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan] Mujahidin in Sajano area of Nahrin district [in] Baghlan joined Mujahidin along with her armed followers earlier today,” he wrote, referring to the Taliban by its formal name.
It was not immediately possible to reach Kaftar or her supporters for comment in the remote mountainous region where few Afghan cell phone networks work.
Kaftar, 70, rose to fame after she rebelled against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. During the 10-year war, the young female commander formed a band of 200 fighters and became a major figure among the anti-Soviet mujahedin commanders in Baghlan. She continued fighting against the Taliban when the hard-line student militia swept Afghanistan in the 1990s. Kaftar refused to disarm her fighters after the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
In recent years, she claimed to lead local government-supported uprisings against the Taliban insurgents after they overran large swathes of rural territories. While not officially part of the government, she received support from the Afghan government and had more than 150 fighters in her private militia.
Muradi, however, said her defection to the Taliban is not a big deal now. “Differences among her followers and her advancing age have weakened her significantly,” he said. “While her defection along with five or 10 followers might concern some people, it does not endanger the security of Nahrain.”
The Taliban’s statement about Kaftar’s change of allegiance is surprising because the hard-line movement banned women from education and work during its stint in power in the 1990s. While claiming to be committed to women’s rights within an Islamic framework now, no woman is part of the Taliban’s negotiating team currently discussing their country’s political future with the Afghan government in Doha.
The various phases of war in Afghanistan have deeply impacted Kaftar’s life. She is believed to have lost 30 members of her extended family, including her sons and grandchildren, to the war in Afghanistan.
In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan in 2015, she opposed peace talks with the Taliban.
“I don’t think that the Taliban will change, or this issue could be resolved through talks,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “The solution to this war comes from God and secondly through this beautiful Kalashnikov,” she said while pointed to a Russian-made Ak-47 personal assault weapon.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on reporting by Bashir Ahmad Ghazali from Baghlan.