The situation in Afghanistan's northern Jowzjan Province continues to deteriorate, with one official claiming an increasing number of ethnic Turkmen are taking up arms, fighting with and against the Taliban, and that the lack of any government force capable of maintaining order has led to the resurgence of local warlords.
RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Azatlyk, has received new information from areas across Turkmenistan's southern border, indicating the situation in Jowzjan and Faryab provinces is growing more complex and less stable.
Jowzjan provincial police chief Pakyrmuhammet Jowzjany admitted to Azatlyk there had been 45 recent "special operations" in the Akja and Murdiyan districts against people Jowzjany said were Taliban fighters. Despite these operations, Jowzjany said there were still villages where Taliban militants were riding around the streets openly on motorbikes.
Jowzjany said the number of Taliban fighters in his province had been increasing, but he dismissed any suggestion that would have any effect on Turkmenistan, across the border.
Nazary Turkmen, an ethnic Turkmen member of the Afghan parliament from Jowzjan, assessed the seriousness of the threat differently. He said the more powerful the Taliban becomes in Jowzjan, the more dangerous the situation along the border with Turkmenistan will be. "The Taliban don't recognize any borders," Turkmen said. "They think every patch of ground is Allah's property, so they can seize it."
The lawmaker also claimed part of the reason the Taliban militants are growing in number in Jowzjan is because increasingly more ethnic Turkmen are joining them. "In Akja, Sheberghan, and Ankhoi districts 90 percent of the Taliban are ethnic Turkmen," he said.
He added that as a result of the growing Taliban presence in the province, villages and districts have responded by forming local militias, the "Erbaqi," sometimes led by former warlords.
Nazary Turkmen is in a position to know, because he fought as part of an Erbaqi force in the Gunduz area. Turkmen claimed his all-ethnic Turkmen unit killed 11 Taliban and captured another in recent fighting in Konduz.
Returning To Battle
It was not difficult for Azatlyk to find evidence to support the claim of former warlords taking up the sword again.
Emir Allaberen Karyad, 65, is a village elder and a former warlord who has picked up his weapons and joined the fight. Allaberen said he had prayed to live out his twilight years in peace. But the people of his area implored him to lead a force to protect them and when the Taliban killed Allaberen's brother, the village elder returned to combat.
His force of some 70 to 80 men chased the Taliban from the Kokal Dash district and now Allaberen's fighters have established a series of fortified checkpoints around the area to prevent the Taliban from returning.
Allaberen's unit was in action again late on August 13 along the Turkmen border. He claims Taliban militants attacked and killed several members of the Afghan security forces near the border. Allaberen's unit, "without any help from government forces," attacked the militants and drove them from the area.
Allaberen pledged he would defend the border and Turkmenistan but he said he would better be able to protect his area and the frontier with Turkmenistan if Turkmenistan's government would help him and his fellow villagers.
It is a story "Qishloq Ovozi" has heard before.
We already reported on the civil militia in the Qarqeen district of Jowzjan Province, led by a man in 60s named Gurbandurdy, who returned to war when the people of his region called on him to lead them.
Earlier postings from "Qishloq Ovozi" noted the problems in northern Afghanistan extend all along the border with Turkmenistan: in Baghdis, Faryab, and Herat provinces. In Faryab and Baghdis these reports keep coming. The intelligence chief of Faryab's Sherin Tagab district was killed in an ambush on August 8. It's unclear who was responsible but local officials blame the Taliban.
The governor of Faryab Province, Mahmadulla Vatas, told Azatlyk that Taliban activity in his province and in the neighboring Baghdis Province was increasing as were the number of militants. Vatas claimed that, unlike the situation in Jowzjan, many of the militants in Faryab were Chechens and fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. He did not mention ethnic Turkmen.
But he said their presence was bound to have an effect on Turkmenistan. "Their activity can hurt Turkmen-Afghan relations and the situation along the border in particular," Vatas said.
What Is Turkmenistan Doing?
And while Vatas said government forces in his province were doing their best to keep the militants from operating along the Turkmen frontier, the Turkmen government had done nothing militarily to help Afghan forces across the border.
That Turkmenistan's government has done so little is surprising. Three of Turkmenistan's border guards were killed along the Afghan frontier in late February and three of the country's soldiers killed at a different section of the Afghan border in late May.
Officials from Turkmenistan have promised help to ethnic Turkmen in Afghanistan, not militarily of course, but to date there has not been evidence these pledges have been fulfilled.
Meanwhile, Turkmenistan's media continue to ignore the problem on the border with Afghanistan. The pro-government website Turkmenistan.ru reported on August 13 about a visit of an Afghan delegation led by Minister of Trade and Industry Mohammad Shaker Kargar. The report said the Afghan delegation expressed "gratitude for the constant help Turkmenistan has rendered in the restoration of Afghanistan highly valuing the active participation of Turkmenistan in the stabilization and establishment of a peaceful and happy life in the neighboring state."
-- Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Toymyrat Bugayev of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service