Ragtag revolts repel Taliban

New York Times News Service /

Published Aug 26, 2012 at 05:00AM

KABUL, Afghanistan — In small mountain villages on Taliban turf in eastern Afghanistan, Pashtun tribesmen took up arms to fight the insurgents this summer, fed up with their heavy-handed tactics of closing schools and threatening families whose sons had joined the Afghan army.

“They wanted to make our children illiterate and miserable,” Malik Ghulam Rusal, a district elder, said about the Taliban. “We told them that if you want to wage jihad, go and fight the foreigners, not ordinary people. But they did not listen.”

What began as a ragtag uprising by rural woodcutters and shopkeepers in a few villages in Laghman province expanded into something extraordinary: In just the past two months, the Taliban presence in the entire district, and then in a neighboring one, has been largely silenced. And in another eastern province, Ghazni, villagers ignited a similar movement to drive the Taliban away.

The uprisings, however, are far from a simple case of outrage growing into action. They spread quickly, but in considerable part because commanders from a rival militant faction, Hezb-i-Islami, saw a chance to gain ground against the Taliban, and because Afghan government officials saw the movement as a valuable opportunity to help local leaders organize against the insurgents.

For close watchers of Afghanistan’s complex factional landscape, the movement has become another case study of a classic Afghan problem that directly challenges the Western goal of a stable country after the 2014 troop withdrawal: A threat posed by an armed group is answered by arming another group, which in turn becomes a game piece to be fought over by larger forces.

“Now it’s a bit of a mess,” said one Western diplomat.