Safiullah Gul: Afghan warlord readies fresh attack. Karzai returns to confront spectre of instability

The forces of Badshah Khan are regrouping to launch an offensive against Saifullah, who had ousted the Karzai nominated governor of the Paktia province, with reports that Khost was also tense and similar uprising was in the offing as the interim forces faced in Gardez. The fighting owing to the power struggle between the forces of Badshah Khan Zadran, Karzai's newly appointed governor for Paktia, and the Saifullah, who was elected by the local shura as governor and supported by another warlord Momeen Khan, resulted into the retreat of Badshah forces to the surrounding mountains on Friday. Though there were no reports of massive fighting between the two sides on Saturday but some skirmishes took place without giving any details about further casualties. There were also reports about Badshah Khan of rearming his men to launch a massive assault on Sunday but was finding it difficult as the residents of Gardez, the capital of Paktia province, didn’t wanted him to be the governor. The residents were also dismayed with the US troops present in the area for not helping them against Badshah Khan, who they alleged was a smuggler and tyrant and had conveyed false message to the US Command in Afghanistan for carrying out air sorties. They allege that he wants to settle political score. A close aide of the Badsha Khan, who used to travel to the Pakistani border town of Miran Shah in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, with the war lord and known as Haji Khan said on Saturday that they had lost many warriors in the Wednesday and Thursday fighting and scores of their men went into the captivity of Saifullah and Momeen Khan forces. He said that Badshah Khan was lucky enough to get out safe else he would have also landed into the shackles of rival forces. He also claimed that on Sunday (today) they will launch an offensive, but also worriedly said that the forces of Zakim Khan in Khost were also preparing for a war against Badshah. He, quoting Badshah Khan’s brother, said that some 10 truckloads of weapons and ammunition had been sent to Satih Kandaw, some 24 kilometers south of Gardez, where Badshah Khan was massing his forces. He also said that the government mediators dispatched to broker a solution had not contacted Bacha Khan's side. Reports further add that American troops are not taking part, but are combing the countryside for al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels. It won’t be irrelevant here to mention that Paktia province is also known to had been housing Osama bin Laden's terror network had extensive training camps and arms dumping sites. Last month it had been a target of repeated US airstrikes and ground operations. Army officials at the US military base in the southern city of Kandahar were reluctant to say why the Americans hadn't stepped in, but said that there are adequate troops and equipment to carry out any mission. "Our forces are monitoring the situation and they're in close contact with the Afghanistan government," a military spokesman said. While professing loyalty to Karzai's interim administration, the Gardez council claims that Badshah Khan is a smuggler and tyrant and wants someone else as governor. The council has requested UN mediation. In a sign of how uncertain the US military role has become in Afghanistan's shifting alliances, American officials had said Friday that it seems highly likely that special forces who raided two compounds in Uruzgan province, central Afghanistan, on January 23 mistakenly killed or captured people loyal to the government. One official said it seemed likely that the killed and captured were a mixture of Afghans loyal to Karzai, “criminals” not necessarily associated with the Taliban or al-Qaeda, and some Taliban fighters. Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai was also reported to have returned home on Saturday to confront the spectre of instability raised by tribal clashes and ethnic infighting during his absence. While Karzai was away in Britain and the United States, bloody battles erupted in eastern Paktia province between his appointed governor and a rival warlord, underscoring the UN-backed interim government's tenuous authority outside the capital. Tense armed standoffs reportedly continued between ethnic factions in the government, particularly troops loyal to Uzbek Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rashid Dostum and Tajik Defence Minister Qasim Faheem in the far north. But the worst fighting occurred in the Paktia capital Gardez, where Karzai's handpicked governor Badshah Khan tried to take up his post through force after rival Pashtun tribal leader Saifullah refused to hand over power. In Gardez, a meeting of the local shura, or council of local chiefs, Friday rejected Khan as governor and called for the United Nations and the interim government to send a delegation to the town to assess the situation. The shura, which is headed by Saifullah, passed a resolution that it "was not against the interim government but it did not want the government of robbers”. The bitterness between Zadran, a royalist like Karzai, and Saifullah, who is allied with former president and Northern Alliance figurehead Burhanuddin Rabbani, is only one example of the deep divisions which persist in Afghan society despite the collapse of the Taliban regime in December. News reports say that Interim Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, speaking to reporters in New York, described the Gardez battle as a telling illustration of the problems facing Afghanistan as it struggles to emerge from 23 years of foreign invasion and civil war, with "at least" 700,000 people still bearing arms. The demobilisation and reintegration of armed people into a new Afghan national army or police force should be considered as "part of a package" for rural reconstruction, he said. Meanwhile, a reduction in a special forces contingent suggested that US military interrogators have nearly finished with the major task of questioning the remaining 3,500 Taliban prisoners in a severely overcrowded compound in the northern city of Shibergan. A few prisoners have been moved from Shibergan to the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Safiullah Gul Miran Shah Pakistan


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