Thursday, May 19, 2011

Afghanistan: No weddings or funeral services for “infidel” police recruits – on pain of death

This article originally appeared in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting,

Taleban Vent Ire on Afghan Local Police

Insurgents say no weddings or funeral services for “infidel” police recruits – on pain of death.

Insurgents in a northeastern area of Afghanistan have adopted a new tactic, aggressively targeting members of a locally-recruited paramilitary police force rather than the regular security forces.

In Tagab district, northeast of the Afghan capital Kabul, the Taleban have issued instructions, via leaflets and religious sermons, that the community must have no dealings with the Afghan Local Police. No one is to allow female relatives to marry members of the force; no one is even to attend their weddings and funerals. The insurgents say they will kill anyone who disobeys.

Local resident Mohammad Yusuf described a case where these threats were carried out a few weeks ago.

The Taleban captured a member of the Afghan Local Police, hanged him from a tree and riddled him with bullets. They then posted up a notice saying no one was to remove the body for three days, or hold a funeral ceremony.

When the body was eventually taken back to the policeman’s home, local mullahs refused to perform the required funeral rite. One of them told IWPR, “Our lives are in danger. The Taleban have threatened several times that they will kill anyone who performs funeral prayers for a dead policeman, and will deem him an apostate.”

In the end, Mohammad Yusuf said, a mullah was brought in from somewhere else to carry out the rite.

Another cleric, Mawlawi Ahad, told IWPR how he fled from a wedding after receiving a death threat.

“I was doing the wedding service for a local police member when a Taleban commander phoned me and ordered me not to perform the marriage rite or else I’d be hanged. So I quietly slipped away from the ceremony,” he said.

Once again, a different mullah was brought in from a village beyond Taleban control, and duly performed the marriage, Ahad said.

The district government chief in Tagab, Hakim Akhondzadah, said he was aware of the incidents, but expressed confidence that people would reject the Taleban’s edicts.

“In areas where the opposition [insurgents] have influence, mullahs have refused to offer prayers in two instances, but as far as we are aware, funeral prayers were performed nonetheless, because people insisted on it,” he said.

The insurgents in Tagab have singled out the Afghan Local Police, terming them “devoted slaves of the Americans” and far worse than the Afghan National Army, ANA, or the national-level Afghan National Police, ANP.

“The local police are different from the national army and police. These paramilitaries are duplicitous, and spy on us for the foreign soldiers,” a Taleban commander in Tagab told IWPR. “These people are not going to be pardoned by God. That is why we have banned funerals and weddings for them.”

He said the insurgents had no problem fighting and killing ANA and ANP members, but viewed them more sympathetically as they were half-hearted in combat and sometimes helped the insurgents.

In addition, he said, incidents where members of the regular security forces had turned their guns on international troops were proof that “there are some good people among them”.

The Afghan Local Police initiative was approved last summer, as a way of standardising various village defence forces springing up around the country and bringing them into the centralised command and pay structure of the Afghan interior ministry.

The idea seems to have come from the NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, drawing on the experience of arming similar irregular units in Iraq.

Afghan president Hamed Karzai initially opposed the idea but later gave it his blessing, and the country’s National Security Council approved it in July 2010.

Unlike some quasi-police units, for example in Balkh province, the units in Tagab are fully part of the Afghan Local Police. (IWPR's recent report Afghan Checkpoints Draw Insurgent Attacks looked at how these units have been deployed to secure areas against the insurgents.)

However, armed units that are neither ANP nor ANA are viewed with some suspicion by many Afghans. Their informal, localised structure is reminiscent of the old militia factions that were responsible for years of internecine warfare in the early Nineties, when lawlessness, arbitrary killings, and looting were rampant. Not only that, many suspect that the new forces are in fact no more than the old militias reconstituted, and that local warlords are packing them with their men and to use as their personal retinues.

“The local police robbed six shops at nighttime a month ago,” a man who lives near Tagab’s main market said. “They are all ex-thieves and murderers. They do whatever they can to further their personal interests. We can’t trust them.”

Shahpur, an Afghan Local Police officer in Tagab, defended the force’s record and reputation, saying the fact that the insurgents were targeting them showed they were doing a good job.

“The people here are mostly poor and they bear the Taleban’s cruelties in silence,” he said. “But we have risen up against and put a stop to their brutality. We have closed the way to them – hence they label us ‘infidels’.”

He said the insurgents wanted to deter young men from signing up with the force precisely because it was so rooted in the community and had a good knowledge of routes its opponents were likely to use.

Mawlawi Ahmad Shah, a religious scholar in Kapisa province, of which Tagab is part, pointed out that regardless of who a person was, Islamic law required prayers to be said when they died.

“The Prophet Mohammad has ordered us to pray at the funeral of believers… It’s very hard to decide not to pray at the funeral of a policeman, an army soldier or a local policeman who has declared himself a Muslim,” he said.

Maiwand Safi is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kapisa province.