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Afghan warlord’s call to arms rattles officials

Afghan warlord’s call to arms rattles officials

HEART: One of the most powerful mujahedeen commanders in Afghanistan, Ismail Khan, is calling on his followers to reorganize and defend the country against the Taliban as Western militaries withdraw, in a public demonstration of faltering confidence in the national government and the Western-built Afghan National Army, according to a report published in New York Times.

Mr. Khan is one of the strongest of a group of warlords who defined the country’s recent history in battling the Soviets, the Taliban and one another, and who then were brought into President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet as a symbol of unity. Now, in announcing that he is remobilizing his forces, Mr. Khan has rankled Afghan officials and stoked fears that other regional and factional leaders will follow suit and rearm, weakening support for the government and increasing the likelihood of civil war.

This month, Mr. Khan rallied thousands of his supporters in the desert outside Herat, the cultured western provincial capital and the center of his power base, urging them to coordinate and reactivate their networks. And he has begun enlisting new recruits and organizing district command structures.

“We are responsible for maintaining security in our country and not letting Afghanistan be destroyed again,” Mr. Khan, the minister of energy and water, said at a news conference over the weekend at his office in Kabul. But after facing criticism, he took care not to frame his action as defying the government: “There are parts of the country where the government forces cannot operate, and in such areas the locals should step forward, take arms and defend the country.”

President Karzai and his aides, however, were not greeting it as an altruistic gesture. The governor of Herat Province called Mr. Khan’s reorganization an illegal challenge to the national security forces. And Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, tersely criticized Mr. Khan.

“The remarks by Ismail Khan do not reflect the policies of the Afghan government,” Mr. Faizi said. “The government of Afghanistan and the Afghan people do not want any irresponsible armed grouping outside the legitimate security forces structures.”

In Kabul, Mr. Khan’s provocative actions have played out in the news media and brought a fierce reaction from some members of Parliament, who said the warlords were preparing to take advantage of the American troop withdrawal set for 2014.

“People like Ismail Khan, smell blood,” Belqis Roshan, a senator from Farah Province, said in an interview. “They think that as soon as foreign forces leave Afghanistan, once again they will get the chance to start a civil war, and achieve their ominous goals of getting rich and terminating their local rivals.”

Indeed, Mr. Khan’s is not the only voice calling for a renewed alliance of the mujahedeen against the Taliban, and some of the others are just as familiar.

Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, an ethnic Tajik commander who is President Karzai’s first vice president, said in a speech in September, “If the Afghan security forces are not able to wage this war, then call upon the mujahedeen.”

Another prominent mujahedeen fighter, Ahmad Zia Massoud, said in an interview at his home in Kabul that people were worried about what was going to happen after 2014, and he was telling his own followers to make preliminary preparations.

“They don’t want to be disgraced again,” Mr. Massoud said. “Everyone tries to have some sort of Plan B. Some people are on the verge of rearming.”

He pointed out that it was significant that the going market price of Kalashnikov assault rifles had risen to about $1,000, driven up by demand from a price of $300 a decade ago. “Every household wants to have an AK-47 at home,” he said.

“The mujahedeen come here to meet me,” Mr. Massoud added. “They tell me they are preparing. They are trying to find weapons. They come from villages, from the north of Afghanistan, even some people from the suburbs of Kabul, and say they are taking responsibility for providing private security in their neighborhood.”

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