Uneasy Truce Holds in Afghan Valley

Alasay district, in Kapisa province northeast of the Afghan capital Kabul, is the scene of an unusual arrangement where local government officials and the Taleban turn a blind eye to one another.

Recognising that neither side can defeat the other, the two have effectively decided to coexist as peaceably as conditions will allow.

Taleban guerrillas and government policemen, both armed, wander around the open-air market in the district centre without bothering one another. They have even been known to attend each other’s weddings and funerals.

To ease relations further and remove any embarrassment, a decision was taken recently to have the insurgents do their shopping in the morning and the security forces theirs in the afternoon.

“It’s better this way,” market stallholder Reza told IWPR, “because we used to be scared that they’d start shooting at each other. It’s a good thing they’re now coming separately at different times.”

A local policeman, who asked to remain anonymous, commutes to the district centre every day from his home village, where the Taleban are in full control, but they never give him any trouble despite the arms and equipment he carries with him.

“I run into the Taleban along the way, and we say hello. Sometimes we joke about our jobs. Since we’re all local people, they don’t bother us and we don’t bother them. We have an informal arrangement.”

Mirzaman Mangarai, the police chief for Alasay district, said the non-aggression pact was a tacit recognition that neither side could win military superiority.

“I’ve got 20 soldiers and 20 [uniformed police] officers,” he said “We want to enforce the law, but we don’t have the capacity to do so. Equally, the Taleban aren’t capable of removing us. In reality, we don’t want each other around, since we represent two different systems.”

The pact is the work of informal leaders in Alasay, a mountainous valley where local community elders forged a working agreement with the insurgents some years ago; this has more or less held ever since.

Since the elders also influence the appointment of the district administration head and police chief, these officials also become part of the deal and effectively sign up to the non-aggression pact.

The local government chief, Mullah Mohammad, said the arrangement was informal, with nothing on paper. He also indicated that his administration was following the central government’s policy of encouraging insurgents to surrender.

“The armed opposition members stay a few metres away from Alasay market, though they do come in to buy things sometimes. We don’t fight one another,” he said. “We have now started an effort, in conjunction with tribal elders and the peace process, to persuade them to lay down their weapons and come over to the government.”

Other interviewees appeared less committed to winning over the Taleban, and suggested they were perfectly happy with a live-and-let-live arrangement that excluded political influence from outside.

“We get killed in the name of the police, the army and the Taleban because we are persuaded to do so by others,” a village chief, who did not want to be named, said. “If a policeman, a soldier or a Taleban member is killed, everyone in Afghanistan suffers. We, the elders of Alasai district, have made a decision that means that everyone in our area now lives in peace.”

The village leader said the Taleban would not attack members of the Afghan National Army, ANA, or Afghan National Police, unless the security forces were directed by international troops to launch an offensive against them.

The International Security Force for Afghanistan, ISAF, has conducted a number of operations to clear insurgents from Alasay over the years, but without establishing total control over the area. ISAF and the ANA have set up outposts and bases and established a “line of consolidation” above Alasay’s district centre. Further north and east, rugged, steeply rising mountainous terrain has made it hard for the security forces to drive out the insurgents, let alone hold ground over the longer term – a view expressed not only by local Afghans interviewed by IWPR, but also in a US military cable released by Wikileaks.

IWPR spoke to an ANA soldier deployed in the area who appeared a reluctant participant in the counter-insurgency effort in which he was supposed to be involved.

Saying that Afghanistan’s past and present conflicts had been fought on behalf of other countries, he said, “The Taleban are our brothers, too. They have certain demands, and they should be listened to. They aren’t crazy; they aren’t fighting for nothing.”

He added, “I hope the Taleban and government forces reach agreements like this in all areas, so that the true enemies of this country are left on their own.”

A Taleban official who did not want to be named said that while the war on international forces would continue until they were driven out of Afghanistan, the insurgents would observe the truce in Alasay except if they were attacked.

“We have decided not to touch government forces because of our ethnic ties, out of respect to the tribal elders and to Islam, and because we are all Afghans and Muslims. But if they attack us on the orders of the foreign forces, we will attack and kill them.”

Like some interviewees on the government side, he drew a clear distinction between local and national politics. “This agreement by the Taleban does not mean we accept the corrupt system or the international murderers. All it means is that the Taleban don’t want to kill their fellow-Afghans.”

For Afghan defence and political analysts, the Alasay peace deal presents something of a conundrum – does it offer a model for peace more broadly, or is it just a stalemate with no wider implications?

Retired General Hai Sulaimankhel is adamant that Alasay reflects the failure of governance and rule of law.

“This situation shows up the government’s weakness. It cannot enforce the law there,” he said. “People go to the opposition with their problems. The reality is that there are two governments, and that is a great achievement for the opposition.”

The general added that the Taleban had concluded a local peace deal purely for their own convenience, but that would not stop them going on the offensive when it suited them.

Another analyst, Abdul Ghafur Liwal, who heads the Afghanistan Regional Studies Centre, disagreed, arguing that any way of ending the bloodshed had to be a good thing.

“When the guns fall silent, rationality and logic come into play,” he said. “I’m sure this informal agreement is going to prompt other areas into realising that war is not a good solution.”

Unlike General Sulaimankhel, Liwal argued that a prolonged truce must benefit the government because it would allowed it to get on with its job unimpeded.

Report: Maiwand Safi; IWPR