Seeking Revenge, Taliban Target Afghan Soldiers’ Families

KABUL, Afghanistan — Muhammad Didar Mukhlis Afghan, a sergeant serving at a remote Afghan Army base, was pleased when his nephew invited his wife and son to his wedding back home in eastern Afghanistan.

The sergeant pitched in almost $400 to help with the nephew’s wedding costs. But instead of a wedding, the event became a murder scene.

The nephew, Qari Aziz, was among a group of Taliban fighters who killed the sergeant’s wife and son inside Mr. Aziz’s home in May, according to Sergeant Afghan and government officials in Paktia Province.

“They attacked my wife and son because I am serving in the ranks of the Afghan National Army,” Sergeant Afghan said. He did not know his nephew was secretly a member of the Taliban in Paktia, he said.

“Today I buried them,” he said the day after the killing of his wife, Najiba, and their son Muhammad Wali Nisar, 13. “Now I just have my two daughters and son.”

The killings were the latest in a series of retaliatory Taliban attacks against the families and homes of Afghan soldiers and police officers. They have continued even as American and Taliban negotiators have reported progress in talks aimed at reaching a lasting peace agreement.

The wedding party killings shocked many Afghans because they were a grievous violation of a traditional code of hospitality — and because an Afghan had killed his own relatives.

“It is against our culture and it is against Islam,” said Abdul Malik Zazai, head of the provincial council in Paktia. “In our culture, we cannot kill those who come to our homes as a guest. We have to protect them.”

He added: “This is a terrible crime.”

Pashtunwali, the code of conduct practiced by ethnic Pashtuns and other Afghans in Pashtun areas, like Paktia, obligates hosts to protect guests from harm, even if they are enemies. It is based on hospitality, righteousness, loyalty and bravery.

For much of the war, now in its 18th year, Afghans have despaired that duplicity by both sides has eroded Pashtunwali and its notions of honor and respect.

ImageIn May, seven Taliban wearing police uniforms attacked a police headquarters in Pul-i-Kumri in northern Afghanistan, killing 20 officers.
CreditReuters

Taliban infiltrators have repeatedly joined government units, then spiked soldiers’ or police officers’ food with drugs and shot them dead as they slept. In some rare instances, government infiltrators have done the same to the Taliban.

Equally disturbing for many Afghans is the Taliban tactic of burning the homes of soldiers’ families while the men are serving elsewhere.

In Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan, an army colonel, Zahir Jan Abdali, said the families of at least seven soldiers and police officers had been burned out of their homes in recent months.

Among them was Khano Slimanzai, a border police officer who said his unit retreated from his village, Slimanzai, during a Taliban offensive. Officer Slimanzai said he arranged for a relative to help his wife and children flee their home, in their bare feet, to a dry river bed outside their village as the Taliban approached.

Less than 30 minutes later, he said, Taliban fighters burned the home and destroyed the family’s belongings, including Islamic religious texts. They burned the homes of other police officers as well, he said.

“I don’t understand where the Taliban get this barbarism — it’s beyond imagination,” Officer Slimanzai said. “They are so cruel it makes me cry.”

He said he received no support from the Afghan government. “The government leaders are just watching this with their mouths open,” he said.

Another effective Taliban tactic is dressing in army or police uniforms and driving stolen, explosives-laden Humvees into government outposts.

On May 5, seven Taliban wearing police uniforms burst into a police headquarters in northern Afghanistan through an opening created by an exploding Humvee, killing 20 police officers.

Treachery has long been endemic to Afghan warfare, with conspiracies, side-switching and internal scheming all frequent players in the country’s history. But the duplicity in today’s war still deeply offends Afghan traditionalists who believe in Pashtunwali.

“This is against all rules and customs of Pashtunwali,” Mawlawi Sha Muhammad said of recent Taliban killings of service members’ families. He is head of the Ulama Shura, a body of Islamic scholars, in Khost Province.

CreditReuters

“Islam says respect your guests, and in the Quran in many places it is mentioned that women, children and guests should be respected,” Mawlawi Muhammad said.

He expressed concern about eroding Pashtunwali values, but he declined to say more. Many ulema scholars have been attacked by the Taliban for expressing religious views contrary to those of the insurgents.

On May 7, Mawlawi Amir Jan, a well-known Islamic scholar, was shot dead by gunmen while praying inside his mosque in Logar Province south of Kabul. Habibullah Stanikzai, head of the provincial council, blamed the Taliban.

In the village of Salison Nawa in Kandahar Province, the Taliban bombed the family home of Sgt. Habibullah Jan, a border police officer, late last year and burned the family’s belongings, said his brother, Khan Jan. The officer’s five brothers and their families, who all shared the home, were left homeless and destitute, Khan Jan said.

In Ghazni Province, the Taliban kidnapped and killed a local businessman named Hajji Dawood because his brother worked at police headquarters in the province, said Abdul Jamei, a provincial council member.

“Unfortunately, such things happen a lot in Ghazni,” another Ghazni council member, Hassan Reza Yousufi, said with an air of resignation. He said the Taliban killed his uncle because he served on the provincial council.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said reports that Sergeant Afghan’s wife and son had been murdered by the Taliban were government propaganda. He called it a criminal case that did not concern the insurgency.

But Mr. Zazai, the provincial council head, said that the Taliban had arrested Mr. Aziz, Sergeant Afghan’s nephew.

The code of Pashtunwali permits revenge against someone who has committed a grave offense, or even someone who has insulted or shamed another. In this context, vengeance is a form of justice.

Sergeant Afghan, a 15-year army veteran, said he had not considered revenge at this point. He was overcome with grief and still mourning the loss of his wife and son. He said he was trying to raise his three remaining children.

“I’ll either have to go back to my job or I’ll have to take care of my children,” he said. “I am very weak. I don’t know what to do.”

Source: NYT

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