Nine security personnel including four well-trained pilots were killed when a military helicopter was shot down in Behsud district of central Maidan Wardak province by a local Shia militia leader Abdul Ghani Alipur.
The Ministry of Defense has confirmed the deaths and stated that they are investigating the incident. Meanwhile many sources including an aide to Mr. Alipur confirmed that the helicopter was shot down by insurgents related to Mr. Alipur.
Mr. Alipur,a local warlord and a self-proclaimed armed leader of the local Shia–Hazara group was released by the guarantee of Second Vice-President of Afghanistan Mr. Sarwar Danish on the condition that he will not cause unrest in any province again.
This incident has led to mixed reactions within Afghans. Majority of Afghans have started seriously criticizing Ashraf Ghani’s weak government, because of its inability to arrest local warlords and implement the rule of law. People blamed VP Sarwar Danish (Also a Shia-Hazara) for supporting Mr. Alipur because of his ethno-nationalistic feelings and interests.
Mr. Alipur has a criminal record and violent reputation. He is accused of human rights abuses and was arrested in 2018. He was released on the basis of VP Sarwar Danish’s request. He remains close with VP Sarwar Danish.
On the other hand, majority of Hazra supported Mr. Alipur and blamed Ghani’s government for discriminating against Hazara minority, killing their people and creating propaganda against their political figures and local armed leaders who are protecting them from the Taliban.
The First Vice-President Amrullah Saleh who seemed to be isolated because of his failed efforts to bring reforms and maintain security in Kabul has kept silent about the incident. Mr. Saleh recently took strict stance against the blunt letter of Secretary Blinken sent to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
For President Ghani’s government this incident might be just another case of a warlord challenging the central government. In the past, President Ghani used to broker deals with local warlords by funding them or giving them shares in power. President Ghani, a populist has managed to keep the local warlords calm, but his policy of not taking serious actions against the warlords has led to deteriorating of security situations in the country and has tremendously decreased people’s trust on the government.
President Ghani did not directly accuse Mr. Alipur’s forces of the attack, but during a public event celebrating journalists in the country, he said that the helicopter, a Mi-17 Soviet-era aircraft, was shot down and that the government would retaliate.
He said, “I am assuring you that the perpetrators will be severely punished. Afghan security forces’ blood will never be wasted.”
It is worth to mention that the Afghan government has used some militias as a stopgap measure to bolster its beleaguered security forces against the Taliban constant and increasing attacks. But now the heavily armed warlords like Mr. Alipur which are also supported by the regional countries are strategically positioning themselves to hold their territory to be ready for civil wars – if the Afghan government collapses, in the case that the U.S. decides to fully withdraw from Afghanistan in May 2021 as per the peace agreement with Taliban signed last year in Doha.
From the other side, these types of clashes signal a growing threat of civil war after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
This clash is happening in a precarious time where President Ghani’s government is extremely weak and Afghanistan is moving toward an uncertain future.
President Ghani’s who was re-elected for his second term in 2019 couldn’t deliver on his promises to the nation. Security in the country has been deteriorating, elites are murdered in a daily basis and the economy is not functioning well. Poverty and unemployment has hit historical high. Trust on the government has decreased to a record low and people are very disappointed from the wrong policies of the government.
In such an undesired situation, the rise of warlord has seriously put the prestige of Ghani’s government at stake. If Ghani’s government wouldn’t arrest Mr. Alipur and serve justice, his government will be labeled as a weak and incapable to lead Afghanistan in such as difficult and challenging point of the history.
While most people are highly disappointed from government and understand that there would be no action taken by the government, some are still waiting to see their elected government bringing warlords like Mr. Alipur to justice.
If President Ghani would not take brave actions at this point, his government won’t recover the reputational damage caused by this clash and he will go down as the weakest President in the modern history of Afghanistan.
*Zarif Aminyar is the former Sr. Economic Advisor to Administrative Office of the President Ghani. He is alumnus of Harvard and Columbia University. He teaches at MTI College in Sacramento, CA. He tweets at ZarifAminyar and can be reached at [email protected]