Monday, August 6, 2018

Why We Fight, Chapter 94,340

SHEBERGHAN, Afghanistan — The top commander of the Islamic State in northern Afghanistan stood behind a lectern decorated with the shield of the Afghan government’s powerful intelligence agency.

On his left was the police general in charge of the province. Arrayed behind him was an assortment of other dignitaries: police, army, political figures. An attendant put a bottle of mineral water nearby, in case the intense heat made the commander thirsty.

This is how the Islamic State commander, Maulavi Habib ul-Rahman, began his “imprisonment” on Thursday. Along with 250 of his fighters, Mr. Rahman had surrendered the day before to the Afghan government in the northern province of Jowzjan, to avoid being captured by the Taliban.

He thanked his hosts and, in a scolding tone, warned them to stick to the deal they had just made. “Provide us with personal security as well as stay loyal to the commitments made between us so it prepares the ground for others who fight against the government to join the peace process,” Mr. Rahman demanded from the dais. . . .

If they were prisoners, however, it was hard to tell. The government arranged for them to stay in a guesthouse in the provincial capital of Sheberghan. Guards were posted around it not to keep the insurgents in, but to keep their potential enemies out, according to the provincial governor. Although the fighters were disarmed, they were allowed to keep their cellphones and other personal possessions.

In the guesthouse, the Islamic State fighters celebrated their good fortune, hugging and slapping one another on the back. One of their commanders, Mufti Nemat, wearing a pink shalwar kameez and a knockoff of an Apple watch and holding a satellite phone, fielded calls steadily between giving interviews. . . .

Some of the police officers were angry. “Why didn’t we just let the Taliban kill them, instead of treating them like honored guests?” one officer said.

 . . . .

The dubious nature of the Islamic State surrender has proved a propaganda bonanza for the Taliban, which began an offensive with thousands of fighters about a month ago to wipe out the Islamic State group in the north. All of their fighters have now surrendered, been captured by the Taliban or been killed, according to Mr. Nemat, as well as government and Taliban spokesmen.

Much was made by the Taliban and by the government’s critics here of the mode of the Islamic State prisoners’ arrival in Sheberghan. They were ferried from the battlefield in Afghan Army helicopters, avoiding a potentially dangerous journey on the roads.

. . . .

After watching television footage of the prisoners being fed rice pilaf with meat and vegetables and bottled water, Abdul Hamid, 52, was infuriated. Along with some 10,000 other people over the past two years, he had fled Darzab to a squalid life as a displaced person in Sheberghan, where meat is an unimaginable luxury.

“We lost everything to Daesh, and now the government sends helicopters for them from Kabul and brings them here and gives them rice and meat and mineral water, and provides them with security, and we are not even able to find food,” he railed.

The governor of the province, Lutfullah Azizi, said any crimes would not be overlooked. “We welcome them if they accept Afghan law,” he said. “But those who committed crimes, if there is any documentation or proven complaint against them, they will be punished.” He added that “hundreds” of complaints had been lodged against them during their years in power.

Many of the Islamic State’s crimes are well documented in their own Facebook and WhatsApp posts, with videos of them burning opponents alive, stoning people to death, training children as fighters, and shooting bound prisoners.

They also took credit previously for the killings of six workers from the International Committee for the Red Cross last year, an atrocity that was part of the reason the Red Cross has suspended much of its operations in northern Afghanistan.

On April 15, “they beheaded a 12-year-old child on an allegation of cooperating with local police,” said Baz Mohammad Dawar, 32, also a refugee from Darzab. “They committed hundreds of crimes including raping women and girls, enslaving women, killing and beheading.

 . . . .

The New York Times, August 4, 2018

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