Brothers Abu and Ghulam Taieb embody the internal rifts that are tearing Afghanistan apart. One a Taliban fighter, the other a policeman, they remain on friendly terms – but swear they will kill each other if needs be.
CHAGHARI – Located in southeast Afghanistan, Chaghari is a village surrounded by qalas – huge adobe forts that block outsiders from seeing what takes place inside. In the distance, one can see the Tora Bora cave complex situated in eastern Afghanistan's White Mountains. Covered with a thin layer of snow, these mountains mark the border with Pakistan.
On U.S. army maps, this region is considered a "gray zone" – a dangerous area teeming with potential enemies. In the daytime, a green-colored police van monitors the road leading to the village. But at night Chaghari belongs to thieves – and to the Taliban. Fear, poverty and common interests cloud people's identities.
Abu Taieb, 45, drove his way to Chaghari by night on one of the fast and discreet Japanese motorcycles so highly prized by the Taliban. Taieb, himself a Taliban fighter, keeps a Colt revolver under his salwar kameez, a unisex dress worn in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A young turbaned guard is with him. Taieb is tall and slim, and he looks serious, even more because he is wearing thin glasses.
Taieb defines himself as "Pashtun, Muslim, Taliban and moderate" – in that order. He is leading a nationalist fight, pushing for Afghan sovereignty and the outmoded illusionary idea of creating an Islamic Emirate, a dream shared by Al Qaida. He wants foreign authorities to leave his country. And he wants all the disloyal people who have collaborated with the corrupt government dead. Taieb makes no exceptions, not even for his own brother.
Taieb's combat unit belongs to the Tora Bora military front, a faction that broke away from the larger Hezb-e Islami Khalis (HiK), which reportedly took an active role in Osama bin Laden's escape to Pakistan in 2001. The unit gained notoriety last November when it killed six American soldiers. One of its members disguised himself as a policeman and shot the U.S. fighters dead. Since then, rebels have used the same strategy constantly. Ironically, Taieb's son-in-law is a medical student in Boston. The Afghan people have long since given up being troubled by those contradictions.
A different path
Abu Taieb's older brother, Ghulam, is following a very different path. The 48-year-old man joined the police force because he wanted to participate in the reconstruction of his country. He admits that police work can also help him "earn a few more afghanis the official currency of Afghanistan because the authorities are corrupt." But that does not prevent him from blaming President Hamid Karzai "for forming a government only composed of thieves."
The dragged out war in Afghanistan has turned the two Taieb brothers into sworn – yet at the same time reluctant – enemies. Both swear on the Koran they will kill each other if they have to. But whenever they hear that people have been killed in an ambush, each fears finding a too familiar corpse among the victims.
These fratricidal wars are now very common in Afghanistan, where the population is urged to take sides. The Afghan people are prosaically divided into two groups: on the one hand, there are those who are happy and thus support the government. On the other hand, those who are unhappy and thus support the Taliban.
The gap between the two groups may be narrowing. A recent example: In April, nearly Taliban members escaped from a Kandahar jail through a 320-meter-long tunnel. Most observers agree it was an inside job. No one tops the Afghan people when it comes to changing sides and allies. They can confound the best master strategists.
Gathered together at the home of Chaghari's Malik (tribal chief), Abu Taieb and Ghulam meet for the first time in three years. On friendly terms, the brothers tease each other about their contradictory destinies by betting who will be the first one to change sides.
"The Afghan families like having family members in each side. That way, no matter what happens, they always win. They did the same thing during the Soviet war," says Ghulam, who receives regular threats via shabnamas, satirical letters that are often hung on his door by night. The policeman admits his political leanings could change "if the country continues to sink into poverty and violence."
The two brothers do agree on one thing: that the Taliban and Karzai government will never be reconciled. The Western powers, eager to withdraw from the Afghan quagmire, are hoping otherwise, though talks have so far floundered. Abu Taieb thinks there's no question of negotiating since the Taliban "is leading a just war and controls southern Afghanistan."
The death of Osama bin Laden, who had long since ceased to represent the Taliban's nationalist fight, won't change anything in Afghanistan. Indeed, the Taliban – sensitive to the symbolic value of dates – chose the day Bin Laden was killed to launch a major Spring offensive.
Photo - AfghanistanMatters