Warlords and militia leaders

Warlords and militia leaders


Warlords and leaders: areas of influence (2004), BBC News

Clear introduction to the major regional leaders, as of 2004.

Afghanistan: Focus on warlordism in northeast, IRIN, UN OCHA, 1 June 2005

Afghanistan: Return of the Warlords, Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, June 2002

Documents early regional return of both the Taliban and warlords following US and UN occupation of Kabul.

Groups and individuals

Hizb-i-Islami (Islamic Party), GlobalSecurity.org

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar: From Holy Warrior to Wanted Terrorist, Omid Marzban, Terrorism Monitor, Volume 4, Issue 18, (September 21, 2006)

“Hekmatyar is not blinded by a radical Islamic vision. For him, Islam is more about politics than it is about religion. In fact, this makes him more dangerous than Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who has surrounded himself with illiterate religious leaders. Hekmatyar, on the other hand, is more adept at military and political strategy. Additionally, Hekmatyar has led wars throughout Afghan territory and is completely familiar with the country’s diverse geography, culture and beliefs.

“‘Hekmatyar’s ability of imposing his inspirations, especially on the youth, is unbelievable,’ says Qazi Muhammad Amin Waqad, a former member of Hezb-e-Islami’s leadership council and Hekmatyar’s former deputy. ‘During the past few years, Hekmatyar has found an absolutely new Hezb-e-Islami by absorbing new members—most of them youths—who may not even know me,’ added Waqad [5].

“Every week, Hekmatyar’s Tanweer Weekly publishes in Shamshatoo refugee camp in Peshawar together with Estiqamat, a pro-Taliban magazine. In the August 10 issue of Tanweer, Hekmatyar again pledged to fight foreign troops in Afghanistan “till the last drop of blood moves in his body”—an expression always heard in Hekmatyar’s speeches. By controlling this publication, Hekmatyar is able to recruit a tremendous amount of followers who are willing to die in order to kill a foreign soldier. Meanwhile, Hekmatyar uses his military experience to defeat the enemy (coalition and Afghan government soldiers), which for him are no different than the former Soviet army. In fact, among the three top insurgent leaders, who are located on each angle of the Triangle of Terror, Hekmatyar is considered the most powerful and the most dangerous for the current stability situation in Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s Veteran Jihadi Leader: An Interview with Qazi Mohammad Amin Waqad, Waliullah Rahmani, Spotlight on Terror, Volume 4, Issue 1 (May 3, 2007)

“Qazi Mohammad Amin Waqad is a former member of the Hizb-e-Islami leadership council, a party led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Waqad was one of three key anti-Soviet leaders of the mujahideen and served as Hekmatyar’s lieutenant. He is a graduate of the Islamic Law Faculty of Kabul University and is now a leading member of the National Front, an opposition group to Hamid Karzai’s administration.”

Faryadi Zardad, Rogues Gallery: Africa-Asia,  IRIN In-Depth, 10 July 2006

“Faryadi Zardad was a warlord in Afghanistan. As a result of the Talibans’ rise to power in Afghanistan in 1996, Zardad arrived in the UK 1998 seeking asylum with a false passport. He was arrested in July 2003. The Zardad case is a landmark in British law history, since it is the first case where a non-UK citizen has been tried before a British court for crimes committed in another country. In the case of whether or not the UK authorities could extradite Pinochet to Spain , the Law Lords ruled that torture falls under universal jurisdiction, and thus the British court not only could, but was also obliged, to either try or extradite Zardad. Since Afghanistan made no request for extradition, Zardad was prosecuted in the UK. He has been convicted by London ‘s Criminal Court under the United Nations Convention Against Torture for crimes committed in his own country. In July 2005, he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.”


Insurgent faction presents Afghan peace plan, Carlotta Gall, The New York Times, 23 March 2010

Representatives of a major insurgent faction have presented a formal 15-point peace plan to the Afghan government, the first concrete proposal to end hostilities since President Hamid Karzai said he would make reconciliation a priority after his re-election last year.

The delegation represents fighters loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar… His representatives met Monday with President Karzai and other Afghan officials in the first formal contact between a major insurgent group and the Afghan government after almost two years of backchannel communications, which diplomats say the United States has supported.

A spokesman for the delegation, Mohammad Daoud Abedi, said the Taliban, which makes up the bulk of the insurgency, would be willing to go along with the plan if a date was set for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country. Publicly, a Taliban spokesman denied that.

The plan, titled the National Rescue Agreement, a copy of which was given to The New York Times, sets that date as July 2010, with the withdrawal to be completed within six months.

Afghan warlord Hekmatyar talks peace, but brings little to table, Ben Arnoldy, The Christian Science Monitor, 22 March 2010

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is holding peace talks with a top envoy from one of the three main insurgent groups, but analysts caution that any deal may not dramatically change the course of the war.

The group, Hizb-e-Islami, has made more overtures toward reconciling with the Afghan government than its allies, the Taliban and the Haqqani network, have. It has held occasional meetings with the Kabul government for at least the past few months.

“I don’t think a peace deal would make a difference either on the insurgency or on peace in different areas of Afghanistan,” says Waliullah Rahmani, head of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies. “It’s the Taliban who are the main drivers of insurgency in Afghanistan and they have some specific preconditions, and it is hard to contact them in a manner that the government is approaching Hizb-e-Islami.”

“He doesn’t contribute much to the insurgency,” Rustom Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan told the Monitor last month. “His foot soldiers have joined the mainstream Taliban, so they are now fighting under the banner of the Taliban.”

Return of the warlords, Sanjay Kumar, The Diplomat, 16 March 2010

 ‘But where is the security? If we hadn’t called them (the militia), our lives would have been hell by now.’ … —who finances these militias? Meanwhile, their often sophisticated arms and ammunition have left some wondering if the groups enjoy the patronage of the government itself.

In 2003, the fledgling Afghan government started a disarmament programme called the Afghan New Beginnings Programme—a  three-year project aimed at collecting  weapons from an estimated 100,000 fighters to help pave the way for their reintegration into civilian life. The idea was to instead put the defence of the country in the hands of a new, centralized, ethnically balanced national army.

Yet, seven years later, areas like Qalaizal are seeing the emergence of a new kind of militia. These groups are not based on ethnic lines, but are amalgamations of different ethnic groups established to protect specific villages or districts.

‘The interior ministry doesn’t have any militias under its control and we don’t have any information about the establishment of specific militia groups because we haven’t had good experiences with them,’ says Afghanistan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemari Bashary. ‘The Afghan people don’t welcome the creation of militias.’

Gaichi, a former Mujahedeen who fought with the Taliban against the Russians in the 1980s, agrees that the Afghan government hasn’t really played much of a supporting role—up to a point.

‘Our main support comes from the people of Qalaizal, and it’s through their help we get weapons,’ he says, adding that the Afghan government has provided his group with ‘only’ 17 guns. ‘But there’s other support too…The Germans know about us and they’re also supporting us by giving us blankets and such. [And] we have assurances of more support from the Afghan government.’

Afghanistan worlords’ unwelcome return, Sally Neighbour, The Australian, 27 February 2010

Most notorious of all is the veteran jihad commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an accused terrorist, war criminal and protector of Osama bin Laden who last month held out an olive branch to Karzai and the West, claiming he is not in league with the Taliban and wants only the departure of foreign forces. Hekmatyar is being feted with offers that reportedly include ministries and governorships for his party, Hezb-e-Islami, in a future Afghan regime.

During the past three decades Hekmatyar has earned a reputation as the most ruthless, bloodthirsty, corrupt and self-serving of all the Afghan commanders. He is more hated even than the Taliban and the thought of Hekmatyar being accommodated is anathema to many Afghans. Yet the harsh reality is, as Afghan parliamentarian Abdul Jabar told The Washington Post, “If we exclude Hekmatyar from peace negotiations, there won’t be any peace in Afghanistan.”

The “warlord strategy” was profoundly destabilising, further entrenching Afghanistan’s deep ethnic and tribal divisions and rendering the Karzai government in Kabul “weak and irrelevant”, in the words of Rashid.

Ordinary Afghans were dismayed: “Although the Americans had liberated them from the evil of the Taliban, they had brought back another evil: the warlords.”

“Dealing with brutal Afghan warlords is a mistake”, Nick Grono and Candace Rondeaux, Boston Globe, 17 January 2010

But outside observers are looking in the wrong place: They ought to focus on the backroom deals the United States is preparing to make with some notorious warlords, as these will determine the long-term effectiveness of President Obama’s strategy.

Three decades of warfare in Afghanistan have produced a multitude of warlords and commanders. Institutions have been supplanted by abusive powerholders, who maintain their control through violence, patronage, corruption, and external backing. Instead of rebuilding institutions, and focusing on the rule of law, the United States tried to build peace on the cheap, subcontracting power to many of those abusive warlords who had been marginalized by the Taliban. These same warlords have now seized on their reprieve with a vengeance.

Warlordism studies

Disarming Afghanistan’s Warlords, Jake Sherman, PRAXIS, Vol. 20, May 2005, pp. 5-16


The Politics of Center-Periphery Relations in Afghanistan, Barnett R. Rubin and Helena Malikyar, Center on International Cooperation, New York University, March 2003

“Under the constitution Afghanistan is a unitary state administered according to the principle of centralization. The reality of the exercise of power today is quite different.”

“Tribes” and Warlords in Southern Afghanistan, 1980-2005, Antonio Giustozzi and Noor Ullah, Crisis States Research Centre Working Paper No. 7 (series 2), September 2006

Anthropological study stressing regional variations in conditions favouring warlordism.

‘Good’ State vs. ‘Bad’ Warlords? A Critique of State-Building Strategies in Afghanistan, Antonio Giustozzi, Crisis States Research Centre, Working Paper No. 51, October 2004

Warlordism in Comparative Perspective, Kimberly Marten, International Security, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Winter 2006/07), pp. 41–73

Useful study of warlordism and the causes and dynamics in four cases, including Afghanistan. Detailed political and anthropological analysis.

Warlords and narco-politics

Drug trafficking and the development of organized crime in post-Taliban Afghanistan, Mark Shaw, in Afghanistan’s Drug Industry: Structure, functioning, dynamics and implications for counter-narcotics policy, Doris Buddenberg and William A. Byrd (eds.), UN Office on drugs and Crime and the World Bank, November 2006, pp 189-223.

See also:


Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
Additional research: Ronald Li
Updated: 8 April 2010