This Ex-Taliban Commander Is Now the Face of Afghan Safety

KABUL — Rahmatullah Andar was as soon as a feared Taliban commander, locked in bloody skirmishes in opposition to American and Afghan authorities troops within the rugged panorama of japanese Afghanistan.

In 2007, an American Particular Operations group captured him throughout an evening raid on a home in his ancestral village in Ghazni Province. He spent two years in an American-run jail at Bagram Air Base exterior Kabul.

As we speak, Commander Andar is Spokesman Andar — the official spokesman for the Nationwide Safety Council of the American-backed authorities of Afghanistan. The story of how a former Talib turned a high-ranking authorities safety official can be a chronicle of the infinite Afghan conflict itself: Allegiances shift. Enemies turn into allies. The gamers change roles, however the conflict endures.

The 19-year-old battle is as fiercely contested at the moment as when Mr. Andar commanded Taliban fighters for a number of years, solely to interrupt with the militants and lead certainly one of Afghanistan’s first local uprisings in opposition to the Taliban in 2012. He misplaced his father, 75, his brother, an uncle and two cousins — all killed by the Taliban out of revenge, he mentioned.

As we speak Mr. Andar is a non secular scholar with two grasp’s levels who serves a authorities he as soon as vowed to overthrow. And he stays a goal of his former comrades in arms, who regard him as a turncoat.

“The Taliban intend to assassinate me,” Mr. Andar, 41, mentioned throughout an interview contained in the presidential palace advanced in Kabul. “Whether or not I’m a member of the federal government or not, they are going to by no means go away me alive.”

Mr. Andar, alternating amongst Pashto, Farsi and English, was relaxed and voluble as he recounted a life spent on battlefields, on the run, in universities and in prisons. He’s a consummate survivor.

He described withstanding Taliban kidnapping makes an attempt and ambushes, interrogations by American captors, and two stints in Afghan authorities prisons — accounts born out by official data and by those that fought alongside him.

Together with his tangled beard and lengthy hair, he may nonetheless be mistaken for a Talib, although he insists that he regards the militants with contempt — and hopes to serve for instance of how the insurgents maintain no monopoly on Afghan piety.

He was appointed to his Nationwide Safety Council place by President Ashraf Ghani on Sept. 25, largely due to each his spiritual credentials — he has earned the spiritual honorific of Mawlawi, that means Islamic scholar — and his repute as a fighter in opposition to the Taliban.

His appointment was a transparent assertion from the Afghan authorities, as a central concept behind the Taliban’s criticism is that the federal government stays insufficiently Islamic, and is a puppet of the People.

A single appointment can not polish the spiritual picture of a whole authorities, Mr. Andar acknowledged. “However the authorities can present by its actions that the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is greater than only a title,” he mentioned.

And he mentioned the Taliban, by signing a troop withdrawal settlement with the US in February whereas freezing out the Afghan authorities, had undercut its personal claims of Islamic purity.

“They are saying authorities officers are infidels, however they’ve an settlement with the People, whose troops invaded Afghanistan,” he mentioned. “So now they don’t have any logic for this conflict” in opposition to fellow Afghans and Muslims.

The Taliban have mentioned that any new authorities arising from negotiations with Afghan representatives in Doha, Qatar, have to be primarily based on Islamic rules. Some analysts have interpreted that to imply the identical harsh Shariah legislation that was imposed when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan within the late 1990s.

Mr. Andar mentioned the Taliban couldn’t change Afghanistan’s Structure with out the consent of a loya jirga, a conventional gathering the place issues of nationwide significance are debated. And Article three of the Structure already stipulates that no legislation “might be opposite to the beliefs and guidelines of the holy faith of Islam,” he mentioned.

Many Afghan women have expressed fears {that a} return to authorities by the Taliban would erase positive aspects they’ve made because the militants had been overthrown in 2001. The Taliban beat ladies, confined them to their houses and banned them from going to high school.

Mr. Andar mentioned these prohibitions weren’t correctly rooted in Islam, as the faith doesn’t forbid women and girls from attending faculty. Actually, he mentioned, the closing of faculties by the Taliban in his house district is what precipitated his break up from the motion three years after his launch from American custody.

“The Taliban closed the colleges and opposed reconstruction, kidnapping and killing engineers,” mentioned Amanullah Kamran, deputy of the provincial council in Ghazni. He mentioned Mr. Andar, who supported ladies’s training and the U.S.-led reconstruction effort, took up arms in opposition to the Taliban and helped type one of the country’s first local uprisings in opposition to the insurgency.

Mr. Kamran mentioned the preventing left practically 500 Afghans useless within the district and one other 500 wounded. Mr. Andar himself was wounded in battles that finally killed his closest male family members, he mentioned.

“Lastly there was no man left in Rahmatullah’s household besides Rahmatullah,” Mr. Kamran mentioned.

Mr. Andar mentioned he now cares for 21 kids and widows. Requested whether or not he nonetheless carried an AK-47 rifle from his fight days, he laughed and mentioned he had solely a pistol for private safety.

In current months, the Taliban have mounted a sequence of focused attacks against government officials and people perceived to be authorities supporters. However Mr. Andar defined his shifting allegiances by blaming each the federal government and the Taliban. He mentioned he joined the Taliban after the federal government jailed him for 2 months in 2003 upon his return from spiritual research in Pakistan.

“The federal government pushed me to the Taliban by its actions in opposition to me,” he mentioned.

Years later, he mentioned, he turned in opposition to the Taliban as soon as the militants started closing colleges and terrorizing the residents of his district — violations of Islamic strictures. “Even preventing has guidelines below Islam, and the Taliban broke these spiritual guidelines,” he mentioned.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, mentioned Mr. Andar and his male family members had been professional targets as a result of they’d collaborated with People whereas commanding pro-government militias.

After the Taliban burned the houses of Mr. Andar and his family members — torching his private Quran and killing their livestock — Mr. Andar mentioned he fled to Kabul. There, he earned a second grasp’s diploma, in instructional administration, to complement a earlier grasp’s in Islamic research. He later served as a non secular adviser for the Nationwide Safety Council.

In his present place, Mr. Andar encounters former enemies. Asadullah Khalid, the performing protection minister, was governor of Ghazni Province when Mr. Andar was arrested and jailed there.

“I see him in conferences now and he tells me he’s my pal. We respect one another,” Mr. Andar mentioned.

The spokesman’s job additionally requires an alliance with American and Afghan army commanders. Requested whether or not his fighters had killed or wounded American and Afghan troops, Mr. Andar shrugged. “It was a conflict,” he mentioned. “In fact there have been casualties.”

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