Taliban faces internal battles in northern province

Protests erupted in Maimana over the sacking of an Uzbek police chief

Members of the Taliban watch a football match at the stadium in Kandahar. AFP

Hundreds of Afghans took to the streets of a provincial capital on Thursday to protest against the Taliban’s arrest of a local commander from the Uzbek ethnic minority.

Uzbek Taliban fighters demonstrated in Maimana, in the northern province of Faryab, after an Uzbek Taliban commander named Makhdom Alam, also the police chief of Faryab, was sacked.

“He was accused of kidnapping three women in Mazar-e-Sharif city. The Taliban fired him in response which angered the Uzbek Taliban fighters who started the protest”, a local reporter from Maimana city told The National, on condition of anonymity.

Mr Alam was the Taliban’s shadow governor for Faryab province for many years during their battles with the previous governments. According to the BBC, Mr Alam was arrested in Balkh province on the orders of the Taliban’s Deputy Minister of Defence, Mullah Fazil.

“The protesters I talked to are saying he is innocent and he was fired because he is from the Uzbek ethnicity, and the Taliban are discriminating against them,” the reporter said, adding that the protests surrounded the Governor’s office.

A witness said that several Taliban commanders of Pashtun ethnicity were disarmed.

“Many Taliban officials also escaped, but some of their members were detained and their weapons were seized by local elders,” a 40-year-old resident of Maimana, who wished only to be identified as Mr Sakhi, told The National. “The Taliban called Alam to Mazar-i-Sharif on the pretext of a meeting and then detained him. His people have not been able to reach him, his phones are switched off, which is why they are now on the streets fighting for his release,” he said.

While the Taliban have not yet commented on the issue, a tweet from an account associated with the Taliban's Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi appealed for calm. “Your problems will be taken care of. But please do not create a political issue. It is not good for you and you will be harmed,” the tweet stated.

The Taliban have struggled with internal disputes and conflicts since seizing control of Afghanistan in August last year. Comprised mainly of Pashtuns, the insurgent group has been accused of discriminating against, and even persecuting, Afghanistan’s many diverse ethnic groups.

The previous government faced similar criticisms of ethnic discrimination and a violent protest in Maimana city just months before it was toppled by the Taliban. In May 2021, citizens took to the streets to prevent Mohammad Daud Laghmani, a non-Uzbek who was appointed as the governor by former president Ashraf Ghani, from assuming office.

Mr Sakhi said that the Taliban, too, have a history of discriminating against Uzbek and Turkmen members. “The Uzbek and Turkmen want to see their representations in the government. They have made tents in the city centre and will continue to demonstrate until their demands are met,” he said.

However, the local reporter told The National the protests had been quelled by Thursday evening.

“The situation is a bit normal now, since some of the protesters left the governor office, but we're hearing reports that the Taliban’s Pashtun fighters are on the way from Qaisar district to take control of the situation,” the local reporter said, warning that the ethnic unrest could worsen.

“It is possible that war between Uzbek and Pashtun Taliban may break out in Faryab in the coming days,” the reporter said.

Updated: January 13th 2022, 6:49 PM