Why has it been nearly impossible to coax Taliban fighters into turning in their weapons and cooperating with the Afghan government? The story of Mullah A stands as an all-too-common example.
A few years back, the Taliban commander thought his personal war with the Americans was over when he surrendered his Toyota Land Cruiser, a stack of rocket-propelled grenades and his personal weapons to the police chief in Kandahar. Mullah A, who prefers not to be identified, was exhausted. In late 2001, when U.S.-backed forces were pushing into northern Afghanistan, the commander saw most of his men wiped out by heavy American bombardment. He was one of the few survivors, and he fled south, back home to Kandahar, convinced that his fighting days had come to an end.
As part of the surrender, Kandahar’s police chief gave Mullah A a letter of protection. But the would-be ex-guerrilla fighter soon realized the paper was worthless. Like so many other Taliban who tried to lay down arms, the commander had a complex history, interwoven with tribal rivalries and greed. The CIA was offering $100,000 for the return of Stinger antiaircraft missiles, and the local intelligence chief, who belongs to the enemy Achakzai tribe (allied to President Hamid Karzai’s Popalzai tribe), was convinced that he could make good money if he shook down Mullah A to see if he was holding back a few Stingers. “I told him I didn’t have any,” Mullah A informed TIME by telephone. That resulted, the Taliban commander alleges, in the Achakzai intelligence chief arresting and torturing Mullah A’s brother and cousin. “My cousin was strangled to death,” the commander says. [continued…]