KABUL: Dozens of tribal chiefs have been arrested across Afghanistan on charges of encouraging government soldiers to surrender to the Taliban, officials and lawmakers said on Friday, as the insurgents have stepped up attacks against Kabul forces.
Fighting in Afghanistan has intensified in the past weeks as the US is set end its military presence in the war-battered country by Sept. 11. The Taliban have advanced their strikes, raising concerns in Kabul that they might retake power either by force or by winning over government troops.
The Interior Ministry announced earlier this week that the involvement of village elders in persuading Kabul soldiers to leave their bases in return for safe passage is “direct cooperation with the enemy.”
“Dozens of them have been arrested, their cases will be referred to legal and judicial authorities,” the ministry’s spokesman Tariq Arian told Arab News.
The arrests have been taking place for the past two weeks. In eastern Nuristan province, 19 tribal chiefs were arrested after the Taliban took over two districts earlier this month. “God willing, the arrests have had an impact. That is why the government took this decision,” Nuristan police chief Aqel Shah Khelwati said.
He said that some of the arrested said they had been “forced by the Taliban” to mediate with soldiers.
The Taliban have confirmed they had dispatched delegations comprising tribal chiefs in some regions, but the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied forcing them to do so.
Some Afghan lawmakers have approved the arrests, with Fawzia Raoufi, a parliament member from northern Faryab province, saying the government “should hinder” the surrender of its soldiers after 300 military and police personnel gave in to the Taliban in the Sherin Tagab district on Thursday evening.
She admitted, however, that the troops were left with no support for days. “These troops had asked for air support for days, nothing happened, so they went over to the Taliban. There were 84 functioning armored vehicles, ammunition and arms that fell to the Taliban,” Raoufi said. “It is a tragedy and strengthens the Taliban.”
The Taliban say they have captured over 20 districts in Afghanistan since early May when US-led forces began to withdraw. The government has conceded loss of some areas but gave no details.
The arrests have aroused controversy as mediatory efforts are common in the country’s rural areas.
“Local conflicts are customarily settled by mediation. This is our true culture,” Torek Farhadi, adviser to former president Hamid Karzai, said.
“By negotiating a truce, human lives are saved, and families keep loved ones alive on both sides of the conflict,” he said. “If community leaders accomplish their Islamic duty by negotiating to avoid bloodshed, that is great news as it can herald localized pockets of peace in the future in Afghanistan.”
For Haroun Rahimi, a political science professor at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, the surrender of troops can have “dire political and strategic” consequences by affecting the army’s morale, the state’s legitimacy and fragmenting the anti-Taliban coalition.
He added, however, that “punishing influential locals is going to alienate local communities and create anti-government sentiment.”