In Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, violence is committed by all sides

In Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, violence is committed by all sides
As NGO workers recover from a car-bomb attack on Save The Children's officers, Afghanis face violence from IS, the Taliban, security forces and warlords...
7 min read
25 January, 2018
Violence is carried out by multiple groups in Afghanistan (Getty)
At around 9am on Wednesday, a car bomb exploded outside the office of UK-based NGO Save The Children in Afghanistans eastern city of Jalalabad. Moments after the explosion in the nearby office of Nangarhar provinces governor, the phone rang.

On the other end of the line was the panicked voice of the head of the Jalalabad branch of the UK-based NGO, which has been working in Afghanistan since 1976.

"He asked that we contact security forces and let them know that were hiding in the NGOs bunker and to be careful. He told us that there were also injuring among the employees," the city's governor reported.

Following the blast, gunmen attempted to storm the charity's office, placing those inside under siege. Two security guards and one civilian were killed at the scene, and at least 25 others were wounded.

Mohsin Khan, a journalist and anti-drone activist currently based in Jalalabad, spent much of Wednesday around the area of the latest attack, listening to eyewitness accounts.

"Theres a never ending trauma being committed against the people of Nangarhar and Afghanistan generally" says Khan.

"If its not by ISKP, then its the Taliban. And if its not the Taliban then its the local police and security forces. And if its not them, it is the local warlords, strongmen and gangsters. The average people are losing their minds in these conditions.

"You should have seen the police and security out there... They had an ongoing battle to fight inside the compound. There were people gathered everywhere trying to see what was happening. They were in a panic because of the possibility of another suicide bomber who could have easily targeted the crowds, and there was nothing they could do about it."

Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan includes 100 kilometres of border with Pakistan, where militants pass back and forth to carry out attacks and avoid security forces in the respective countries.

This has meant residents of Nangarhar province, including the capital Jalalabad city, experience constant violence and attacks from all sides.

"This has become our lives. We keep trying to live like normal people, but the violence is driving us all mad," says Khan.

Nangarhar, which is a historically rebellious region of Afghanistan, has a complicated and shadowy power broking system that includes warlords, strongmen, gangsters, local government and businessmen as well as the Taliban.

These parties are in constant conflict and negotiation, and not much gets done without all parties being included. Adding fuel to the fire is the involvement of neighbouring Pakistan, Iran, India and China, along with Saudi Arabia, Russia and of course the United States.

Each country backs their own set of characters in this theatre where there are few heroes and many villains.

In recent years, the development and wanton violence of an Islamic State group branch in Afghanistan [ISKP], has turned an already hostile environment into a living nightmare for people throughout Nangarhar.

Former Afghanistan Analysts Network researcher, Borhan Osman, who now works with Crisis Group International, gives one of the most detailed accounts of how ISKP came to be:

"In late January 2015, the Islamic State announced its expansion into Khorasan province. The elements of what would become IS Khorasan Provinces (ISKP) main contingent had, however, long existed on the Afghan battlefield. Although the first case of an ISKP presence that grabbed public attention took place in Helmand that January (as discussed below), the actual IS vanguards emerged from Nangarhar province. The IS fighters who pioneered the Khorasan franchise of the IS were Pakistani militants who had long been settled in the southeastern districts of Nangarhar, in the Spin Ghar mountains or its foothills, bordering the tribal agencies on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line.

Before choosing to join ISKP, these militants operated under different brands, mainly under the umbrella of the ever-loosening Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP). The bulk of these militants had been arriving in Nangarhar since 2010 mainly from the Orakzai, North Waziristan and Khyber tribal agencies. According to local residents, the first groups of Pakistani militants arrived in Nangarhar from Orakzai following an operation by the Pakistani army that year. They moved into Afghanistan, often with their families, apparently to flee military operations by the Pakistani army. They settled in Achin, Nazian, Kot, Deh Bala, Rodat and Ghanikhel districts, among others. Calling themselves muhajerin (refugees) in search of shelter, they invoked support from the local communities in Nangarhar who deemed it their moral obligation to extend a helping hand to their Pashtun brothers escaping violence in their hometowns. The refugees also opened madrasas and schools for their children in Achin and Nazian."

Those who later presented themselves as ISKP first convinced locals in Achin district that they wanted to help liberate them from "the oppression of the Taliban." This led to the recruitment of locals who joined ISKP in pushing out the local Taliban command. They succeeded in this effort, but ushered in new level of brutality that the locals had never witnessed before.

"I swear to God, not even the Russians were like this," one Shinwar resident told The New Arab back in 2016.

Anand Gopal, a journalist and author, said back in 2015 that a media "obsession" with the development of IS in Iraq and Syria had allowed ISKP to develop rapidly and under the radar.

"There has been increased dissatisfaction among certain elements of the Taliban, and with the media talking about ISIS all the time and the Afghan government playing up the idea of ISIS as a way of keeping the United States interested, all of that sort of set the ground for the groups to rebrand themselves," Gopal told PBS.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government, desperate to maintain US and NATO interest in Afghanistan, and to keep funding coming for reconstruction and the Afghan National Army flowing, initially exaggerated the ISKP's presence.

It may even have allowed ISKP to an uncontrollable size by holding off a full scale onslaught against the group, until it was too late.

The sustained growth and the seemingly limitless supplies that ISKP has access to still seem to confusing experts and government official alike.

In April of 2017, the then newly elected US President Donald Trump dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb ever made, known as the MOAB or "Mother of All Bombs"  on Achin district, angering Afghans across the globe and decimating portions of a small village in the Asad Khel area.

The attack was meant to destroy ISKP tunnels that had been dug by the group, along with locals who had been duped into believing that precious stones were being dug up to support the community.

Instead, the ISKP managed to keep a tight lid on things while they won over the local population, the bomb failed to make any meaningful impact and the US began taking casualties and fatalities the moment they began a ground offensive in the area.

To add insult to injury, the US blocked Afghan journalists from properly covering this major event in one of the world's most neglected and impoverished regions - Nangarhar.

The silence and lack of reporting about Nangarhar by the internationally mainstream media has allowed for ISKP to remain a mystery to most people in the world. However, this absence of reporting also allows local strongmen and the US military to escape the proper scrutiny needed to keep them in check.

US airstrikes and drone strikes routinely kill civilians in the region, however rarely get reported by the mainstream media.

Officials inside Nangarhar also complain that they are not being kept in the loop by the US military about its operations and those it kills in the battlefield. The US has kept a policy of claiming anyone killed in the vicinity of "militants", even boys as young as 14 years of age, are "enemy combatants".

In a recently released video on YouTube, a US special forces officer mistakenly added footage of what could possibly constitute a war crime committed by US troops into a video montage he made to promote his T-shirt company.

The video went viral on Twitter, but was overshadowed by Trump's racist remarks regarding "shithole countries".

Meanwhile the people of Nangarhar continue to deal with constant violence committed by an array of State and non-State actors.