A Storied Female Warlord Surrenders, Taliban Say, Exposing Afghan Weakness

KABUL, Afghanistan — In a protracted battle waged by males, she’s been a uncommon feminine warlord, defending her fief in northern Afghanistan towards the Taliban, her personal family members, and even towards the American-backed central authorities she allied with.

As she grew into her 70s, ailing and bedridden with dangerous knees, the warlord, Bibi Ayesha, took satisfaction in having an undefeated document in a long time of battle. She is popularly recognized by a nom de guerre: Commander Kaftar, which implies pigeon in Farsi, “because she moved and killed with the elegance of a bird,” as one profile put it.

On Thursday, the Taliban declared the tip of her high-flying days: Commander Kaftar, alongside together with her males, had surrendered to them, they mentioned in a press release.

“The officials of our Invite and Guidance Commission welcomed them,” the assertion mentioned.

Local officers in restive Baghlan province, the place she is predicated, and her family members confirmed the commander’s give up and mentioned it was an act of survival. Her valley was so surrounded, with different neighboring militias already switching sides to the Taliban, that she had no selection.

Mohammad Hanif Kohgadai, a member of Baghlan provincial council representing Commander Kaftar’s district, mentioned she had reached a deal by way of a Taliban commander associated to her household.

“The Taliban spent the night at Commander Kaftar’s house, they ate there,” Mr. Khohgadai mentioned in an interview on Friday. “Today, they left the house and took with them 13 weapons and other military gear.”

One of Commander Kaftar’s sons performed down the episode, saying it was extra a truce than a give up.

“It is just a rumor. My mother is sick,” mentioned Raz Mohammad, one in every of her three remaining sons. (Three others had been killed in years of combating.) “She hasn’t joined the Taliban. We don’t fight the Taliban anymore; we have weapons to protect ourselves from our enemies.”

Commander Kaftar’s give up brings little to the Taliban militarily however is one other propaganda victory towards the struggling Afghan authorities, suggesting that in a bloody, stalemated battle some had been switching sides to the insurgents. The Taliban have more and more reached out to these disenchanted with the Afghan authorities because the nation’s army struggles amid the continuing American withdrawal.

For a bunch that saved girls confined to their properties once they had been in energy within the Nineteen Nineties, a Taliban alliance with a feminine commander might show difficult. The Taliban has but to supply any detailed positions in ongoing peace talks on the function of ladies in a future authorities. But what makes Commander Kaftar’s shift simpler is that she instructions lots of of males in a deeply conservative and misogynistic society.

The give up exposes a bigger vulnerability of the Afghan authorities: Its defenses are partly reliant on hundreds of unreliable militias with monitor information of abuse and native feuding, and a historical past of switching sides.

President Ashraf Ghani has despatched blended alerts concerning the militias through the years.

When Mr. Ghani got here to workplace in late 2014, he tried aggressively to dismantle the militias. Encountering the president’s wrath, militia commanders merely refused to combat the Taliban, opening the best way for the insurgents to march on Kunduz City.

In current years, because the Afghan Army and the police have been stretched skinny towards Taliban offensives, Mr. Ghani has accepted the militias as a actuality. Over the summer time, the Afghan president spoke publicly about “investing more” in some militias as a line of protection.

Commander Kaftar’s expertise speaks to the difficult actuality upon which the American-bankrolled democracy has been constructed — on the legacy of a earlier invasion and years of anarchy and warlord rule.

Her fame started to develop with the killing of Soviet commandos who had swarmed her valley throughout an invasion beginning in 1979. She hasn’t put down arms since, elevating a militia that protected her valley as her little kingdom. Even when the Taliban swept by way of most of Afghanistan within the Nineteen Nineties, she fended them off.

She has usually recounted how she taunted the Taliban commander for her province with a lose-lose provide: If she arrested him, she would parade him round city on a donkey and other people would snort at him for being defeated by a girl. And if he arrested her? The city would scold the Taliban commander for arresting a girl.

After the U.S. invasion in 2001, the brand new Afghan authorities moved to disarm militias like hers. She and plenty of different militia commanders resisted. Asked concerning the authorities eager to disarm her, she mentioned, “If they come, you will see what I will do to the government.”

Even in Kabul she was celebrated as an anti-Taliban hero and inspiration for girls, with the nation’s former human rights chief attending a celebration of her hosted by Afghanistan’s vice chairman.

“This war won’t end in peace — only God, or this beautiful Kalashinkov can solve it,” she as soon as mentioned in an interview, the weapon on her lap. “The Taliban are not capable of change or reform.”

But whilst media reviews record 20 of her relations misplaced within the battle with the Taliban, a lot of her combat in recent times has concerned spiraling household feuds.

Some of these disputes, together with a combat with one in every of her sisters, have dragged on over 20 years with many useless on either side. In one other extended feud, she chased a relative out of the valley after deaths on each side, just for the person to return years later as a commander of the Taliban that she has now surrendered to.

The information of Commander Kaftar’s destiny raised questions of whether or not it was the results of a truce between two households, or because it was publicly portrayed: the give up of a militia commander to a Taliban chief. In giant elements of Afghanistan, with the lines of war increasingly blurred, the 2 are the identical.

“Commander Pigeon was an old decrepit warlord, a broken-down woman,” the author Jennifer Percy wrote in a 2014 profile in The New Republic. “Lonely, she survived on attention, on her ability to inspire fear through the power of her own myth. In Afghanistan, the ability to create a mythology is powerful, maybe even more powerful than military prowess.”

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