Afghanistan’s Taliban Battle Rebellion by Ethnic Minority Fighters

KABUL – Afghan Taliban are fighting an uprising of ethnic minority fighters in their own ranks in the north of the country, a sign that ties are fraying within the alliance built by the Islamist group that seized control of the country in August.

Some Uzbeks who joined the Taliban, which is dominated by Pashtuns from the south and east of the country, joined other Uzbeks against Taliban forces in Faryab province this week. At least four people were killed and others injured in clashes on Friday, local residents said.

Inamullah Samangani, a spokesman for the Taliban, said it is proponents of democracy who take advantage of ethnic divisions.

“Now that they have nothing, the so-called Democrats are struggling to figure out which Talib ethnic group is good and which is bad,” Samangani said on Twitter.

Ethnic divisions run deep in Afghanistan and are one of the main drivers of decades of war in the country. Uzbeks, Tajiks and other groups tend to dominate in the north and have traditionally opposed the Taliban, whose leadership is predominantly Pashtun. However, some members of the northern ethnic groups also joined the Taliban and played an important role in conquering the country last year.

“It is too early to say whether Faryab will have a snowball effect that will reverberate through the ranks of the non-Pashtun Taliban in northern, central and western Afghanistan,” said Tamim Asey, head of the Afghan Institute of War think tank and Peace Studies, now living in exile, who once served as Deputy Secretary of Defense in the US-backed government.

After the US-backed government collapsed last year and the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, they reached out to members of the country’s ethnic minorities and said they would form an inclusive government.

Most senior positions in the Taliban government, however, have remained in the hands of Pashtuns. The international community has criticized the new government for being unrepresentative, an accusation the Taliban has rejected.

One of the two deputy prime ministers appointed by the Taliban is an Uzbek. No country has recognized the Taliban administration.

The unrest in Faryab was sparked by the Taliban’s arrest of one of their own commanders, Makhdom Alim, a prominent Uzbek member of the movement that led the conquest of Faryab and Jowzjan provinces, over charges of theft, locals said. There has been no official announcement from the Taliban about charges against Mr Alim, although they have acknowledged his detention.

That sparked a wider uprising fueled by what local Uzbeks said was discrimination by Pashtuns.

In Faryab’s provincial capital of Maimana, streets leading to government offices were closed on Friday, locals said. Taliban special forces took back control of the provincial governor’s office on Friday, they said.

“All shops and bazaars are closed. It is possible that something bad could happen at any moment,” said a Maimana resident, who declined to be named. “It’s more ethnic divisions within the Taliban now.”

A senior Uzbek member of the Taliban, Salahuddin Ayoubi, was ambushed twice as he ran to Faryab on Friday to mediate, apparently by the Pashtun Taliban who feared he would join the rebels, residents said. One of his bodyguards was killed and several injured, they said.

Shoib Rasalat, a still loyal Uzbek Taliban commander in neighboring Jowzjan province, said Mr Alim’s arrest had nothing to do with his ethnicity.

“The problem is being misused and twisted towards ethnicity. Every government has its own officials under investigation,” Mr Rasalat said, citing his own example as an Uzbek who had served the previous government and was then taken over by the Taliban after their conquest. “We Uzbeks have rights under the Taliban. We are happy with the Taliban.”

write to Ehsanullah Amiri at Ehsanullah.Amiri@wsj.com and Saeed Shah at saeed.shah@wsj.com

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