Alliance rifts leave Taliban Afghanistan'slikely victors

A calamitous split in the alliance ranged against the Taliban has opened the way for a fresh offensive by the Afghan fundamentalists.

No military victory could have been as valuable to them as the rift in the ranks of General Rashid Dostum, who has resisted the northwards advance of the Taliban since the autumn.

The defection to their side of General Abdul Malik, the Alliance's de facto Foreign Affairs minister, means that, at a single stroke, General Dostum has lost control of the areas to the west of his capital, Mazar- i-Sharif. This leaves his troops on the far western front hopelessly isolated; their defeat, which according to some reports is already a fact, would allow the Taliban to begin the final advance on Mazar, the key to the remaining third of the country not yet under their control.

Unlike the eastern front, the terrain the Taliban must cross is almost perfectly flat and an easy prospect for any mechanised army. They are already scenting victory. In a statement from Kandahar, the Taliban headquarters, Mullah Moham-med, the movement's reclusive leader, said that anyone surrendering voluntarily would be spared by the regime.

But he said: "Those forced to surrender by the Taliban will face Islam courts." No one in Mazar has forgotten what this meant for Mohammed Najibullah, the former Afghan president. On the fall of Kabul last September, the Taliban strung him up from a lamppost.

The routing of General Dostum has implications for the whole of central Asia. Mazar's population is already to swollen to many times its normal size by refugees from all over the country - some of them covert Taliban sympathisers, although many are not. The arrival of the fundamentalists, Western aid workers fear, could drive hundreds of thousands of refugees north across the borders of the central Asian republics.

The great worry is that sectarian warfare could spread. Tajikistan, which is only now emerging from a five-year civil war of its own, is seen as being particularly vulnerable.

General Dostum isn't finished yet, however. Mazar is still calm; he possesses a considerable number of tanks and fighters, and has been kept well supplied over the winter months by Russia, Iran and Uzbekistan, all of which are anxious to prevent Taliban's success.

General Dostum's current whereabouts are unknown. But if he can establish a second Western front, he may be able to survive. Much depends on the loyalty of his main ally in the east, the ethnic Tajik leader, Ahmed Shah Masoud; although last night there were unconfirmed reports of fighting in towns even to the east of Mazar.

Speculation as to what motivated General Malik, would-be architect of General Dostum's doom, is rife. Although his father, like General Dostum is an Uzbek, his mother is a Pashtun, the same ethnic minority as the Taliban. General Malik initially said his defection was for the sake of "national unity" and accused General Dostum of being a "bad muslim" and the main obstacle to peace; but such sentiments are suspiciously close to the official Taliban line to be given much credence.

He may simply have been bought - this has been one of the Taliban's most successful tactics in their 18 months advance across the country. Last year, one commander (who remains loyal to Dostum) was offered $11m (pounds 7m) to capitulate.

Still another theory is that General Malik is fighting a blood feud in the classic Afghan style. His family used to be headed by his brother, Rasool Palhawn, who rose to prominence as General Dostum's deputy. Last June, Mr Rasool was mysteriously assassinated by his bodyguard - on the orders, some say, of General Dostum himself. Mr Rasool was, some say, was simply getting too big for his boots. If the story is true, then General Malik has wreak-ed ample revenge.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen