'Rags To Riches': America's Man In Kandahar
Originally published on Mon September 26, 2011 4:00 am
Gen. Abdul Raziq is the acting police chief of Afghanistan's Kandahar province. Just 33 years old, he's a former warlord on whom the United States relied during its 2010 "surge" operation. But Raziq is also accused of brutal abuses of power, even massacring his tribal rivals, according to a new article in The Atlantic.
Matthieu Aikins, the article's author, describes Raziq as a "rags-to-riches character, who started as a small shopkeeper living in exile in Pakistan during the Taliban period, and has ascended to the most dizzying heights of wealth and power."
Aikins tells Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep that Raziq began his rise after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
"He became the head of this tribal militia that controlled a key border crossing between Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, and Pakistan," Aikins says.
According to Aikins, anyone who controls that vital military and trade passage is "sitting on a gold mine."
"The other thing is that he oversaw the most dramatic expansion of the opium trade in history," he adds.
In his article, Aikins also links Raziq to several episodes of brutal violence. One instance took place in 2006, when Raziq was a colonel in Afghanistan's Border Police.
According to Aikins, that's when Raziq "basically conspired with another man to abduct 16 people from Kabul, where they'd sort of been on vacation, and then take them out into the desert and murder them there, and leave their corpses there — and claim that they had actually been Taliban infiltrating from across the border [from Pakistan]."
Raziq has not denied being responsible for the deaths, but he has maintained that those killed were Taliban fighters.
"They didn't have connections to the Taliban; they were rivals of Abdul Raziq," Aikins says, citing a thorough police investigation.
The results of that police inquiry were suppressed, Aikins says in The Atlantic. And senior Afghan officials, including President Hamid Karzai, chose not to move against Raziq, he says.
Last autumn, Raziq was named a partner in the U.S. effort to clear Kandahar city of militants, raising his profile in Afghanistan — and leading to a promotion to brigadier general. In May, he was named acting police chief of Kandahar province.
Excerpt: 'Our Man In Kandahar' — Matthieu Aikins describes the final days of Shin Noorzai, "a burly smuggler in his mid-30s" who was killed along with more than a dozen other men he was traveling in March of 2006.
According to an acquaintance of Shin's who was also present at the gathering, he and his friends had arrived at the invitation of another man, Mohammed Naeem Lalai, an old friend of Shin's who was then working as an officer in the Border Police. It was Lalai who had persuaded Shin and his friends to stop in Kabul on their way to Mazar. As the group sat down to dinner, Shin's acquaintance, a fellow tribesman, watched uneasily, nervous about the company Shin was keeping. He offered to make the trip with Shin instead. "Come with me to Mazar," he said to him.
Shin replied that he was going to travel up to Mazar with Lalai. But first, he said, Lalai was taking him to another house where music and entertainment were promised. That night, as darkness fell over Kabul, Shin and his 15 companions left the house with Lalai. Their friends and families would never see them alive again.
At the second house, Shin and his friends were apparently drugged. Unconscious, they were bound and gagged, then loaded into vehicles with official plates, one of them a green Ford Ranger with the seal of the Border Police on its doors.
Driving along back roads, the cars made their way 500 kilometers south to Kandahar province, and by the next morning arrived at Spin Boldak, where Abdul Raziq, then a Border Police colonel in his mid-20s, was waiting for them.
Raziq and Lalai had together lured Shin and his associates to Kabul. The tribes to which Raziq and Shin belonged had been feuding over smuggling routes, and Raziq held Shin responsible for the 2004 killing of his brother. Shin had been a marked man ever since. His 15 companions were just going to be collateral damage.
Raziq and his men loaded their captives into a convoy of Land Cruisers and headed out to a parched, desolate stretch of the Afghan-Pakistani border. About 10 kilometers outside of town, they came to a halt. Shin and the others were hauled out of the trucks and into a dry river gully. There, at close range, Raziq's forces let loose with automatic weapons, their bullets tearing through the helpless men, smashing their faces apart and soaking their robes with blood. After finishing the job, they unbound the corpses and left them there.
Arriving back in Spin Boldak, Raziq reported to his superiors and to the press that he had intercepted "at least 15" Taliban fighters infiltrating from Pakistan, led by the "midlevel Taliban commander Mullah Shin," and had killed them in a gun battle. "We got a tip-off about them coming across the border. We went down there and fought them," Raziq told the Associated Press the next day. It was the beginning of a cover-up that would go all the way up to President Karzai in Kabul.
"Our Man in Kandahar" by Mattieu Aikens will be featured in the November issue of The Atlantic and is currently available online at TheAtlantic.com.