HERAT (Afghanistan),Aug 13 — A month ago, one of Afghanistan’s most famous warlords vowed to defend his city from the Taliban as he called for locals to join the fight.
But today Ismail Khan was in the Taliban’s hands as militants patrolled the dusty streets of Herat, his longtime fiefdom and the nation’s third-biggest city.
The “Lion of Herat” has been a huge figure throughout Afghanistan’s tumultuous modern history, initially rising to be one of the most powerful mujahideen rebel figures fighting the Soviets in the 1980s and 1990s.
From Herat, his vast militia then had a series of successes against the Taliban when the hardline Islamic group was rising to power.
But he was forced to flee to Iran with thousands of his men in 1995 after an ally defected to the insurgents.
He was captured by the Taliban in 1997 when he returned to organise an uprising, then escaped from prison two years later and was at large until the US invasion in 2001.
Khan was then a minister in former president Hamid Karzai’s government, though in recent years he was known for running Herat as his own territory.
Last month he was voicing defiance and anger as he vowed to defeat the Taliban.
“We will soon go to the frontlines and with the help of God change the situation,” Khan told a news conference.
“We hope that men and women of Herat decide at this moment to support the resistance front to defend their freedom and safeguard their honour,” Khan said.
He blamed the government for the rapidly deteriorating situation and urged the military to show more backbone.
“We demand all the remaining security forces resist with courage.”
But this morning, the people of Herat woke to new rulers, with no visible signs of battle in the streets and no more defiance from Khan.
A group of insurgents pulled down an Afghan flag from a police station as cars and bicycles passed in seemingly normal traffic.
Others stood on the bonnet of a humvee vehicle that had been abandoned by retreating government troops.
One insurgent gave the hint of a smile while looking into a camera, with a rocket-propelled grenade on his shoulder.
The white flag of the Taliban waved through the air on a pole pegged to a motorcycle.
Like in other cities lost to the Taliban over the past week, authorities claimed they gave up to avoid bloodshed among civilians.
“We had to leave the city in order to prevent further destruction,” a senior security source from Herat told AFP, adding that troops and city officials had retreated to army barracks outside Herat.
Khan remained in the city, though under the control of the Taliban.
The Taliban said they had captured him and posted a video online showing the warlord in a car voicing platitudes about peace.
His spokesman later told reporters that Khan had been allowed to return to his residence following negotiations with the Taliban.
But details were not immediately clear of the deal cut between the Taliban and one of Afghanistan’s ultimate political survivors. — AFP