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Ismail Khan
Born 1946 (1946)
Ismail Khan, VOA, August 13, 2002.JPG
Nickname Lion of Herat
Place of birth Herat, Afghanistan
Rank General
Battles/wars Soviet war in Afghanistan,
Civil war in Afghanistan,
Operation Enduring Freedom
Other work Governor of Herat Province,
Minister of Water and Energy

Ismail Khan (born 1946), an ethnic Tajik[1][2] from Herat, Afghanistan, was a powerful Mujahedeen commander in the Soviet War in Afghanistan, and then a key member of the Northern Alliance, later the Governor of Herat Province and is now the Minister of Energy for the country. He is a key member of the political party Jamiat-e Islami and the new party United National Front.

Contents

Early years

Ismail Khan assessing mujahideen troops during the anti-Soviet jihad.

In early 1979 Ismail Khan was a Captain in the Afghan National Army based in the western city of Herat. In early March, there was a protest in front of the Communist governor's palace against the arrests and assasinations being carried out in the countryside. The governor's troops opened fire on the demonstrators, who proceeded to storm the palace and hunt down Soviet advisers. The Herat garrison mutinied and joined the revolt, with Ismail Khan and other officers distributing all available weapons to the insurgents. The communist government led by Nur Mohammed Taraki responded, pulverizing the city using Soviet supplied bombers and killing an estimated 24,000 citizens in less than a week.[3] This event marked the opening salvo of the rebellion which led to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Ismail Khan escaped to the countryside where he started to assemble a local mujahideen army, which was widely supported by the population of Herat.[4]

During the ensuing war, he became the leader of the western command of Burhanuddin Rabbani's Jamiat-e-Islami. With Ahmad Shah Massoud, he was one of the most respected mujahideen leaders.[3] In 1992, two years after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the mujahideen captured Herat, and Ismail Khan became Governor.

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Resistance against the Taliban

In 1995, he successfully defended his province against the Taliban, in cooperation with Massoud. He even attacked the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, but was repulsed. Later, an ally of the Jamiat, Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum changed sides, and attacked Herat. Ismail Khan was forced to flee to Iran with 8,000 men and the Taliban took over Herat.

Two years later, while organising opposition to the Taliban in Faryab area, he was betrayed and captured by Abdul Majid Rouzi who had defected to the Taliban along with Abdul Malik, then one of Dostum's deputies.[3] Then in March 1999 he escaped from Kandahar prison. During the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, he fought against the Taliban within the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (Northern Alliance) and thus regained his position as Governor of Herat.

Post-Taliban Era

Ismail Khan in 2004

While Kabul was and is still struggling, Ismail Khan achieved wonders in terms of reconstruction with the city of Herat.[5] Supporters say he brought about security, built numerous schools and provided opportunities for small businesses to flourish and because of these achievements, he is well loved by the people of Herat. Opponents counter that Herat has always had a stronger human resource base, greater culture and higher stability than many other parts of Afghanistan, and so the credit for reconstruction in the city cannot be rightly claimed by Ismail Khan, who simply happened to preside over it. Moreover, he refused to pay any taxes gathered from border crossings into the central Treasury and thus directly contributed to the weakening of the Afghan state.

Ismael Khan was also an important member of United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (UNIFSA). During his tenure as Governor, Ismail Khan ruled his province like a private fiefdom. This has led to increasing tensions with the Afghan Transitional Administration. In particular, he refused to pass on to the government the revenues gained from custom taxes on goods from Iran and Turkmenistan. This money has been used to rebuild Herat after the war, but also to maintain his personal army.[6]

The United States, which supports Hamid Karzai, have viewed Ismail Khan's ties with Iran with concern, and advocated ousting him.[7] In March 2004, the central government sent units of its newly trained Afghan National Army to assert its authority over Herat. This led to clashes with Ismail Khan's men during which 100 people were killed. Among these was Ismail Khan's son, Mirwais Sadiq, then Minister of Civil Aviation. Under constant pressure both from the government and local rivals, Ismail Khan was sacked in September 2004. As a conciliatory gesture, President Karzai appointed him as Minister of Energy in his cabinet.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported in 2004 that just prior to the Presidential elections Amanullah Khan had won what local reports called a "major victory" over Ismail Khan's own militia.[5] The report repeated speculation that Amanullah Khan may have received support from the central government in Kabul.

Assassination attempt

On September 27, 2009, Ismail Khan survived a suicide blast that killed 4 of his bodyguards in Herat, in western Afghanistan. He was driving to Herat Airport when a powerful explosion occurred on the way there. Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility and said the target was Khan.[8]

Testimony requested by a Guantanamo captive

Guantanamo captive Abdul Razzaq Hekmati requested Ismail Khan's testimony, when he was called before a Combatant Status Review Tribunal.[9] Ismail Khan, like Afghan Minister of Defense Rahim Wardak, was one of the high profile Afghans that those conducting the Tribunals ruled were "not reasonably available" to give a statement on a captive's behalf because they could not be located.

Hekmati had played a key role in helping Ismail Khan escape from the Taliban in 1999.[10] Hekmati stood accused of helping Taliban leaders escape from the custody of Hamid Karzai's government.

Carlotta Gall and Andy Worthington interviewed Ismail Khan for a new New York Times article after Hekmati died of cancer in Guantanamo.[10] According to the New York Times Ismail Khan said he personally buttonholed the American ambassador to tell him that Hekmati was innocent, and should be released. In contrast, Hekmati was told that the State Department had been unable to locate Khan.

Controversy

Ismail Khan is a controversial figure. Reporters Without Borders has charged him with muzzling the press and ordering attacks on journalists.[11] Also Human Rights Watch has accused him of human rights abuses.[12] After the fall of the Taliban when Ismail Khan regained control of Herat, he established an Islamic police, who would beat anyone who was found drinking and then parade them through the city with their heads shaved.

Nevertheless, he remains a popular figure in Afghanistan. There are several reasons for this. First of all, unlike other mujahideen commanders, Khan has not been linked to large-scale massacres and atrocities such as those committed after the capture of Kabul in 1992.[3] Moreover, during his Governorship, Herat province has enjoyed relative peace and prosperity. Herat is traditionally a trading city, and generally regarded as the most prosperous in Afghanistan. With the money drawn from customs revenues, Khan has rebuilt much of the damage done by the Soviets and the Taliban. He has repaved roads, rebuilt schools and provided opportunities for small businesses to flourish, earning himself the gratitude of the Heratis. His popularity can be ascertained by the fact that, at the news of his dismissal, rioting broke out in the streets of Herat.[6]

Notes and references

  1. ^ http://www.why-war.com/encyclopedia/people/Ismail_Khan/
  2. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/in_depth/world/2001/war_on_terror/after_the_taleban/i_khan.stm
  3. ^ a b c d Ismail Khan, Herat, and Iranian Influence by Thomas H. Johnson, Strategic Insights, Volume III, Issue 7 (July 2004)[1]
  4. ^ Coll, Steve. Ghost Wars. pg 40. 2004, Penguin Books.
  5. ^ a b Michael Dwyer (2004-08-29). "Afghanistan presidential election a week closer". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. http://www.abc.net.au/correspondents/content/2004/s1187152.htm. Retrieved 2009-01-13.  
  6. ^ a b Profile: Ismail Khan, BBC News(September 2004)
  7. ^ Why Bush’s Afghanistan problem won’t go away, Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker(2004-04-12)
  8. ^ http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/as_afghanistan
  9. ^ Brett Murphy (June 18, 2006). "Guantanamo Bay detainees not given access to witnesses despite availability". http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2006/06/guantanamo-bay-detainees-not-given.php.  
  10. ^ a b Carlotta Gall, Andy Worthington (February 5, 2008). "Time Runs Out for an Afghan Held by the U.S.". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/05/world/asia/05gitmo.html?em&ex=1202360400&en=69559dc1ec42361a&ei=5087%0A. Retrieved 2008-02-05. "Abdul Razzaq Hekmati was regarded here as a war hero, famous for his resistance to the Russian occupation in the 1980s and later for a daring prison break he organized for three opponents of the Taliban government in 1999."  
  11. ^ hr-media@hrea.org - Afghanistan: Radio Free Afghanistan journalist attacked and expelled fro
  12. ^ Afghanistan: Torture and Political Repression in Herat, John Sifton (November 5, 2002)

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