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Intelligence Brief: Afghanistan's Northern Alliance

by John Pike, Federation of American Scientists Thursday, Sep. 27, 2001 at 9:05 PM

A concise summary of background information on the Northern Alliance. Identifies major factions and outside sources of support.

Northern Alliance

The capture of Kabul by the Taleban on 26 September 1996 quickly realigned political forces within Afghanistan and the region. The non-Pashtun forces allied again as they did in the Northern Alliance of 1992. The anti-Taleban Northern Alliance is composed of the ousted ethnic Tajik president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Commander Ahmad Shah Masoud and their Jamiat-i-Islami forces, and General Abdul Rashid Dostum and the ethnic Uzbek Junbish-i-Milli party. The Northern Alliance is headed by nominal President Rabbani, who holds power with de facto Defense Minister Masood as his primary military backer. After the defeat of the Tajik Commander Masood, the Alliance was clearly under the leadership of the Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum.

* Junbish-i Milli-yi Islami (National Islamic Movement) - After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the non-Pashtun militias in the north centered in the city of Mazar-i Sharif, constituted themselves into a new organization, the Junbish-i Milli-yi Islami (National Islamic Movement), founded by General Abdul Rashid Dostum, whose base of support lies primarily among the Sunni Muslim Uzbeks. A large number of fighters forming part of this organization (the numbers vary between 15,000 and 160,000) had a reputation of being the best equipped of Afghanistan. General Abdul Rashid Dostum received support from Uzbekistan and from Russia. He had formed an alliance with G. Hikmatyar in 1994 and was part of the alliance formed against B. Rabbani, the 'Supreme Coordination Council'. Dostum and Commander Abdul Malik shared nominal control of five to six north central provinces. In May 1997, Dostum was defeated in battle by Malik, who defected to the Taleban and subsequently fled the country. The Taleban managed briefly to enter Mazaar-i-Sharif, though they were forced out within days after heavy street fighting. General Dostum, who had held overall control of the city, then fled the country and his faction split. In September 1997 General Dostum returned from exile in Turkey.

* Jamiat-i Islami (Islamic Society) In 1973 Burhanuddin Rabbani, a lecturer at the sharia (Islamic law) faculty of Kabul University, was chosen as chairman of Jamiat-i Islami, a predominately Tajik Islamist party which developed as the dominant party in the Persian speaking areas of northeastern and western Afghanistan. At first Rabbani received some financial and material support from the Government of Saudi Arabia, but this appears to have ended in 1993. Former President Rabbani claims to be the head of the Government and controls most of the country's embassies abroad and retains Afghanistan's UN seat after the U.N. General Assembly deferred a decision on Afghanistan's credentials. Rabbani received nominal support from General Malik (until he was driven out of Afghanistan), from General Dostum, and the Shi'a/Hazara Hezb-i-Wahdat.

* Rabbani's famous Mujahideen military commander Ahmad Shah Masood built the most sophisticated military-political organization, the Supervisory Council of the North (SCN-Shura-yi Nazar-i Shamali). The SCN coordinated Jamiat commanders in about five provinces and also created region-wide forces which developed into Masood's Islamic Army (Urdu-yi Islami). Rabbani and Masood control the northeastern, largely Tajik, portion of the country, including the strategic Panjshir valley north of Kabul. The area includes the opium-growing area of Badakhshan. Some of Masood's commanders in the north reportedly use torture routinely to extract information from and break the will of prisoners and political opponents; some of the victims are said to have been tortured to death.

External Support

The conflict in Afghanistan has continued to have an international dimension, both from political and economic perspectives.

* The United States is intent on offseting Iranian influence on the spread of terrorism and expansion of markets in the region.

* Russia had backed B. Rabbani's government in Kabul and feared that a Pakistani backed Pashtun movement such as the Taleban would be expansionist, threatening Russia's interests in Central-Asian countries. Russia has provided Dostem with 500 T55 and T62 tanks that are used against areas that oppose his rule. Russia has also provided Dostem with a large number of Frog 7 and Luna M missiles.

* Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov had clandestinely supported his fellow Uzbek, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, with tanks, aircraft and technical personnel, with an expectation that Uzbek dominated provinces in northern Afghanistan would provide a buffer against the spread of fundamentalism from Afghanistan.

* Tajikistan, racked by civil war and with a government backed by Russian troops, has been sympathetic to fellow Tajiks led by President B. Rabbani. Many Afghan Tajiks also support the idea of a greater Tajikistan - merging Tajik areas of Afghanistan with Tajikistan.

* India in the early 1990s provided technical and financial assistance to Rabani and his military commander Masood. India, according to charges by the Taleban, is using "hirelings in Afghanistan to commit terrorist acts against Afghan men, women, and children."

Sources and Resources

Afghanistan Online inclined toward Jamiat-i Islami and Burhanuddin Rabbani

Afghanistan profile

Hizb-i Wahdat (Unity Party) profile

Taleban profile

Afghanistan: The Forgotten Crisis By Barnett R. Rubin - WRITENET (UK) WRITENET

Country Papers - (February 1996) [Much of the text of this profile was derived from this

source, which seems to be the definitive online treatment of this extremely complex subject]

FAS | Intelligence | World Agencies | Para-States ||||| Index | Search | Join FAS

Created by John Pike

Maintained by Webmaster

Updated Saturday, August 08, 1998 7:35:41 AM

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