I went straight to his house upon my arrival in Kandahar. Mr. Halim leaped up and shook my hand in the traditional way – and then did not let go, pulling me by the arm out his front gate, explaining along the way that he wanted to show me the recent success of the ALP.
This was way beyond the risks I had intended to take on my return visit to Kandahar, but soon I found myself squeezed into the back seat of a car with one of Mr. Halim’s bodyguards, Kalashnikov between his knees, hurtling west along Highway 1. We travelled a short distance into the Zhari district, then cut off the main road and roared along a dirt track to a small country house.
Mr. Halim was showing off: Canadians fought pitched battles among these trees. Now, he dared to travel here in an ordinary Toyota Corolla, with only a handful of guards, and sit around for hours on a rooftop, watching the sun setting over the Panjwaii Valley and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes spiked with hashish.
Like many former mujahedeen involved with ALP units, Mr. Halim has no official job. He was not technically responsible for the young men in white pickup trucks who patrolled this district. But his networks of former militia leaders helped to raise these ALP units, and he claimed a role as ombudsman. “If there are any complaints about the ALP in this area, people come and talk to me,” he said. “Then I speak with the commander.”
Mr. Halim summoned a local ALP commander to his home the next day. The young leader said he is responsible for 600 men, including 20 from his own family. He complained about a lack of weapons, bullets, fuel and food. He found it difficult to pay salaries on a timely basis, he said, because money goes missing from the bank.
Most worrying, however, were his thoughts about whether it is necessary to follow the rules established by the central government. Under the law, the ALP has no authority to take prisoners. The young commander chafed at the idea of his superiors restricting his ability to capture enemies – and beat them, if they deserved a thrashing.
“The government was upset because we beat a man we captured,” he said, scowling. “Of course, we beat him. This is war.”
A war that continues, without us.
Graeme Smith is an analyst for the International Crisis Group, supervising a small team in Afghanistan, and the author of the new book The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan.