In a long conflict waged by men, she has been a rare female warlord, defending her fief in northern Afghanistan against the Taliban, her own relatives and even against the U.S.-backed central government she allied with.
As she grew into her 70s, ailing and bedridden with bad knees, the warlord, Bibi Ayesha, took pride in having an undefeated record in decades of war. She is popularly known by a nom de guerre: Commander Kaftar, which means “pigeon” in Farsi, “because she moved and killed with the elegance of a bird,” as one profile put it.
On Thursday, the Taliban declared the end of her high-flying days: Kaftar, along with her men, had surrendered to them, they said in a statement.
“The officials of our Invite and Guidance Commission welcomed them,” the statement said.
Local officials in restive Baghlan province, where she is based, and her relatives confirmed the commander’s surrender and said it was an act of survival. Her valley was so surrounded, with other neighbouring militias switching sides to the Taliban, that she had no choice.
Mohammad Hanif Kohgadai, a member of the Baghlan provincial council representing Kaftar’s district, said she had reached a deal through a Taliban commander related to her family.
“The Taliban spent the night at Commander Kaftar’s house, they ate there,” Kohgadai said in an interview Friday. “Today, they left the house and took with them 13 weapons and other military gear.”
One of Kaftar’s sons played down the episode, saying it was more a truce than a surrender.
“It is just a rumour. My mother is sick,” said Raz Mohammad, one of her three remaining sons. (Three others were killed in years of fighting.) “She hasn’t joined the Taliban. We don’t fight the Taliban any more; we have weapons to protect ourselves from our enemies.”
Kaftar’s surrender brings little to the Taliban militarily but is another propaganda victory against the struggling Afghan government, suggesting that in a bloody, stalemated war some were switching sides to the insurgents. The Taliban have increasingly reached out to those disenchanted with the Afghan government as the country’s military struggles amid the continuing U.S. withdrawal.
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