Gen. Abdul Raziq is the acting police chief of Afghanistan's Kandahar province. Just 33 years old, he's a former warlord on whom the United States relied during its 2010 "surge" operation. But Raziq is also accused of brutal abuses of power, even massacring his tribal rivals, according to a new article in The Atlantic.
Matthieu Aikins, the article's author, describes Raziq as a "rags-to-riches character, who started as a small shopkeeper living in exile in Pakistan during the Taliban period, and has ascended to the most dizzying heights of wealth and power."
Aikins tells Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep that Raziq began his rise after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
"He became the head of this tribal militia that controlled a key border crossing between Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, and Pakistan," Aikins says.
According to Aikins, anyone who controls that vital military and trade passage is "sitting on a gold mine."
"The other thing is that he oversaw the most dramatic expansion of the opium trade in history," he adds.
In his article, Aikins also links Raziq to several episodes of brutal violence. One instance took place in 2006, when Raziq was a colonel in Afghanistan's Border Police.
According to Aikins, that's when Raziq "basically conspired with another man to abduct 16 people from Kabul, where they'd sort of been on vacation, and then take them out into the desert and murder them there, and leave their corpses there — and claim that they had actually been Taliban infiltrating from across the border [from Pakistan]."
Raziq has not denied being responsible for the deaths, but he has maintained that those killed were Taliban fighters.
"They didn't have connections to the Taliban; they were rivals of Abdul Raziq," Aikins says, citing a thorough police investigation.
The results of that police inquiry were suppressed, Aikins says in The Atlantic. And senior Afghan officials, including President Hamid Karzai, chose not to move against Raziq, he says.
Last autumn, Raziq was named a partner in the U.S. effort to clear Kandahar city of militants, raising his profile in Afghanistan — and leading to a promotion to brigadier general. In May, he was named acting police chief of Kandahar province.
Excerpt: 'Our Man In Kandahar' — Matthieu Aikins describes the final days of Shin Noorzai, "a burly smuggler in his mid-30s" who was killed along with more than a dozen other men he was traveling in March of 2006.
According to an acquaintance of Shin's who was also present at the gathering, he and his friends had arrived at the invitation of another man, Mohammed Naeem Lalai, an old friend of Shin's who was then working as an officer in the Border Police. It was Lalai who had persuaded Shin and his friends to stop in Kabul on their way to Mazar. As the group sat down to dinner, Shin's acquaintance, a fellow tribesman, watched uneasily, nervous about the company Shin was keeping. He offered to make the trip with Shin instead. "Come with me to Mazar," he said to him.
Shin replied that he was going to travel up to Mazar with Lalai. But first, he said, Lalai was taking him to another house where music and entertainment were promised. That night, as darkness fell over Kabul, Shin and his 15 companions left the house with Lalai. Their friends and families would never see them alive again.
At the second house, Shin and his friends were apparently drugged. Unconscious, they were bound and gagged, then loaded into vehicles with official plates, one of them a green Ford Ranger with the seal of the Border Police on its doors.
Driving along back roads, the cars made their way 500 kilometers south to Kandahar province, and by the next morning arrived at Spin Boldak, where Abdul Raziq, then a Border Police colonel in his mid-20s, was waiting for them.
Raziq and Lalai had together lured Shin and his associates to Kabul. The tribes to which Raziq and Shin belonged had been feuding over smuggling routes, and Raziq held Shin responsible for the 2004 killing of his brother. Shin had been a marked man ever since. His 15 companions were just going to be collateral damage.
Raziq and his men loaded their captives into a convoy of Land Cruisers and headed out to a parched, desolate stretch of the Afghan-Pakistani border. About 10 kilometers outside of town, they came to a halt. Shin and the others were hauled out of the trucks and into a dry river gully. There, at close range, Raziq's forces let loose with automatic weapons, their bullets tearing through the helpless men, smashing their faces apart and soaking their robes with blood. After finishing the job, they unbound the corpses and left them there.
Arriving back in Spin Boldak, Raziq reported to his superiors and to the press that he had intercepted "at least 15" Taliban fighters infiltrating from Pakistan, led by the "midlevel Taliban commander Mullah Shin," and had killed them in a gun battle. "We got a tip-off about them coming across the border. We went down there and fought them," Raziq told the Associated Press the next day. It was the beginning of a cover-up that would go all the way up to President Karzai in Kabul.
"Our Man in Kandahar" by Mattieu Aikens will be featured in the November issue of The Atlantic and is currently available online at TheAtlantic.com.
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
And in the Atlantic he profiles a southern Afghan leader who works with the U.S. He's been extremely effective and led men into battle. And now Abdul Raziq is a top police official in Kandahar, the most important province. Aikins says the trouble is that he's also been accused of torturing, even massacring prisoners.
MATTHIEU AIKINS: He's a very much sort of rags to riches character who started as a small shopkeeper living in exile in Pakistan during the Taliban period and has ascended to the most dizzying heights of wealth and power and this warlord character, as a result of the dynamics that were unleashed after the U.S. invaded in 2001. So he became the head of this tribal militia that controlled a key border crossing between Kandahar and southern Afghanistan and Pakistan.
INSKEEP: So if you're the guy who has some gunmen who can control that area and extract a little bit of money from every truck driver going through, you can become a rich man.
AIKINS: You're sitting on a gold mine. And of course the other thing is that he oversaw the most dramatic expansion of the opium trade in history.
INSKEEP: So this guy's from southern Afghanistan. He was in exile for a while. He came back. He was along the border. He was a gunman. He rose in various organizations there. And where has he gone from that kind of border crime?
AIKINS: Well, now he's become the police chief of Kandahar province. He started off as sort of a small time smuggler. He's from a clan of smugglers that've long controlled the border. And after the fall of the Taliban, he became this important border police chief. And then last fall, the U.S. military put him at the front of their clearing operations west of Kandahar city to recall the surge. And there was this big operation in Kandahar, and Abdul Raziq was actually our partner. So his career kept rising and rising. And then in May, when the former police chief of Kandahar was assassinated, Raziq became the new police chief of Afghanistan's most important province, arguably.
INSKEEP: What did you first hear about him that made you think that he was perhaps more dangerous than other Afghan leaders?
AIKINS: Well, certainly this massacre that occurred in 2006, where he basically conspired with another man to abduct 16 people from Kabul, where they had sort of been on vacation, and then take them out into the desert and murder them there and leave their corpses there and claim that they had actually been Taliban infiltrating from across the border.
INSKEEP: You have just said that a U.S. ally was responsible for massacring 16 people, so I want to lay out the evidence that you have. You're publishing here in The Atlantic a photograph of the dead bodies from that massacre. And you point out that, at the time, Abdul Raziq made an announcement that he and his men had killed 16 Taliban fighters. So there's no doubt that his people killed someone, right?
AIKINS: There's no doubt that he was personally involved in an incident that killed these 16 people.
INSKEEP: What leads to questions about whether they were Taliban or not?
AIKINS: Rather unusually, there was actually a proper police investigation of the incident. So there was a European Union official who got wind of it, and he tipped off a higher up in the Afghan Ministry of Interior and basically triggered a chain of events that led to an investigative team from Kandahar city going out. And they took photographs and basically established conclusively that these men had been massacred.
INSKEEP: And it was also established that they didn't have connections to the Taliban.
AIKINS: They didn't have connections with the Taliban. They're essentially rivals.
INSKEEP: Have you had a chance to talk to Abdul Raziq?
AIKINS: I met him briefly in 2009, when I was living with his men in Spin Boldak.
INSKEEP: What was he like?
AIKINS: Shockingly young. He was 31 when I met him, and he had this sort of boyish look to him that didn't seem characteristic at all of a fire-breathing warlord.
INSKEEP: A sensitive thing to do while you're living with a bunch of gunmen on the Afghan border as a reporter, but did you ask him about the allegations that he had massacred people?
AIKINS: No. I mean, it would have been really foolish of me to do that. We did contact Abdul Raziq eventually, and he just categorically denied it, basically, and stuck to his original story, that they had been Taliban.
INSKEEP: Do you find any grounds to think that maybe he himself believes that he is only torturing or killing the bad guys?
AIKINS: He has grown up in a moral universe where torture and brutality has been commonplace. And so for someone like Abdul Raziq, I could see very easily how he might justify it.
INSKEEP: Matthieu Aikins is the author of an article in The Atlantic called "Our Man in Kandahar." Thanks very much.
AIKINS: My pleasure, Steve.
INSKEEP: And you can read an excerpt of the article at npr.org. Now, we contacted the NATO forces in Afghanistan about Abdul Raziq. A military spokesman did not comment on him, specifically referring questions to the Afghan government. But the spokesman says NATO concerns itself with the humane treatment of detainees, which is why NATO is no longer transferring detainees to jails where Afghans are suspected of violating the law. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.