A growing Taliban insurgency isn’t the only challenge for the government of Ashraf Ghani, writes Ruchi Kumar in Kabul

An Afghan government plan to rein in warlords may backfire after the arrests of militia commanders provoked riots by their supporters.

Protesters clashed with local security forces in Faryab province in northwest Afghanistan for days last week, storming the national intelligence agency’s offices and looting the governor’s office. Anger grew after graphic images were shared on social media showing Nizamuddin Qaisari cuffed on the ground next to bloodied members of his entourage.

A local commander leading a militia against the Taliban, the government accused Mr Qaisari of acting above the law. But Mr Qaisari is also a close ally of Afghan Vice President, Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful Uzbek warlord who is in exile following accusations that he ordered his guards to kidnap, torture and rape a political opponent in 2016.

Apart from Mr Qaseri, the government has arrested other powerful militia commanders from Uruzgan, Farah and Badakhshan provinces. The defence ministry has also detained Mohammad Daud Mubarez, who is accused of selling weapons to the Taliban, and Nadir Shah, who is accused of gem smuggling. “These commanders have misused their position of power and aided in creating insecurity in those provinces,” ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said.

The arrests are part of a strategy by President Ashraf Ghani – who is also struggling to contain a growing Taliban insurgency – to rein in local strongmen accused of extrajudicial killings and abuse of power. “These armed men have challenged the writ of the state, exacerbated the lawlessness and put the lives of ordinary people in jeopardy,” said Aziz Amin Ahmadzai, an Afghan politico who has worked closely with the Afghan government. The arrests aimed “to minimise insecurity across the country” since lines between militiamen and militants often blur as allegiances shift.

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