The Rise of Mullas as Leaders
Drawn from among the poorer elements of society, the mullas were religious functionaries with little or no education. As religious functionaries, they lived in communities away from their own localities, dependent on the believers for a living. Since they had no tribal or social standing, the mullas opposed social conventions, tribal codes, and nationalism. Sayd Bahauddin Majruh states that “he [the mulla] was not involved in local socio-political affairs; he did not participate in the deliberations of the council of village elders—his only function on these occasions was to perform the opening and the concluding prayers of the jirga session. While respected, he still remained the favorite target of popular jokes.”
The rise of the mullas to the position of political and military leaders in Logar is without parallel in modern Afghan history. Of the twenty-nine heads (awmer), judges, and military commanders in the Baraki Barak district (uluswali) of the Logar province, all were mullas. Of these, nineteen were members of the moderate Islamic Revolutionary Organization and six of the moderate National Islamic Front; the remaining four were members of the Islamic Party and Islamic Association. A number of other mullas and akhunds (traditional teachers, masters) also acted as “leaders of the jehad and rulers of the people.”
The mullas rose to power in Logar because, as noted, many mullas rallied around Mawlawi Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Organization, who was also from Logar. However, the Islamists who surpassed them in organization, education, weapons and in making propaganda challenged them, as well as other groups. The two were radically different, as explained in chapter 5.
The resistance in Logar assumed many other dimensions as well. In the absence of government, the commanders vied not only with those outside their group but also with those within their own group. Personal rivalry and the desire to extend control played a part in this competition. The sociological composition of the Islamist and traditionalist organizations set their members at odds with each other. The mullas competed with members of the Islamic Party, who were drawn from among the Dari-speaking educated groups such as teachers, students, and government employees. By comparison, the mullas were a different social group. Untouched by secular and modern ideas, concerned with their duties as religious functionaries, and looking on themselves as custodians of traditional Islamic values, the mullas were at variance with these “modernized” persons even though both groups were fighting the same enemy in the spirit of jehad. The mullas opposed modern ideas so much that they called “infidels” those who believed the earth was round.
The Islamists who were more organized and also had an ideology and a program for the transformation of society were a threat to the mullas. Although the opposition among field commanders belonging to the various groups was usually personal rather than organizational or ideological, the opposition between the commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Movement and the Islamic Party was more serious. It often led to clashes even on such matters as opposing the enemy, not only in Logar but throughout the country.
The mullas adopted an authoritarian style of leadership. Nominally, they settled claims and conflicts between individuals in accord with the Shari’a, while community elders, though weakened, settled cases through jirgas. In fact, however, in Logar the mulla commanders did not rule according to the Shari’a, which requires that evidence be presented and elaborate procedures be followed; rather, they ruled as they pleased. They would single out those whom they thought were collaborating with the enemy and dub such persons infidels. Once a man was so dubbed, he seldom lived long. One observer writes:
In addition to these secret executions, those who were accused of spying for the regime were publicly executed.
Decisions were made in the absence of the accused. In the decisions the views of the secret agents of the mullas whom they had assigned duties in villages were considered decisive. Personal considerations, distrustfulness, and animosities could influence decisions and the execution of the accused. The mujahideen who enforced the decisions wore dark glasses and covered their faces. The accused were either taken at night from their homes or seized in daylight from roads. Others were picked up from public buses running along the main road between Kabul and Gardez. To escape such an ordeal, members of the party traveled in the guise of women. Some were still recognized and executed somewhere away from the public. The executioners were not recognized, nor did any group claim responsibility.
The public was divided about the executions, particularly since the Parchamis and Khalqis had already been driven into Kabul. While some argued that those who were executed deserved the punishment, others disagreed, insisting that evidence be brought forward. The mullas combated this attitude. Their agents would spread rumors in support of the judgments, saying that the decisions had indeed been based on evidence. The number of persons executed cannot be determined. In Logar alone, in the two years after the invasion it is likely that more than one hundred persons were executed. It was commonly held that revenge and personal animosity, camouflaged as jehad, were the impulse behind many executions.
The executions were the result of influences connected to the jehad but rooted in society. An atmosphere of distrust and rivalry prevailed, the result of disunity among leaders of the mujahid organizations based in faraway Peshawar and among local field commanders. Through the field commanders, this ambience of distrust spread far and wide. Some leaders of the mujahid groups persuaded their commanders to clash with their rivals, and some commanders and individual mujahideen found an opportunity to settle old scores and take revenge. They disrespected the traditional leaders. Some mujahideen who had been recruited from among the uprooted groups harmed the people in pursuit of personal interest with no regard for social norms. The Islamists were more intolerant of their opponents and even of those who were not sympathetic to them, labeling them heretics. In particular, many people were denounced as Wahhabis. (The Wahhabis were followers of Mohammad bin ’Abd al-Wahhab [1703-87], whose aim was to do away with innovations later than the third century of Islam.) Former government employees were especially vulnerable to such accusations. To be safe from such accusations, they grew beards as a sign of being religious. Beards thus became common throughout the country.
The mujahid organizations found it difficult to get rid of the undesirable elements in the ranks of the mujahideen, particularly when they were commanders. When such mujahideen were expelled from one group, the fold of another group was open for them. Another influence that created tension was infiltration by KhAD agents and leftist elements, who worked, among other things, to prepare the groundwork for clashes. The atmosphere of distrust and disunity was also exacerbated by the inability of the organizations to set up a council composed of their representatives and of the locals to work out programs for opposing the enemy and administering the province. The tendency among the commanders to monopolize power was too strong for such a council to be set up. The mullas who had obtained power and other benefits were also unwilling to cooperate. Any one group would counterbalance the activities of the others. This created a form of equilibrium, a situation that checked the dominance of one organization over the rest and the region as a whole.