The Return of the Refugee Warrior: Migration and Armed Resistance in Herat

Book chapter

Harpviken, Kristian Berg (2010) The Return of the Refugee Warrior: Migration and Armed Resistance in Herat, in Beyond the Wild Tribes: Understanding Modern Afghanistan and its Diaspora. London (121–137).

In October 2001, a coalition led by the United States launched an armed attack on Afghanistan’s Taliban regime. Forces fighting for the coalition on the ground were almost exclusively Afghan. The vast majority were returning from exile, mainly from the neighbouring countries of Iran and pakistan, but some from as far afield as Australia, Germany or the United States. In exile, they had been active in various military-political organisations, and many had been engaged in fighting in Afghanistan over the previous two and half decades. As part of the ‘War on Terror’, the warriors returning from exile has been equipped with money, weaponry, communications equipment, and access to intelligence and strategic advice. perhaps most importantly, however, the returning warriors knew that this was an opportunity not to be missed: political power in Afghanistan was being reshuffled once again, and those who were part of the armed campaign were likely to benefit the most. Although rarely talked about as such, ‘Operation enduring Freedom’ was a massive repatriation campaign, rooted in decades of political and military mobilisation among Afghan refugees.

In this article, I will explore the interface between migration and wartime resistance by drawing on findings from fieldwork conducted in two villages in northwestern Afghanistan (Harpviken, 2006). Both of these villages—Izhaq Suleiman and Sara-e Nau—are located on the outskirts of Herat city, in enjil district. Both have been heavily affected by successive rounds of armed conflict since 1978. In one of the villages, Izhaq Suleiman, the dominant response of the population as war escalated from 1978 onwards was to ally with the Soviet-oriented regime of the people’s democratic party of Afghanistan (pdpA), which they supplied with militia forces. In the other village, Sara-e Nau, the majority of the inhabitants joined the armed resistance, and the village became a target for the kabul regime’s military activities. The different choices made by the two villages had deep implications for their migration patterns, the degree of physical destruction they experienced, their relationships to later regimes, their chances of recovery, and—most importantly—for the interplay between migration and armed engagement

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