UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


General Mohammad Ismail Khan

Ismail KhanA warlord of Tajik origin, Ismail Khan (b. 1946) is known as the "Lion of Herat". This former warlord is known for his corruption and ineffectiveness at the Energy Ministry; the worst of Karzai's cabinet choices in 2009. He was from time to time the governor of Herat province, Afghanistan. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan of 1979, Khan was an officer in the Afghanistan army, reaching the rank of Mujahedin commander. Khan is one of the most powerful regional leaders in Afghanistan and in 2002 his support was crucial to the new national government.

After becoming governor of Herat the first time, he was forced to flee after the Taliban took over authority in 1995. While organising opposition against the Taliban, he was handed over to them by his old adversary General Pahlawan after a deal in 1997. Two years later in March 2000 he escaped and worked as a low-profile member of the Northern Alliance.

Along with General Mohammed Fahim and ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostam, Ismail Khan.was one of three factional leaders that comprised the Northern Alliance. Fighters loyal to Mr Khan reclaimed Herat for the former governor shortly after the Northern Alliance entered Kabul in 2002.

Ismail Khan is known for his reluctant support for Afghanistan's central government. In early 2002 there were media reports of a relationship in Herat between Ismail Khan and the government of Iran. In Herat, Gen. Ismail Khan ruled as a semi-independent baron -- and entertained emissaries from Iran, who were anxious to expand their sphere of influence.

Khan is a member of Jamiat-e-Islami, the largest political party in the alliance, led by Burhanuddin Rabbani. He is seen as the most independent of all regional governors, but is widely believed to be influenced and to have received assistance from of Iran. Ismail Khan's powerbase is drawn mainly from Afghanistan's minority Shia Muslim population. He wants increased representation for his region in the interim government. He is not considered a credible figurehead to many of the country's Pashtun majority.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with Ismail Khan, in Herat, Afghanistan, on April 27, 2002. Khan is one of the most powerful regional leaders in Afghanistan and his support is crucial to the new national government. Presidential Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad joined Rumsfeld and Khan in the talks. Herat was orderly city that has been rebuilt following the devastation incurred during Soviet bombing in 1979. Traffic lights work. Tall pines, their needles powdered with dust, line paved streets. A new library was being built in the city center. Parks were plentiful, and many public buildings had fresh coats of paint.

But beneath the tidy facades, Herat was governed by a climate of fear and fundamentalism. A number of regional leaders, particularly Ismail Khan in Herat, maintained secret or unofficial prisons that most likely held political detainees. Herat prison held 600 to 700 prisoners. In 2002, Human Rights Watch [HRW] alleged that some local police authorities in Herat routinely employed electric shock on detainees. HRW also reported that some Herat security officials beat prisoners who were hung upside down. In May 2002, Herat Governor Ismail Khan's security forces arrested Mohammad Rafiq Shahir, and police reportedly beat Shahir so severely that cuts and bruises were still visible during the Emergency Loya Jirga in June 2002.

During the Afghan Transitional Administration, Khan was military commander of western Afghanistan (until August 13, 2003 when President Hamid Karzai decreed that officials could no longer hold both military and civil posts) and remains the governor of Herat province. He boasts a provincial army of 25,000 men.

During 2003, Ismail Khan and Amanullah Khan continued to fight, resulting in civilian casualties. In August, President Karzai decreed that officials could no longer hold both military and civil posts and removed Ismail Khan from his role as military commander of western Afghanistan. He remained the governor of Herat Province at year's end.

March 2004 witnessed violence in western Herat province as fighting began on 21 March between forces loyal to the regional warlord Ismail Khan and Afghan army units under General Abdul Zahir Nayebzadeh, a Pashtun who professes loyalty to Karzai's administration. Nayebzadeh's 17th Division under the 4th Corps is loyal to the central government. The clashes, which involved tanks and mortars, occurred after an unsuccessful assassination attempt against Khan. Gunmen killed the warlord's son, Mirwai Sadeq a few hours later. Sadeq was the minister of civil aviation and tourism in Karzai's cabinet. Khan loyalists blamed Nayebzadeh for the incidents, accusing the general of trying to overthrow the regional leadership.

On 22 March 2004 the central government dispatched a 1500-strong force headed by Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim to restore order in the region. He established a cease-fire that would allow for a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding Sadeq's death, and sought Khan's support for the central government. The next day around 1500 Afghan National Army soldiers had been deployed to Herat with the promise of more troops to "ensure security, prevent regional clashes and show the presence of the central government in Herat province."

The entry of Afghan National Army troops into Herat marked the first time since the demise of the Taliban in late 2001 that Kabul had forces in Ismail Khan's province.

Khan is one of many regional warlords who have been acting independently of central government control since the fall of the Taliban. Despite a May 2003 pledge to recognize the preeminence of the central government and promises to adhere to the chain of command, Khan and others, including ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum, had largely disregarded Kabul. The lack of governmental cohesion is an underlying cause of the instability that plagues Afghanistan and threatens the nation's future.

Ismail Khan controlled the border trade with Iran. According to one estimate, this yields $1 million a day in revenue, which is not shared with the Central government. This has been a source of friction between the two.

Since May of 2003, provincial governors were not been allowed to hold a military title. In Herat, in August 2003, President Karzai removed Governor Ismail Khan from his command of the 4th Corps. In the Fall of 2003 Karzai appointed a new head of the 4th Corps, but initially he was not able to take his post in Herat because it came at the expense of Ismail Khan.

On 21 March 2004 fighting errupted in Herat between governor Ismail Khan's private army and the Defense Ministry's 4th Corps militia. Afghan Civil Aviation Minister Mirwais Sadeq [the son of Ismail Khan] was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade during the military standoff between his father and Defense Ministry's Herat Division commander, General Abdul Zaher Nayebzadah. The death toll from the fighting was estimated at 50 to 100 people. The deployment of about 1,500 National Army troops to Herat in response to the fighting marked the beginning of a permanent presence in the city by those forces. The ANA were sent to the garrison of the 17th Herat Division of the Defense Ministry's 4th Corps. That was the headquarters of General Abdul Zaher Nayebzadah's which was overrun by Ismail Khan's militia on 21 March.

In an interview with the New York Times on 11 July 2004, President Karzai said that efforts to persuade the commanders to disarm their militias had failed and now "The stick has to be used, definitely." On 14 July 2004, Karzai signed a decree pledging to crack down on warlords and militia commanders who resist the internationally backed process of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program, also known as DDR.

On 16 August 2004, at approximately 9:20 am, elements of the Afghan National Army's (ANA) Central Corps, 5th Kandak (Battalion) 3rd Brigade, departed the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Terminal of the Kabul International Airport aboard a Belgian C-130 aircraft. This deployment was part of the continued flow of ANA forces to western Afghanistan on a mission to restore the authority of the national government in southwestern Heart province and end a serious outbreak of factional fighting there.

Fighting had broken out at Shindand on 14 August 2004 when militia forces under the control of Herat Provincial Governor Ismail Khan were attacked by militia forces loyal to Amanullah Khan. Within hours of the initiation of the hostilities at Shindand, the government of the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan and its Ministry of Defense had made the decision to deploy ANA forces to retake Shindand Airport and restore national government authority. With logistical, planning and transportation support from Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan and ISAF, ANA troops deployed August 15 and secured Shindand Airport without incident.

The Afghan National Army soldiers regained control of the Shindand National Airport and garrison facilities. The purpose of the deployment was to return the occupied national property back to governmental control and ensure order is restored to the Shindand area. National government diplomatic efforts continue to halt the fighting and force the rival factions apart. The Afghan National Army secured Shindand National Airport without incident.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai seemed to be consolidating power, although his move to replace Herat governor and strongman Ismail Khan triggered riots in the provincial capital on 12 September 2004. Prime Minister Karzai successfully relieved several powerful warlords of their core commands in the summer of 2004. He relieved Ismail Khan of his position as the Governor of Herat. Although there were some demonstrations following the decision to remove Ismail Khan, the Afghan National Army, with supportive coalition forces, restored stability very quickly. There was a new Governor in Herat.

Before the interim government was established in Afghanistan, the press would have referred to Khan as a powerful warlord with an army estimated at about 30,000 fighters. A government program to disarm 100,000 militia personnel in 2003 and 2004 resulted in disarming an estimated 11,000 by mid-2004. Abdul Rashid Dostum (who was also deputy defense minister) and Ismail Khan, who had been governor of Herat Province, had been particularly intransigent warlords. Local fighting also persisted over land resettlement questions.

With the 30 June 2005 ending of the disarmament of former army units, over 60,000 officers and soldiers had been demobilized and over 49,000 entered into agriculture, vocational training and small business programs.

Ismail Khan On December 23, 2004, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced appointments to his Cabinet. According to criteria set by the Afghan Constitution, all Cabinet ministers must have at least a university education. Hamid Karzai also declared that candidates for Cabinet appointments had to renounce any nationality other than Afghan. Following the announcement, most of the Cabinet positions went to technocrats with work experience relevant to their assigned portfolios; a marked change from the interim Cabinet which included several wartime commanders representing various ethnic factions. Mohammad Ismail Khan was appointed Energy Minister.

In February 2006 Tajikistan, Iran, and Afghanistan concluded a trilateral agreement on the construction of a power line to carry electricity to Kunduz and Herat in Afghanistan, and to Mashhad in Iran. The deal was signed a day after Iranian Energy Minister Parviz Fattah and Afghan Water and Energy Minister Mohammad Ismail Khan joined Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmonov at a ceremony to mark the start of work on a new hydroelectric power plant south of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

On 22 March 2006, President Karzai presented his new Cabinet to Parliament for approval. The new Cabinet did not represent a significant departure from the previous one. The new Ministers announced were largely unknowns, both to Afghans and the international community. Initial reports indicate that the new group is made of competent professionals, although their relative youth and inexperience may hamper them politically. The new list left only one true "warlord" in the Cabinet - Ismail Khan.

On 03 April 2007, several parliamentarians and jihad leaders announced the formal launching of the United Front. MP Rabbani was declared the group's leader, and MP Sayed Mustafa Kazimi its spokesperson. Vice President Massoud, Water and Energy Minister Ismail Khan and the ex-King's grandson Mustafa Zahir Shah are also members. Rabbani told the crowd of several hundred that the Front represents "a new experience in the political life" of Afghanistan. Its goals include creating a parliamentary system of government and direct elections for governors (versus presidential appointments). Despite the Front's claims that it is not interested in weakening the Karzai government, its goals appeared to be aimed directly at limiting the President's authority.

Karzai is thought to have deeply personal bonds with the powerful former Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan. Others think Khan's appointment as Minister of Water and Energy was a signal to the former jihadis that Karzai still stands by them, despite international pressure. Progress on the North East Power System (NEPS) allowed for an increase in the import of electricity from Uzbekistan, which grew from 70 megawatts (MW) during 2009 to 120 MW during 2010. About 30 MW of this power stays in the North (in Mazar-e-Sharif) while the balance comes to Kabul. Expanding NEPS dramatically increased the availability of electricity in the capital. The power struggle between reform-oriented and anti-reform Afghan officials continued, and Acting Minister of Water and Energy Ismail Khan slowed and in some cases opposed efforts to reduce corruption and improve financial sustainability of the Afghan electricity sector.

Acting Minister Khan had a long history of blocking the corporatization of DABS, the Afghan national utility; his reluctance to sign the required documentation almost brought about the collapse of the independent utility in September 2009. At that time, only a unified donor approach and the threat of loss of donor support forced Khan to concede to the formal creation of DABS. Throughout the DABS corporatization process, there was widely reported opposition from Khan: Khan's MEW staff successfully resisted efforts to produce complete financial statements, to implement improved metering, billing and collection practices, and to introduce new management practices. Experienced observers suspect that millions of dollars are taken from the electricity sector annually by high-level officials.

On 01 February 2010 Afghanistan's parliament rejected more than half of President Hamid Karzai's cabinet nominees. Incumbent energy minister Ismail Khan was rejected along with the president's nominee for the Justice Ministry, Sarwar Danish. The commerce, economy, public health, and communications portfolios were also among the 17 posts reported rejected. On March 5, 2012, the Wolesi Jirga confirmed all nine of President Karzai’s ministerial nominees. The nomination process was drawn out — it began in 2010 — and contentious, but the entire cabinet has now been confirmed. Seven of the nominees had been serving in an acting capacity at their ministries.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 08-10-2012 19:53:21 ZULU