Mawlawi Mahdi Mujahid (centre in white) in Balkh Aab, Afghanistan, on June 21st. Photograph: Kiana Hayeri/New York Times
Ragtag militias opposed to Taliban across Afghanistan are ill-equipped and under-funded.
For months, the Taliban had tried to bring him back into their fold, wary of his growing clout among some Afghan Shias eager to rebel against a movement that persecuted them for decades. Now Taliban forces were amassing around the district he controlled – and Mahdi and his men were readying to fight.
“If the Taliban do not want an inclusive government, if they do not give rights to Shias and to women, then we will never be able to have peace in Afghanistan,” said one fighter, Sayed Qasim (70). “As long as we have blood in our body, we will fight.”
The clashes in Sar-i-Pul province in June were the latest in a conflict brewing across northern Afghanistan in which a smattering of armed factions have been challenging the heavy hand of the Taliban government – a harsh reminder that Afghanistan has not yet escaped the cycles of violence and bloodshed that defined the country for the past 40 years.