Battles of Mazar-i-Sharif (1997–98)

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Afghan Civil War (1996–2001 period)
Part of the Afghan Civil War
Date 25 May 25 1997 – 14 August 1998
Location Near Mazar-i-Sharif, Northern Afghanistan
Coordinates: 36°40′N 66°59′E / 36.667°N 66.983°E / 36.667; 66.983
Result Taliban victory and capture of Mazar-e Sharif
Afghanistan Junbishi Forces
Forces loyal to Ismail Khan[citation needed]
Afghan Liberation Party

Hezbe Wahdat
Islamic Movement of Afghanistan
Jamiat-e Islami

Hezbi Islami
Afghanistan Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
Commanders and leaders
Afghanistan Abdul Rashid Dostum
Ismail Khan (POW)
Abdul Malik Pahlawan
Mohammad Mohaqiq
Ahmed Shah Massoud
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Sayed Jafar Naderi
Afghanistan Mohammed Omar

Afghanistan Obaidullah Akhund
Afghanistan Abdul-Razzaq Akhoundzada
Afghanistan Mohammad Ghaus
Afghanistan Ihsanullah Ihsan
Afghanistan Mullah Dadullah
Osama bin Laden

Ayman al-Zawahiri

The Battles of Mazar-e Sharif were a part of the Afghan Civil War and took place in 1997 and 1998 between the forces of Abdul Malik Pahlawan and his Hazara allies, Junbish-e Milli-yi Islami-yi Afghanistan, and the Taliban.


On 25 June 1996, the brother of Abdul Malik Pahlawan, Rasul, was gunned down along with 15 of his bodyguards. In May 1997, angry at Dostum's alleged involvement in this, Malik and other commanders such as Qari Alam Rosekh, General Abdul Majid Rouzi and Abdul Ghaffar Pahlawan met with Taliban commanders Mullah Abdul Razzaq and Mullah Ghaus in Baghdis. There they agreed that Malik would betray Dostum, capture Ismail Khan and take control of the city of Mazar-e Sharif.[1] According to some sources the deal was a three point proposal in which it was agreed that the Taliban would not disarm northern troops, Northern Parties would have complete control over Northern Afghanistan and Malik would co-ordinate with the Taliban to bring about an Islamic dispensation.[2]


Fighting breaks out and Taliban take control[edit]

On 22 May 1997 fighting broke out between Dostum's forces and the Taliban in Andkhoy and Khwaja Dokoh. Massoud sent reinforcements but the Northern Alliance faced heavy losses. Dostum retreated to Mazar-i Sharif and fled to Turkey from Uzbekistan on 24 May, with his family going one day before. On 25 May, Abdul Majid Rouzi arrested Ismail Khan in Baghdis and handed him over to Abdul Razzaq, the governor of Herat where he was sent to Kandahar prison.


Taliban ousted[edit]

Although the exact details of the agreement were not clear, it appears as if the Taliban had failed to take their part. Abdul Razzak was appointed as the head of the Military in the north, rather than Malik, and Malik in compensation was given the insulting position of Deputy Foreign Minister. On 25 May, the Taliban entered Mazar-e Sharif and began to close schools, offices and to impose Sharia law. In the Hazara sections of the city, particularly in the north-east and east areas around Syedabad, local Wahdat commanders and armed "civilians" began to enlist themselves in resistance.

On 30 May, heavy fighting broke out around Syedabad. Taliban fighters were ambushed. At this point, Malik allied his forces with Wahdat, taking thousands of Taliban soldiers prisoner in Maimana, Shiberghan and Mazar-e Sharif. Those taken prisoner in Mazar were summarily executed, reportedly under the supervision of Malik's brother General Gul Mohammad Pahlawan.[3] Estimates of the total number killed were about 3,000. Commanders such as Mullah Abdul Razzaq, Mullah Mohammad Ghaus who was the acting Taliban Foreign Minister and State Bank Governor, and Maulvi Ehsanullah were taken prisoner.[4] Furthermore Junbish commanders such as Ghulam Haidar Jawzjani were also captured and killed, along with Salam Pahlawan and Rais Omar Bey.

Taliban counter-attack[edit]

Malik then proceeded to reincorporate Jamiat-e Islami into the city's administration. However after 4 months, in September 1997, the Taliban bombarded the city, laying siege to it for 23 days. Looting, killings by all sides was reported. The Taliban were eventually defeated, but killed 70 Hazara civilians in Qizilabad and around 50 Junbushi prisoners in Qalai-i Kul Muhammad.[5]

Recapture of Mazar-e Sharif[edit]

By July 1998 the Taliban had taken control of much of the area north of Herat, including the road linked to Maimana, where Dostum had returned and ousted Malik's forces (and also many Pashtoon civilians living in Faryab). This cut off one of the main supply lines, and on 8 August 1998 the Taliban entered Mazar-e Sharif.

Hezb-e Islam reportedly switched sides and joined the Taliban, having encircled the front lines of Hezbe Wahdat at Qalai-Zaini-Takhta Pul.[6] Here about 1,500–3,000 Wahdat fighters were trapped. Many were executed on the spot, while approximately 700 attempted to flee in pick up trucks, many being killed on the way. Commanders of Wahdat such as Muhammad Muhaqiq evacuated by helicopter.

The Taliban then proceeded to enter the city where they took their revenge, executing approximately 2,000 Hazara civilians. One group, Sipah-i Sahaba, associated with Pakistan and the Taliban, capture the Iranian consulate and shot dead one journalist and eight intelligence and diplomatic officers.[7] The Taliban, for the next six days were reported to have gone door to door looking for male Hazara Shias and then subsequently executing them. Thousands of prisoners were transported by both sides in metal transport truck containers where many suffocated or died of heat stroke.


  1. ^ Afghanistan Justice Project. "Casting Shadows: War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, 1978–2001." 2005. Accessed at: [Accessed on 10 November 2009], page 115
  2. ^ Matinuddin, Kamal. "The Taliban Phenomenon: Afghanistan 1994–1997." Accessed at: of mazar-e sharif 1997&f=false , page 100
  3. ^ Afghanistan Justice Project, 116
  4. ^ Matinuddin, Kamal. "The Taliban Phenomenon: Afghanistan 1994–1997," page 100
  5. ^ Afghanistan Justice Project, 107
  6. ^ Afghanistan Justice project, 120
  7. ^ Afghanistan Justice Project, 121