(Transcript from World News Radio)
Taliban militants have claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that has killed a former warlord who became one of Australia’s most significant allies in Afghanistan.
Matiullah Khan was the police chief of Uruzgan province who had a dark past and, in recent years, a close relationship with Australian forces in Afghanistan.
Greg Dyett reports.
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Strongman, warlord, police chief and someone with plenty of enemies in Afghanistan.
And now, those enemies have caught up with him.
Matiullah Khan, police chief of the Uruzgan province where Australian forces were based, has died in a suicide bombing.
He reportedly was attacked after leaving his hotel in the capital Kabul with friends.
Matiullah Khan ran his own private militia, which made him a wealthy man.
The force known as the KAU would charge coalition forces to provide protection while they used the road from Tarin Kowt to Kandahar.
It led some to accuse him of extortion, a charge he denied in an interview with SBS News in 2011.
(Translated:) “No, it’s wrong. We don’t take money illegally from them. We escort them. We keep security for them.”
Some Afghans also accused him of having past links with the Taliban.
But Mattiullah Khan told SBS the Taliban was no ally of his.
(Translated:) “It’s not true. Some people must preach against me. The thing is, I have lost 420 personnel guys this way. If I had any links, I wouldn’t have any casualties.”
Afghanistan’s former president Hamid Karzai appointed Matiullah Khan as police chief of Uruzgan province.
At the time, Australia’s Colonel Dave Smith welcomed the appointment.
“We’re looking forward from here to how he can do his job well into the future. And he is certainly a man that, in my time here, has worked very hard to be benevolent and to help people.”
But Afghanistan specialist William Maley, from the Australian National University, says Australia’s decision to work closely with Matiullah Khan was ill-advised.
“The Australians saw him — I’m quoting an Australian general here — as ‘our man in Uruzgan’. The Dutch, who were also deployed in Uruzgan, were much warier of engaging with Matiullah because he had a fairly grisly human-rights record, but Australia promoted him as the individual on whom it could most effectively rely in Uruzgan. And the fact that he’s now dead is a classic illustration of the dangers of that particular approach, because, in the long run, it pays to try to develop institutions rather than simply promote one individual. A bomb can take out one individual very quickly and very effectively.”
William Maley says the death of Matiullah Khan should give Australian military leaders pause for thought.
He warns it could undo much of what Australia did.
“I’m afraid Australia’s approach to Matiullah, certainly on the part of the military over quite a considerable period of time, was profoundly naive. And one hopes that at least some will learn lessons for the future from this particular case, that there’s now a risk that Uruzgan will slide into some kind of internal civil war. And if that’s the case, then a great deal of what Australia forces achieved through very hard work in the province at the grassroots level may well end up being lost.”