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In Taliban heartland, villagers declare ‘enoug

Tuesday 26 March 2013, by siawi3

Source: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/in-taliban-heartland-villagers-declare-enough/1093388/

New York Times Pishin Gan Sayedan, Afghanistan, Tue Mar 26 2013, 02:00 hrs

CARLOTTA GALL

An uprising against the Taliban that began last month in this southern Afghan village has now spread through dozens of towns, according to residents and Afghan and US officials, in the most significant popular turning against the Islamist insurgents in recent years.

Since early February, when villagers joined with police forces to begin ousting Taliban fighters from this region of rich vineyards and orchards southwest of Kandahar, hundreds of residents have rallied to support the government. Nearly 100 village elders recently vowed to keep the Taliban out.

The revolt in Panjwai district is the first in southern Afghanistan, right in the spiritual heartland of the Taliban movement. While no one is claiming that the Taliban are forever out of the fight, the Panjwai uprising has given an example of what can be accomplished when local resentment over bullying by militants is accompanied by reliable government support.

Villagers and local officials said that although the uprising grew out of villagers’ anger at Taliban brutality, it gelled because of the growing strength of the Afghan security forces and a particularly active police force in the region. The new Panjwai police chief, Sultan Mohammad, is from Zangabad, the name of the surrounding area, and he has galvanised local support.

“The people have said enough is enough, and they have become fed up with the Taliban,” Major General Robert B Abrams, the US commander in the south, said in a news briefing recently. The Taliban had been ousted from all but four villages in the district at that point, he added.

While the surge of Western troops, and the increase in Afghan security forces that followed, has brought greater security for much of Kandahar province, in some areas it also brought increased tensions with locals. Near this village in Panjwai, 16 Afghan civilians were killed in their homes last year. A US soldier, Staff Sgt Robert Bales, has been accused of killing the civilians in a night-time rampage, raising local anger against the government and US forces.

Yet it was the Taliban’s callousness that caused the population to snap, Afghan officials and the villagers here said. Between 300-400 civilians have been killed or injured by bombs or ambushes by the Taliban in the past six months in Panjwai, according to the district governor, Hajji Fazel Mohammad. “People are angry because the Taliban have been laying mines in their orchards and vineyards,” he said.

The spark came in early February when the Taliban commander of the area, Mullah Noor Mahmad, 35, came to arrest men in this village. He called on the house of Hajji Abdul Wudood and demanded the handover of two sons he accused of spying for the government. “They wanted to slaughter my sons,” Wudood said.

Wudood, a 60-year-old former mujahideen fighter, had had enough. He and his eight grown sons decided to make a stand. Several villagers who had lost relatives to the Taliban joined them. Wudood turned for help to the district police chief, Sultan Mohammad, an old mujahideen associate and a relative by marriage. Together they hatched a plan to ambush the Taliban.

On February 6, they moved against a Taliban base in a nearby village. Seventy unarmed villagers accompanied the police. The police routed the Taliban, killing three men, and chasing the remainder south toward the desert. As the word spread, dozens of villages showed their support for the government and offered men for the Afghan Local Police forces to guard their villages.

The head of Afghanistan’s National Security Directorate, Asadullah Khalid, a bitter enemy of the Taliban who is still recovering in the US from a suicide attack against him in Kabul last year, said he had been trying to nurture popular uprisings as a way to beat the Taliban.

“One thing for sure is that the people are tired of the Taliban and they don’t want the Taliban,” he said. “And when the people don’t want the Taliban, the Taliban cannot come in. I feel this is the beginning of the end of the Taliban, but the question is how can we use this.”

“It all depends on what the government does with these people,” said Hajji Agha Lalai, a member of Kandahar’s provincial council. “If they support them and equip them, it will be a revolution.”