The Fighting Season

A letter from Michael Hudson in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

The enemy usually enters Afghanistan from their winter quarters in Pakistan in the spring.  They leave behind their families who enjoy decent schools, clean water and other essential services in order to create chaos and deny the Afghan people those same services.  Fortunately most Afghans are sick of it.  They are also tired of the broken promises from their government and they are tired of living in a state of socioeconomic and geographical isolation.  There are few roads connecting our villages to the district center.  Many hedge their bets by either fighting the Taliban and hoping  for support from the government, or by simply letting things happen.  Fear is the driving force that deters people from standing up and supporting the Afghan government.   This fear however has turned to anger in some areas where the people have risen up and fought the Taliban.

On the site of a future well in a remote village of Kandahar. [Courtesy of Michael Hudson]

On the site of a future well in a remote village of Kandahar. [Courtesy of Michael Hudson]

I only hope that the powers that be have the wisdom to seize this initiative and encourage other Afghans to do the same.  I am proud to say that our local police and ANA soldiers have demonstrated courage and taken the fight to the enemy. Our police and ANA (Afghan National Army) destroyed several hectares of poppy in the process.  This recent operation like many during this current fighting season are completely Afghan led.  We did make a minor contribution by sending a couple of F-16s in support. The jets simply flew low and fast, terrifying the enemy and inspiring our Afghan partners.

In the meantime, we fight this campaign one village at a time.  The other attached picture was taken in a remote village on the site of a future well.  If I can obtain the necessary funding (be any and all means available) this village will have a well that will provide clean water for over 200 people.  This is the only civic project that those people have had in over two years and come hell or high water, they will have a well. Inshalah (God willing).

The Pashto people often use the phrase  “jwan day ohsay” when saying goodbye to a friend or loved one.  Simple translated, it means “stay alive.”  We use that phrase daily.

We now have a detachment of Arab Special Operators from the UAE living with us.  They have money, lots of money.  I usually coordinate efforts with one of their Lieutenants who was trained by the British at RMAS (Royal Military Academy Sandhurst)  I spend most of my time with the UAE smoking flavored tobacco from the hookah and eating some of the best food that I have had since leaving home.  This of course is the Arab way, nothing is done without social interaction and a good meal.  They also have satellite TV and WI-FI.  I hope to leverage my understanding of the Afghan and Arab cultures in order to achieve our goals.  (Possibly make a few rich friends in the process)

I miss my wife, kids and all of you and I apologize for causing any worry.  I am with good people here, as I have stated before.  Our Army SF know what they are doing.
I look forward to the day that I can come home and hopefully take a long break from the war zone.  In the meantime, we’ll work with what we have and continue to move the ball forward.

Da Kelai Sekha (From the Village)

Michael Hudson

Michael Hudson is a U.S. service member currently serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan. 

Did Sgt. Bales have help?

BY JEFFERSON MORLEY

It’s a familiar argument in the annals of American violence: is some specific heinous deed the work of a disturbed individual acting alone? Or is it the work of unidentified conspirators? That’s the question hanging over the case of Sgt.

Robert Bales (Credit: Reuters/Department of Defense/Spc. Ryan Hallock)

Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians last weekend. With U.S. officials releasing no information on how many soldiers are under investigation, it is premature to rule out the possibility that Bales had no accomplices.

A group of Afghan parliamentary investigators has concluded that Bales was part of a group of 15-20 soldiers. As Outlook Afghanistan reported Monday, “The team spent two days in the province, interviewing the bereaved families, tribal elders, survivors and collecting evidences at the site in Panjwai district.” One of the parliamentarians told Pajhwok Afghan News that investigators believed 15 to 20 American soldiers carried out the killings.

“I have encountered almost no Afghan who believes it could have been one person acting alone, whether they think it was a group or people back at the base somehow organizing or facilitating it,” Kate Clark of  the Afghanistan Analysts Network told the Guardian. (The AAN is funded by four Scandanavian governments, all of which have troops in Afghanistan).

By contrast, few U.S. news account question that the massacre was the work of one man acting alone. In the U.S. media accounts Bales is described as the proverbial “lone nut,” a man under pressure from former investors and foreclosing banks who may have had too many tours of duties and too many drinks. In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee today, Gen. John Allen, commander of the international forces in Afghanistan, emphasized the singular nature of Bales’ actions. “We are now investigating what appears to be the murder of 16 innocent Afghan civilians at the hands of a U.S. service member,” he said. Allen also announced a separate administrative investigation into “command relationships associated with [Bales’] involvement in that combat outpost,” which suggests the scope of the probe may be broadening.

“He just snapped,” an unnamed senior U.S. official told the New York Times. “When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues.” This official’s comments reportedly drew from “accounts of the sergeant’s state of mind from two other soldiers with whom he illicitly drank alcohol on the night of the shootings, the official said, and those soldiers face disciplinary action.”

Leave aside this official’s willingness to draw sweeping conclusions from limited evidence. The passing admission that two other soldiers face disciplinary action for drinking with Bales on the night of the massacre might cast doubt on the notion that no one else knew what Bales was going to do. Army spokeswoman Lt. Col Amy Hannah said in telephone interview that she could not confirm the Times’ account. “I am not aware of any releases of information” about other soldiers facing disciplinary action, Hannah said. If the U.S. official’s remarks to the Times were accurate, then the Army is refraining from disclosing how many soldiers are under investigation.

Then there is conflicting eyewitness testimony. In this CNN video, one man describes the actions of a group in carrying out the killings. “They took him my uncle out of the room and shot him,” he says. “They came to this room and martyred all the children.” But one boy seen on the tape says there was only a single gunman. Still other witnesses pointed out a place outside the home, where they said they found footprints of more than one U.S. soldier.

Journalists seeking to clarify the question have been thwarted. In Afghanistan, Pajhaowk Afghan News reports that Lewis Boone, the public affairs director for coalition forces, declined to answer questions about the massacre, saying that a joint Afghan-ISAF team was investigating the killings. As the Seattle Times noted yesterday, the Army has been struggling “to regulate information on the Afghanistan suspect.”

Ryan Evans, a veteran of the Afghan theater and a research fellow at the Center for National Policy in Washington, said the thought “a cover up is very unlikely.”

“I think the most likely story is that Bales was acting on his own,” he said in an email, “but that either (a) he was using multiple weapons systems and using standard small unit tactics (basically re-positioning and moving around) which gave the illusion of a larger force or (b) the local ODA went out looking for him at some point and people saw them or (c) a mixture of the two.”

That may be, but the military’s silence is only fueling alternative theories. “An attack carried out by a group can worsen Kabul-Washington relations more than it is now,” says Washington-based Afghan journalist, Farzad Lameh. “Secondly, it would affect all U.S. military for showing mismanagement.”

This story was first published on www.salon.com in March 2012

Jefferson Morley is the Washington editor of Salon and author of the forthcoming book.

Taliban use intimidation as psychological warfare

By Farzad Lami

February 29, 2012

KABUL – The Afghan Taliban use intimidation to wage psychological warfare to achieve their political ends, observers say.

“Intimidation is usually used by extremist or terrorist groups after they fail to win people’s hearts and support,” Dr Esmael Darman, an Afghan psychologist, told Central Asia Online.

The Taliban have killed or threatened those working for government and development projects, said Darman, who founded rawanonline.com, a psychology website for Afghans.

On March 10, the Taliban cut one ear off each of four men working on a development project in Zherai District, Kandahar Province.

During parliamentary elections last August, a man on his way to vote in Dai Kundi Province had his nose and ears mutilated by a group of militants when they found his voter registration card. Election workers also reported incidents of militants cutting off voters’ fingers that had been dipped in ink to prevent multiple voting.

“The survivors will have nightmares, re-experience the traumatic event, have difficulty sleeping, irritability, lack of concentration, and anger,” Darman said of victims. “They will lose their interest in activities … and distance themselves from people, etc., which may lead to severe depression. They may have a sense of a foreshortened future, which includes a lack of ability to think about the future or make plans.”

In the case of the four men whose ears were severed, the Taliban wanted to behead them for working for foreigners before deciding to amputate their ears, the victims said.

“Insurgents have always spent all their efforts to bring waves of intimidation and make people do what they (Taliban) want, but there is no more chance for them to get what they want,” Zalmai Ayobi, spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor, said.

The Taliban have lacked all support recently and are suffering defeats by civilians in most remote villages because they show such an ugly face to the public, Ayobi added.

In Kandahar, known as the Taliban’s birthplace, the Taliban get their way only through violence and intimidation, Ayobi said. “This is not a solution, and the people will reject them,” he said.

“A few months ago two insurgents murdered a man from Helmand in a local Kandahar mosque,” Ayobi said. “The local people captured the two insurgents, beat them and turned them over to the police.”

“The majority of the people want only a normal life, but the Taliban are jealous of this and want to control the people,” Ayobi said “They are intolerant of other views and political discourse.”

Wahid Monawar, an Afghan political analyst and former Afghan representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, agreed. “It was the local villagers who repelled and kicked out the Taliban and not the Northern Alliance militia,” he said.

“If you take the case of Trin Kot (capital of Uruzgan Province), those Pashtun elders who once welcomed the Taliban in 1996 now are rising up,” he said.

“No one can question that local politics in Afghanistan is messy, corrupt and complex,” Monawar conceded. “However, the Taliban, where they had a minimum of support, were unable to provide a clearer alternative.”

“Today, most PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) have built schools and mosques, paved roads and improved irrigation, while the Taliban have channelled most of their efforts to fight the coalition forces to secure territory, in which they have also miserably failed,” Monawar said.

The Taliban also force local farmers to grow opium poppies, Ayobi said.

“It’s not only the Taliban who are motivating the poor farmers to cultivate and grow poppies, but the mafia too, and the reason … is they seek to have their needs met by making farmers grow poppies,” he told Central Asia Online.

Child suicide bombers

The Afghan government and human rights watchdogs accuse the Taliban of turning children into suicide bombers.

The National Directorate of Security February 9 arrested two boys, each 10, who said they had been sent to Kandahar to carry out suicide attacks.

“They have often intimidated the farmers and villagers, forcing their children to join the Taliban, robbing them from their harvest to support their movement, which in turn has aroused major dissent,” Monawar told Central Asia Online.

Psychology highlights the importance of childhood and how events then shape one’s personality, Darman said. “The militants clearly know this technique, and these children are easily found in mosques and religious schools,” he added.

The idea of suicide bombing was alien to Afghan culture before 2003, he said.

“Suicide bombing did not even begin among religious communities, particularly among Muslims,” he said. “Most of these children are deprived of basic amenities as they come from very poor families.”

People need to feel stability so they can plan for the future, he said.

“Once your productivity is challenged, you are both financially and mentally at risk,” Darman said.

This story was first published on www.centralasiaonline.com in February 2012. 

Children as a weapon of war for the Taliban

By Farzad Lameh 

February 14, 2012

KANDAHAR – Last week the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) arrested two would-be child suicide bombers in the southern province of Kandahar, the provincial government’s press office said February 12.

“Both are 10 and were compelled to carry out suicide attacks in Kandahar,” the press office said in a statement. However, some media reports said the boys are 12 years old.

Azizullah and Nasibullah, were both arrested last year for attempting to carry out a suicide attack and later pardoned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. After their arrest last week, the pair confessed that they once again wanted to carry out suicide attacks in Kandahar, the press office statement added.

Azizullah said trainers told them in a Pakistani madrassa to carry out a suicide attack in Afghanistan, according to the Governor House Pashtu-language statement.

“We were told that we would not get hurt if we did so,” Azizullah said, adding, “We ask once again for a pardon.”

Afghan political analyst Tofan Waziri blamed the using of children in the war on the enemy of Afghanistan.

“The president granted them amnesty because they’re children and have been brainwashed, but the enemy of Afghanistan once again trained and sent them to carry out the suicide attacks.” he told Central Asia Online.

There were no Afghan suicide bombers until 2008, but now terorists are training them, Waziri said.

“Right now, the Taliban are training many children in Kandahar and preparing them for attacks,” he added.

Exploiting poverty, ignorance

The Taliban are taking advantage of jobless parents and unschooled children, Waziri said.

Observers have regularly accused the Taliban of using children as cannon fodder in their fight against government and coalition troops.

On May 7, the NDS reported it had arrested five would-be child suicide bombers, all younger than 13.

“Militants told the children their families would receive cash after their suicide attacks,” Lotfullah Mashal, NDS spokesman, said.

Karzai has called the use of children in attacks “inhuman and un-Islamic.”

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission also has strongly denounced the killing of children in war and demanded all warring parties avoid civilian casualties and the use of children as suicide bombers.

The Taliban May 1 claimed responsibility for a 12-year-old boy’s suicide bombing in Paktika Province, which killed Sher Nawaz, the leader of a district council from the Shakeen area, and three other people.

According to Human Rights Watch, other recent bombings and attempted bombings involving children include

  • A June 26 bombing in which, an eight-year-old girl was killed in central Uruzgan Province when a bag of explosives that the Taliban had instructed her to carry to a police checkpoint detonated.
  • A May 20 suicide bombing, in Nuristan Province, in which a suicide vest strapped to a 12-year-old boy exploded prematurely, killing several insurgents, including the boy.
  • The early-May NDS arrest of five would-be bombers, all younger than 13. All came from Logar or Ghazni Province.
  • On or about May 3, a 14-year-old boy who said the Taliban had forced him to carry a bomb or lose his hand surrendered to international troops in Ghazni Province.
  • On April 13, in Kunar Province, a suicide vest worn by a 13-year-old boy killed 10 people, including five schoolboys.

This story was first published  www.centralasiaonline.com  in February 2012. 

How Iran Controls Afghanistan

By Fariba Nawa

25 January, 2012 | For Foxnews.com

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad answers questions during a meeting at his hotel in Copenhagen, December 18, 2009. Reuters

Afghanistan has suffered from foreign meddling since its inception. But while Paki Pakistan’s role has been widely discussed — most Afghans will point to concrete examples — Iran’s involvement is more subtle.

Iranian influence is all encompassing–the Islamic government funds Afghan Shiite sects and politicians, has invested in building roads and providing fuel and transport, and is fighting hard against the Afghan opium trade that supplies millions of addicts. But Iran’s lasting power on Afghanistan is cultural as well as political, broadcasting state radio and television programs inside Afghanistan.

Yet the country’s biggest cultural influence is not imposed by the Iranian government.

The more than one million repatriating Afghan refugees from Iran – tens of thousands have been deported –bring the dialect, food, music, and clothes particular to Iran.

Some of the Afghans repatriates are migrant workers, similar to Mexicans in the U.S., some are construction workers who became addicted to drugs in Iran, others were able to get an education and acquire job skills, and most have lived there for over three decades.

Yet Iran will not grant them legal status; they do not have a right to a higher education, to own property, or to work. Most voluntarily return to Afghanistan because there are more opportunities in their home country. These Afghans are changing Afghanistan’s identity to be more Iranian – for better or worse.

My family escaped the Soviet invasion in 1982 and settled in the U.S.

I first returned to Afghanistan in 2000 when the Taliban reigned, but it was after the group’s ouster that I witnessed the cultural changes brought on by immigration.

I was traveling through Afghanistan researching the drug trade for my book “Opium Nation” from 2002 to 2007, and my first confrontation with Iran’s cultural impact was language.

Iran and Afghanistan both speak Farsi, but the Afghan dialect is called “Dari.” I’m fluent in Dari but I no longer understood what many of the families in my hometown, Herat are saying.

Common words, idioms, and even Iran’s use of French terms have invaded Afghan speech. The Herati folk songs I recalled hearing in shops as a child were replaced by Iranian pop produced in Los Angeles. The young Afghan activists and artists read Iranian websites and books.

These changes have given rise to tension between the Afghans who never left home and the Afghan returnees.

The skilled repatriates are resented for getting better jobs with aid companies and the Afghan government.

Conservatives view the Afghan women who grew up in Iran with disdain because they appear more liberal and courageous–they sing on TV, they’re news broadcasters, business owners, and government workers. They voice their opinions loudly in a male dominated country.

The Hazara ethnic group in Afghanistan who were historically the poorest of minorities return richer, more literate, and united. They have made unprecedented advances in Afghanistan, including in the arts and in the government.

These returnees are called “Afghan-e badal,” or counterfeit Afghans. Few of them have political connections to Iran, but their time living in the Islamic Republic taints themin the eyes of the Afghans who didn’t leave as culturally inauthentic and politically suspect.

Several Afghans at NGOs I met told me that their returnee colleagues had clandestine connections to Iran. When I asked for tangible evidence, one of them told me. “I just know by that accent they use. They’re sellouts.”

While I’m not fully comfortable with this cultural invasion, I understand that Iran advanced while Afghanistan struggled to survive in the last three decades.

Culture is fluid and both countries share a common history. After all, my own husband is one of these Afghan returnees and he’s a true patriot.

Repatriating Afghans have enough of a hard time readjusting to their battered country – ostracizing them is simply cruel.

However, Afghan bitterness toward the Iranian government is justifiable. The Islamic Republic backs religious divisions inside Afghanistan, using Afghan Shiites as pawns.

Shiite Afghans, who come from other ethnic groups as well, are encouraged to watch Iranian clerics give fiery speeches against Sunni Afghans. Iran built the road from Herat City to its border, one of the finest rebuilt highways, but the signs alongside the road bear Koranic verses picked by Iran‘s government.

My homeland is geographically determined as a buffer zone where empires and nations have fought their battles using Afghans as their pawns.

Extremist Sunni groups cross the Pakistani border to kill Afghan Shiite children and women. The carnage last month in Kabul at a Shiite mosque killed eighty people and was a new height in religious sectarian violence for Afghanistan. It won’t be long before Iran recruits a group to bomb a Sunni mosque.

Iran and Pakistan were not such deadly influences on Afghanistan before the revolutions and wars inside these countries.

A harmonious cultural exchange was common among these neighbors. Pakistani couples took their honeymoon in Kabul while Iranian singers traveled to give concerts in Kabul in the 1960s.

Before the Soviet invasion, my mother, a Sunni, joined her Shiite friends to commemorate the death of Prophet Mohammed’s grandsons during the month of Muharram.

One of my uncles married a Shiite woman, and while throughout history tensions existed between the two sects, the result was not as violent.

I can take pop music and the Iranian Farsi drawl, but Iran’s sponsorship of sectarian violence must be stopped — by the U.S. and other foreign powers invested in Afghanistan — but mostly, by Afghans themselves who must unite to stand up to their neighbors.

Fariba Nawa is an Afghan author, visit her online: www.faribanawa.com .

This story was first published on www.foxnews.com on January 25, 2012.

Long and rough road to schools in Afghanistan

By: 

Education in Afghanistan has been through a lot. Though for a decade steps have been taken by the government and international aid to rebuild education system in this war torn country, it’s still a long journey ahead for all kids to go to school.

Suffering first at the hands of the war on terror and then facing a Taliban backlash, which peaked during 2006, when schools were the prime target for Taliban fighters for over a year.

Post 2007 there has been some positives in the education system.

As a report in Afghanistan Analyst Network ‘The Battle for Schools: The Taliban and State Education’ states: The Taleban allowed schools to re-open if certain demands were met – and these have remained constant since 2007: adopt the Taliban curriculum, based on the 1980s mujahedin curriculum and textbooks, and hire teachers of religious subjects linked to the Taliban , usually in addition to Ministry of Education teachers. In 2010, the Ministry of Education decided to re-start negotiations with the Taliban and the pace of local negotiations accelerated considerably. This also coincided with the Taliban’s removing an order to attack schools and teachers from their code of conduct when it was revised in 2009.

When WeSpeakNews tried to reach out to Afghans on the current situation the response was, ‘development is happening at a slow pace and lot needs to be done till the goal is reached. All of this though depends a lot on political solution over the ongoing war.’

Hares Kakar, journalist for Deutsche Presse Agentur, said, “Post 2001, education system has quite improved. We have large numbers of students (girls and boys) going to schools but the level of education is low. We have achieved a lot in our education but we are still facing problems. “He added, “But we cannot compare current education system with the system during the Taliban regime.”

The International aid has gone up considerably, but lot needs to be done at the grass root level.

As Ahmad Farzad Lameh, journalist based out of Washington D.C. notes, “Despite of billions of dollars poured into Afghanistan in the past 10 years, yet nearly four million Afghan children are out of education – mostly in southern areas where the Taliban are comparatively powerful.”

He argues, “Some of Taliban extremists assume schools as the place for encouraging local people to stand up against Taliban that’s why the insurgents have set fire to dozens schools’ building in an attempt to prevent local children from going there.”

Despite all the aid and help, hundreds of school are still remained closed in remote areas, students and teachers are being threatened by Taliban or insurgents mostly in southern parts of the country. That apart lack of professional teachers in our schools is a big hurdle.

Aid from majors like USAID focuses on improving teaching, institutional systems that sustain quality teaching, providing instructional materials, and constructing learning spaces as well as paying for rebuilding and building of schools across the country.

But still Kabul based, CBS journalist Ahmad Mukhtar says, “Even in Kabul, students do not have enough class rooms, chairs, books, library and school. Still the students in the capital can be seen study under a tent without basic facilities.”

To make things worse Kakar says, “Most of the teachers are 12th grade school pass outs, and don’t have any degree. There are still five million children who cannot go to schools in Afghanistan due to poverty and insecurity.”

According to ministry of education, Afghanistan needs five thousands qualified teachers in our schools, this is a big problem. There is a lack of talent and even those who come in to teach don’t make much money.

Mukhtar points out that a school teacher in Afghanistan makes around 10,000 -15,000 Afghanis (Afs) or (USD 225-338) per month.

On the other side of the spectrum is high tech and well equipped universities like the American University of Afghanistan where the fee is as high as USD 600 per month that a few Afghans can only afford.

The divide is wide and can only be bridged once a political solution over the ongoing war in Afghanistan is reached. The Afghan educational system won’t improve otherwise despite all aid, efforts and movement of overseas Afghans back into the country.

This story was first published on www.wespeaknews.com on January 19, 2012. 

Afghan Taliban Promote Opium Cultivation

By Farzad Lameh | August 24, 2011

 

A field of saffron flowers are in full bloom on a cold December morning in this 2003 file photo.[REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli]

Afghan farmers would prefer to grow crops other than poppy, but such a decision carries the risk of intimidation – or worse – from militants, Afghan officials say.

One profitable alternative is saffron.

“Saffron cultivation doubled in 2010 compared with 2009 in Afghanistan,” Majidullah Qarar, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, told Central Asia Online. “A 1ha farm can produce 12kg of saffron, which can make almost $30,000 per year, which is much better than poppy cultivation,” he said.

Saffron is the world’s costliest spice by weight.

At least 80% of Afghanistan’s workforce is involved in agriculture, and saffron grows in 15 of the 34 provinces.

“This is good news for Afghan farmers,” Qarar said.

But militants, who depend on drug profits, are trying to thwart these efforts.

An Afghan farmer walks through a poppy field in Marjah District, Helmand Province. [REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih]

“…About 98% of poppies are being cultivated in south and south-western provinces, where the Taliban militants are in a tough battle with Afghan government and coalition troops,” Engineer Ibrahim Azhar, deputy for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Counter-Narcotics, told Central Asia Online.

The UN, in its World Drug Report 2010, estimated that the Taliban earned at least US $125m annually from opium production.

 

Taliban warns farmers against switching from poppies

Azhar said the Taliban has sent warning letters to farmers. These prove that insurgents “have taken farmers hostage,” he said.

Farmers who defy Taliban demands to continue growing poppies “will be killed,” he said.

Qais Wardak, spokesman for the governor of Uruzgan Province, confirmed that residents there have been warned not to grow other crops.

“They (the Taliban) need to purchase arms and explosives in order to keep fighting, so they’re stepping up poppy cultivation,” he added.

“The Taliban have no other choice but to force local people – and this is all to support themselves financially,” Azhar said.

“The militants are trying to eliminate people’s sources of income in order to make them join the Taliban,” Qarar said.

Saffron could generate $100m of income a year for Herat alone if the region could devote 5,000 to 7,000ha of farmland to the flower, according to data from Afghanistan’s Agriculture Ministry.

This story was first published on www.centralasiaonline.com  in January 2011. 

Taliban Violate Their Own Rules

By Farzad Lameh
August 22, 2011
 

The mutilation occurred March 10 in Kandahar even though the Taliban’s own Code of Conduct prohibits such acts. [Ahmad Farzan file photo]

KABUL – In mid-July 2009, Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar issued a Code of Conduct for Taliban militants fighting the Afghan government and coalition forces.

“All Mujahideen must do their best to avoid civilian deaths and injuries and damage to civilian property,” Mullah Omar instructed his fighters in the Code.

But the Taliban were responsible for 75% of 2010’s civilian casualties – a 28% increase from 2009, according to the U.N. and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) joint 2010 Annual Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.

“Civilians are often killed when their vehicles are blown up by roadside bombs that the militants plant to kill Afghan and coalition forces,” Paktika Provincial Governor Muhebullah Samim said.

“For example, some time ago (January 19) 22 women and children were killed in the Khoshamand District after their bus struck a roadside bomb,” Samim continued. “In another blast … between the Wazi Khwa and Tro districts of Paktika March 6, at least 12 civilians lost their lives.”

About 60% of insurgent attacks kill civilians, tribal elders and religious scholars, said Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi.

“Insurgents are not able to challenge the Afghan national security forces and ISAF (on the battlefield) to any significant degree but continue to assassinate Afghan patriots and religious leaders,” Azimi said.

The Taliban insurgents have also used civilians as human shields.

“It happens when the militants have no way to escape and enter people’s houses,” said Ghazi Nawaz Tanai, chairman of the Council for Solidarity of Afghan Tribes in southern Afghanistan, who has survived several Taliban assassination attempts.

Another statute of the Code states that only the Imam (Mullah Omar) can sentence someone to death. Even if he gives authority to someone, it does not give that person the right to issue a death penalty.

Yet, in early June 2010, the Taliban executed a 7-year-old child accused of spying for Afghan forces in the Sangeen District of Helmand. Local officials confirmed the killing. The local commander violated the Code by issuing a death penalty. But he also violated an article of the Code stipulating that conviction of spying requires two eyewitnesses or the discovery of specialised spy equipment. It seems unlikely that a 7-year-old child would have such equipment, nor was there any indication that witnesses came forward.

Similarly, on March 10 Nimroz Deputy Provincial Police Chief Muhammad Musa Rasoli confirmed the slayings of two civilians for allegedly spying for government forces in Nimroz.

Disfigurements

Another ignored part of the Taliban Code of Conduct prohibits insurgents from cutting off people’s body parts. But, on August 20, 2009 – just one month after Mullah Omar issued the Code – his fighters cut off the ink-stained fingers of two Afghan voters in Kandahar Province, after warning voters to disregard the 2009 presidential elections.

  • In the case of killing civilians, the Taliban were responsible for 75% of civilian deaths in 2010.
  • In the case of convicting someone of spying, the Taliban executed a 7-year-old without providing evidence that the child had spy equipment and without indicating that there were any witnesses to the “spying.”
  • In the case of physical mutilation, the Taliban has cut off people’s fingers and ears, though the militants deny those charges.

“Mullah Omar is a symbolic leader of the Taliban,” political analyst Younus Fakor said. “He cannot direct all of his fighters what to do and what not to do.”

On March 10, the Taliban mutilated four men who were working for a development project in Kandahar Province, cutting one ear off each man.

“We are poor, (so we) have to work,” Muhammad Amin, 65, said at the time, weeping. “Even if they cut off my other ear or my limbs, I will still work.”

“The Taliban booklet is only for propaganda,” Fakor added. “Their leadership understands that such guidelines cannot be applied by their fighters since they are not under a single command.”

In the case of the maimed workers, the Taliban denied responsibility.

Burning schools and mosques

Dawoud Ahmadi, spokesman for the Helmand Provincial Office, called the listing of “prohibited conduct” in the Taliban guidelines ineffective and propagandistic.

“Just 20 days ago, insurgents burnt down the tents set up for school students in Marja District,” Ahmadi said.

“Even though Taliban leader Mullah Omar has called on his fighters not to burn down schools, they are continuing the burning,” Fakor said.

The Marja classrooms went up in flames just after Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged the Taliban March 23 not to burn any more schools.

The war on education has violated numerous Islamic laws and has interfered with education. Militants who set fire to the Sangar girls’ primary school in Laghman Province November 7 incinerated 850 copies of the Koran, according to a Ministry of Education statement.

Insurgents have not spared mosques either. After pro-government forces drove al Qaeda-linked militants out of Gizab District in Uruzgan Province in November, the militants set fire to a mosque and burned dozens of copies of the Koran, Gizab District Governor Haji Abdullah told Central Asia Online.

Tribal elders’ assassinations

Recent attacks on tribal elders have made a mockery of Mullah Omar’s instructions in the Code to establish good relations with locals and tribal elders and to stay out of local affairs.

“The Taliban insurgents are assassinating tribal elders to undermine the comparative national solidarity among the Afghans,” Fakor argued. In the past five years, the Taliban have assassinated 850 tribal elders and other prominent figures in Kandahar alone, said Fakor, a native of Kandahar Province.

“While the tribal elders describe the realities about the Taliban, they are being killed or intimidated because they are prestigious and reliable figures in the society,” he added.

On August 25, the Taliban killed Qari Shahbaz Khan, a tribal elder in Sorobi District of Paktika Province, according to Mukhlis Afghan, spokesman for Governor Samim. The Taliban later took responsibility, Afghan said.

Another elder, Ghulam Dastagir, was gunned down April 12 during prayers in a mosque in Nawa District, according to Dawoud Ahmadi, Helmand provincial government spokesman. “He was a very good man because he was trying to build schools and help his district’s development,” Ahmadi said.

On April 13, a suicide bomber killed at least 10 and wounded seven others during a meeting of residents of Asmar District in eastern Kunar Province with their tribal elders.

That came after an April 10 roadside bomb that killed three tribal elders in the western province of Farah who were on their way to a local meeting in Farah city.

Frequently, Taliban insurgents neither claim nor condemn the attacks that take civilians’ or tribal elders’ lives, but the roadside bombs terrorising Afghan travellers have only one source – the Taliban.

This story was first published on www.centralasiaonline.com in April 2011.