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Civilians paying the price in Taliban conflict

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GHERISHK, 16 July 2007 (IRIN) – For Abdul Qader, 44, life had become almost impossible in his native Gherishk District, about 50km north of Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province, in southern Afghanistan.

It was not only the escalating armed conflict and onset of a drought that drove him and his six-member family to abandon their grocery shop, large vineyard and house in Gherishk. The main reason he fled, he said, was because he was under increasing pressure to join the Taliban.

“One night about five or six Taliban fighters came into my house,” he told IRIN. “They told us either to pay them 2,000 Afghanis [US$40] per young man in a family or join the Taliban’s jihad [holy war].”

Another elderly man in Lashkargah had a similar account.

“One evening the Taliban came into our village mosque. They preached about jihad and said we should support the jihad either financially or by our blood,” said Haji Khodaidad, who left his home in Helmand’s Kajaki District two months ago.

Taliban oppression

Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence (MoD), said Taliban insurgents have a history of using and abusing civilians in their fight against the Afghan government and its international supporters.

“We are doing our best to exclude our people from Taliban oppression,” said Azimi.

However, the nascent national Afghani army has struggled to provide protection to civilians living under strict Taliban rule in many towns and villages in the south, which have a long history of resistance to occupation forces. Traditional village schools, or madrassas, are the primary source of new Taliban fighters.

The Taliban, who ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, were ousted from power by a US-led invasion of the country shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York. Since then, they have been engaged in protracted low-intensity guerilla warfare with Afghan and international forces. The past year has seen a resurgence of the Taliban.

Taliban insurgents are notorious for their beheadings and executions of people on charges of espionage and collaboration with their opponents. Taliban leaders accuse such people of being traitors and nonbelievers. They say they are the rightful rulers of the country and see the current Afghan government as a puppet of the US.

Taliban leaders have vowed to continue fighting the Afghan government and its international allies. On 23 May, the Taliban’s newly named top field commander, Dadullah Mansoor, brother and replacement of deceased field commander Mullah Dadullah, made his first public statement, saying the Taliban will “pursue holy war until the occupying countries leave”.

As such, clashes and military operations are ongoing between the Taliban and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan – the Afghan army and US forces. Many civilians have been killed as a result and thousands displaced.

Short-term displacement

According to Abdul Sattar Muzahari, the director for the department of refugees and internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) affairs in Helmand, up to 10,000 families (at least 50,000 people) have been displaced in seven districts of the restive province.

“Almost all of the displaced people have been affected by the conflict and resurgence of the Taliban,” Muzahari said.

Officials in Kabul say tens of thousands of people displaced in the south and southwest of the country are “short-term IDPs” who will be able to return to their homes soon after military operations end in their areas.

“Military operations usually conclude within days after their start and displaced people will have no obstacle to return,” Shujauddin Shuja, an advisor for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Returnees (MoRR), said on 15 July in the capital, Kabul.

No compensation for civilians

However, aid workers and civilians say that neither the government nor international forces provide a functioning compensation programme for civilians affected by military operations.

Some displaced families say they do not return to their villages of origin either because they cannot afford rebuilding their damaged properties or because there is no guarantee that there will be not be renewed fighting.

Fifteen days after recent fighting in Sangeen District, about 100km northeast of Lashkargah, Haji Hakeem Agha returned to see his home.

“Everything has been destroyed,” the old man said.

The majority of displaced families are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the provincial department for refugees and IDPs affairs.

“So far the government has been unable to deliver humanitarian relief,” conceded Shuja of MoRR.

The ongoing fighting in the south, east and southwestern parts of Afghanistan has restricted humanitarian and development activities, and has largely impeded access to many affected regions, such as Helmand, Urozgan and Zabul provinces.

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Written by afghandevnews

July 16, 2007 at 3:09 am

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