American journalist Nir Rosen, whose reporting on the war in Iraq is second only to that of Patrick Cockburn, is one of the finest journalists in the world. Recently, he visited Afghanistan where he was able to "embed" with Taliban fighters in Ghazni province.
His experiences, as outlined below, surely amount to the richest source of recent information about the insurgents. Highly recommended:
PBS: October 14, 2008The Christian Science Monitor's Anand Gopal has more along the same lines:
Journalist Recounts His Experiences With Taliban in Afghanistan
[...] Q: And who are these Taliban commanders? Can you describe who your guides were?
NIR ROSEN: One of them was an experienced Mujahid, he fought the Soviets in the ‘80s and then had grown disenchanted with the Mujahideen who had began to fight each other following Soviet withdrawal. And eventually joined the Taliban out of frustration with the war lords who were terrorizing the Afghans and now continues to fight on behalf of the Taliban against the Americans.
And the other guy was a little more senior and he was also a liaison with the Taliban Minister of Defense. The Taliban actually has ministers and governors for each province. They have on paper at least a well established structure. Although I was to learn that in reality of course it falls victim to Afghanistan which is much more vociferous and bitter rivalries divide different groups just as they did the various Mujahideen parties in the ‘80s.
Both these commanders drove me down to Ghazni to the Andar District...
And we went on various patrols with the Taliban during the day. They go around with RPGs, rocket grenade launchers, machine guns, really not a care in the world as if there's no Americans in the country at all. They feel very confident. They adjudicate disputes between farmers, they hold trials and execute alleged spies, conduct operations against so-called collaborators with the occupation, whether they're police or army or government workers...
Q: And it didn't last long because you got into some trouble at one point right with, you were detained by a Taliban leader. Who was he and what did he want?
A: It turned out that my commander that was sort of protecting me, taking me around had clashed with this rival commander called Dr. Khalil. My commander had killed 11 Pakistanis and two Arabs under the command of the other guy...
[The rival commander] basically ordered me detained and put on trial for being a spy. It was never clear if he actually believed I was a spy or just wanted to hold onto me for the ransom.
But it took about 24 hours for my various contacts to be able to reach just about every Taliban commander they could think of and finally the Taliban Minister of Defense and only he was able to secure my release. The Taliban governor for the province actually tried and failed. So it was one look into the various rivalries that divide the movement. And what I also got to see was just some of the daily life, what these guys do when they come home. The commander I was with sat down and watched Indian soap opera.
Q: And also Iranian, you said Iranian pop music.
A: Yeah. Iranian pop music both of which the Taliban would have severely punished in the ‘90s certainly. This guy was a commander so he obviously knew that but he didn't seem to care at all. And there was very little separating him from your average Pashtun from the region. I think he could have almost just as likely joined the police or the army. In fact very little often separates tribes or villages who join the police or those who join the Taliban could be just an insult over a contract. It could result from the governor favoring one tribe over another, but I also found that these guys, many of them could, seemed like they could be brought into the system, into the process. They seemed willing to negotiate with the army and the police once the foreigners left, that was one of their requirements. When the foreigners leave they said they wouldn't have a reason to fight anymore.
Q: What can you say about in terms of how much the Taliban has evolved since they were driven from power in 2001? I mean at one point you mentioned their attitude towards women seems to have changed a bit. Several commanders have told you that they thought women could have jobs and go to school. Now is that a major shift on their part?
A: Acknowledging that women can work even be, even serve in the government and go to school is definitely a step forward. Because throughout Afghanistan the plight of women is just absolutely horrible and it's not like it's unique to the Taliban. They were also more, I would say the Taliban are becoming more of a Pashtun nationalist movement in the sense of Pashtun alienation. The Taliban are seizing upon that and in some way becoming less of purely Afghan or Islamist movement. And perhaps that's also a good thing in a sense that they're appealing to local grievances.
There is a danger, of course, that they're becoming more linked to, to global jihadist movements. They definitely resent foreigners which includes foreign fighters, it includes Pakistan, and the Arabs who join them, Pakistanis who join them. It was clear that the guys I was with disapproved of suicide bombings which are common tactic of the Taliban. And one of them actually complained that the Taliban are killing too many civilians. So these aren't exactly huge steps forward but they are a sign of an increased pragmatism.
So there are signs that perhaps could be taken advantage of. However, I doubt that the Americans have the elegance and the subtlety to be able to that. Moreover, I think the Taliban are so confident because they really are at this point becoming more and more victorious. They might see little reason to negotiate. Once you leave Kabul, you're entering Taliban territory. They're taking more and more land approaching Kabul in attacks in and around Kabul Province are more and more brazen. They've shut down the main roads leaving Kabul. And it really seems irreversible... (link)
Some Afghans live under Taliban rule – and prefer itRelated:
By Anand Gopal
PORAK, Afghanistan, Oct 14 - After a gang of thieves had continually terrorized an Afghan neighborhood near here months ago, locals decided they'd had enough. "We complained several times to the government and even showed them where the thieves lived," says Ahmad, who goes by one name.
But the bandits continued to operate freely. So the villagers turned to the Taliban.
The militants' parallel government here in Logar Province – less than 40 miles from Kabul, the capital – tried and convicted the men, tarred their faces, paraded them around, and threatened to chop off their hands if they were caught stealing in the future. The thieves never bothered the locals again.
In several provinces close to Kabul, the government's presence is vanishing or already nonexistent, residents say. In its place, a more effective – and brutal – Taliban shadow government is spreading and winning local support.
"The police are just for show," one local says. "The Taliban are the real power here."
Widespread disillusionment with rampant crime, corrupt government, and lack of jobs has fueled the Taliban's rise to de facto power – though mainly in areas dominated by fellow ethnic Pashtuns...
Villagers say that almost every household in Logar Province has Taliban fighters. By day the area is quiet – most people stay indoors behind large mud walls or tend to their fields. A tiny roadside market sells dried fruits and soft drinks, and the shops often go unattended for hours.
As nightfall approaches, Taliban fighters slowly emerge from the houses and surrounding hillsides, some lugging rocket-propelled grenade launchers over their shoulders, ready to begin a night's work. The guerrillas set up checkpoints along Logar Province's central highway, stopping trucks and taxis to check IDs.
A few miles away sits a police checkpoint, but the police say they don't dare enter the Taliban-controlled areas. Yet many villagers say they don't need the police, since crime has almost vanished...
The Taliban now have a strong presence in all seven of Logar's districts, including outright control of four of them, locals say. "In these districts the Taliban patrol openly in the daytime and there is no government presence at all," says Qabir.
In neighboring Ghazni Province, the Taliban is in full control of 13 of the 18 districts, according to locals. Similarly, in Wardak, which neighbors Kabul, the insurgents have control of six of eight districts...
In areas under their control, the Taliban has set up their own government, complete with police chiefs, judges, and even education committees.
An Islamic scholar heads the judicial committee of each district under Taliban control and usually appoints two judges to try cases using a strict interpretation of sharia law, according to locals and Taliban members. "We prefer these courts to the government courts," says Fazel Wali of Ghazni city, an NGO worker. Taliban courts have a reputation of working much faster than government ones, which often take months to decide cases and are saddled with corruption, he says.
The Taliban's parallel government is also involved in local education. Employees with Coordination for Afghan Relief, an Afghan NGO that works in Ghazni city and trains teachers, say Taliban authorities recently gave them a letter detailing the "allowed curriculum" in local schools.
Abdul Hakim, a Taliban "Emir of Education and Culture" in Ghazni Province, says his group checks all schoolbooks to ensure that they adhere to their version of sharia law. "We want to ensure that our youth are trained in Islamic education," he explains. "First, they should learn sharia law and religious studies. Then comes science and other subjects.... But we don't burn or close down schools if they are in accord with Islam."
However, locals say that the number of schools in Taliban-controlled territory is dwindling fast... (link)
- Logar senator says Afghan people support the Taliban.
- Reporters from The Times, the Washington Post and others report that Afghans are increasingly throwing their support behind the Taliban.