Friday, October 2, 2009

Instability and chaos near Kabul

Pamela Constable has been reporting from Afghanistan for several years as a correspondent for the Washington Post. We heard from her in February when she asked numerous locals about Obama's planned troop surge and found that a majority of Afghans opposed the troop increase - a finding consistent with polling.

Recently she visited the Shomali (Northern) Plain located just north of Kabul and found evidence of ominous developments:

A Protection or a Provocation?
Residents of Afghanistan's Shomali Plain Deeply Conflicted Over Presence of U.S. Troops
By Pamela Constable - Washington Post

QARABAGH, Oct 3 - The last time Taliban forces swept across the Shomali Plain, they left behind a wasteland of scorched vineyards and decapitated fruit trees that farmers have spent the past eight years nursing back to life.

Now, the inhabitants of this fertile region north of Kabul are fearful that the whirlwind will come again, destroying their hopes and hard work. Yet they are deeply conflicted about whether American and NATO troops should remain here to defend them, or whether the Western forces are exacerbating problems that Afghans should settle among themselves...

Like many other Afghans who have survived years of conflict and hardship, Shomalis express both resentment of the foreign military presence and bitterness that the United States abandoned their country after Soviet forces left in 1989. Some, with harsh memories of Taliban abuses, still call members of the Islamist militia fellow Muslims who should be given a second chance...

Signs of trouble are already appearing in the political void across Afghanistan, as people wait anxiously for two commissions to investigate the election fraud charges and announce the final results. Campaign workers and government officials have been targeted in an atmosphere of rising partisanship and criminality as well as terrorism...

A grape seller named Hayat Khan recounted how marauding Taliban forces had once burned down his house and thrown him into jail. In the next breath, however, he complained that Western troops were "killing innocent civilians" and declared that "all Afghan Muslims want them to leave. The Taliban are Muslims, too." He added: "We hope this time they will behave differently from the past."

A melon vendor named Turan Amoor complained that as Western influence has grown in Afghanistan, "we have begun to see the open faces of women in the bazaars and a lot of un-Muslim activities."

"This shows that the foreign troops are a bad influence," Amoor said. "If we get a better government, maybe things will settle down. Otherwise, one day we will go for jihad against the foreigners, and they will leave as they came." ...

Many people here associate the international forces with Karzai's government, which has increasingly lost credibility because of ... (link)
And an Afghan reporter with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting reports from Wardak province, just south of Kabul. He finds an exodus of residents who cannot convince the occupying American forces, or the Taliban, that civilians are not legitimate targets:
Crossfire Forces Wardak Farmers Off Land
Locals abandon orchards after getting caught up in fighting between US forces and insurgents.
By Habiburahman Ibrahimi in Wardak

WARDAK, Sept 23 - [...] Those whose lands are located near the American bases or Taleban checkpoints fear for their lives when they go to tend their orchards. Farms that are not destroyed by direct fighting are withering from neglect.

“The people have been caught in a trap,” Khan said bitterly. “They can be killed by the Americans or the governmental forces as well as by the Taleban.”

People are leaving en masse, he said. And it’s not just Sayed Abad district – farmers from Nerkh, Jalrez and Chak are also fleeing the fighting...

Sayed Rahman hired a labourer for his orchard five months ago. “One night he was out watering, but then the Americans started shooting at him. He ran away and now the orchard has completely dried up,” he said.

Rahman’s employee was lucky. Another labourer named Sayed Hassan lost his life when he was watering the trees. According to Alam Gul, the chairman of the local council in Sayed Abad district, there are also two other cases of villagers who were shot by American forces while they were watering their orchards at night...

In most areas of Afghanistan, the water level drops in mid-summer and farmers are allocated specific hours for irrigating their lands. They have to follow the schedule, no matter the time, so many farmers find themselves watering their orchards in the middle of the night.

But both United States forces and insurgents are apt to be jumpy when they see someone out at odd hours, and several villagers have paid the price...

According to [the spokesman of Wardak's governor] the provincial government has agreed with the Americans that if a farmer has to water his lands at night, he should carry a lantern with him at all times to identify him as a non-combatant.

But this does not always help.

“I know that a farmer in Sayed Abad was shot even though he had a lantern,” he said... (link)

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