Old Afghan regime grows stronger

They’re baaack! Despite U.S. claims of victory in Afghanistan and the ouster of the Taliban, the militant fundamentalist group is showing strong resurgence.

About one-third of southern Afghanistan is under Taliban control. Intelligence sources believe the old regime is regrouping there and plans a spring offensive against the Karzai government in Kabul and its American allies.

While U.S. and Pakistani forces hunt for Osama bin Laden, and claim to have him surrounded, people in Zabul province are under attack by an entrenched enemy. Some 70 percent of the province is said to be either controlled by the Taliban or is completely lawless.

A young soldier said his two brothers were badly beaten because he works for the local government. “My brothers were beaten in the mosque in open daylight,” said Haji Mohammed. “Their hands and feet were tied, and the men wanted to take them away. But with the help of the village elders, they were released. Since one year, I cannot go home. They would not let me live,” he said.

Local military officers believe about 700 Taliban—all Pashtuns (the major ethnic group in Afghanistan)—have crossed into the country from Peshawar and Quetta in Pakistan.

The Taliban are offering a motorbike, an AK-47 assault rifle and a satellite telephone to anyone who will steal, rob or bomb a government target. Success in that endeavor brings a payoff of $265. Anyone who kills a Taliban enemy gets $1,200.

Zabul’s security commander, General Ayoub Khan, claims some of the Taliban commanders are Pakistanis. “In the Dai Chopan district, there are reports of Punjabi commanders,” he said. “We arrested two (Taliban members) a month ago, and they told us Pakistani colonels told them to destabilize Afghanistan,” he added.

The situation in the province is so dangerous that the United Nations and aid organizations have stopped working in Zabul. Taliban commanders reportedly have issued death warrants for any journalist entering the province.

Mohammed Azghar, a former member of the Taliban and now a government soldier, said Taliban offers of money to do their dirty work are very tempting in the villages where there is no employment, and farms have turned to dust bowls by long-term drought.

“I killed two Taliban commanders, and they had 200,000 Afghanis [$6,200] in their pockets and a pistol,” he said. “A soldier here does not make that much money. The commanders distribute the money to fighters and say: ‘Go burn a school, we will give you money. Go rob a house, we will give you money.’”

Three times in the past 15 months, Zabul’s governor has been replaced by the central government in Kabul. One survived an assassination attempt at his home.

The current governor is a former Taliban fighter. He is trying to win support for the central government. “We are optimistic,” said Mullah Khail Mohammed Hosani. “When I met with some tribal leaders, they said they are not against the non-governmental organizations but against cruel men in the current administration. In the two decades of war, the government was imposed on the people. I am negotiating with local communities so we can understand each other.”

Zabul has been a hotbed of anti-American sentiment since the Taliban were ousted in October 2001 under heavy bombing by the U.S. and the advance of the Northern Alliance forces. Taliban leaders were believed to have fled into the mountains that stretch from Zabul province to the Pakistani border. Unconfirmed reports claim bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are hiding there.

Source: The Globe and Mail (UK).

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