[Marxism] Bring back the Taliban

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 18 07:41:36 MST 2005


Afghan Crime Wave Breeds Nostalgia for Taliban
Child Abductions in Kandahar Crystallize Discontent With Governing Ex-Warlords

By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page A01

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- "We are savage, cruel people," the kidnappers 
warned in a note sent to Abdul Qader, demanding $15,000 to spare the life 
of his son Mohammed, 11. The construction contractor quickly borrowed the 
money and left it at the agreed spot. But the next morning, a shopkeeper 
found the boy's bruised corpse lying in a muddy street.

A wave of crime in this southern Afghan city -- including Mohammed's 
killing two months ago and a bombing Thursday that killed at least five 
people -- has evoked a growing local nostalgia for the Taliban era of 1996 
to 2001, when the extremist Islamic militia imposed law and order by 
draconian means.

Afghans gather outside a hospital in Kandahar, where a roadside bomb killed 
five people and injured more than 30. (Noor Khan -- AP)

Residents reached their boiling point last week, after a second kidnapped 
boy was killed. Hundreds of men poured into the streets, demanding that 
President Hamid Karzai fire the provincial governor and police chief. Some 
threw rocks at military vehicles and chanted, "Down with the warlords!" 
Witnesses recalled some adding, "Bring back the Taliban!"

Both provincial officials are former militia leaders -- commonly called 
warlords in Afghanistan -- whose fighters reportedly preyed on residents 
before they were driven out by the Taliban. They regained power, like a 
number of other current officials, by joining the U.S.-led military forces 
that defeated the Taliban in late 2001.

In response to the protest, Karzai dispatched a top security aide to 
Kandahar and promises were made to bolster the local police force with 
reinforcements from the capital. There were also reports that Karzai might 
transfer the police chief to another province. But residents are demanding 
more action by Karzai, who was elected in October after making campaign 
pledges to remove the warlords from power.

"We don't want any more promises on paper," said a landowner and tribal 
leader who, like many residents, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear 
of retaliation by the government. "We want Mr. Karzai to keep his word."

The Kandaharis' complaints echo those of Afghans across the country. Last 
Monday, demonstrators in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif called for the 
resignation of Gen. Attah Mohammad, the strongman who governs their 
province, complaining that he had stolen people's land.

Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based advocacy group, charged last week that 
numerous former warlords, who hold many provincial governorships and top 
police jobs, "have been implicated in widespread rape of women and 
children, murder, illegal detention, forced displacement, human trafficking 
and forced marriage." There are also allegations that some militia leaders 
and civilian officials are involved in drug trafficking.

The rising discontent in Kandahar could prove particularly problematic for 
Karzai, who was born here and has drawn much support from the region's 
Pashtun ethnic group to which he belongs. Many Kandaharis, once alienated 
by the harsh rule of the Taliban, say their early support for Karzai is now 
giving way to a grudging nostalgia for the Taliban era.

At that time, many said, a person could walk around the city carrying 
quantities of cash and drive roads long after dark without fear. Today 
holdups are common, few people venture out after sunset, and many are 
haunted by a sense of vulnerability.

Nazar Khan, who sells television sets in a bazaar, said that as a teenager, 
he hated the Taliban for banning music and forcing him to listen in secret 
to his favorite singers. "But at least under the Taliban we had security," 
Khan said.

Because of the kidnappings, Khan now drives his four older children to 
school and takes them to his stall afterward to keep a close watch on them. 
The 2-year-old stays with him all day.

"One moment I'm making a sale," he said. "The next minute I'm turning 
around and wondering: Where did my son go?"

There is much about Kandahar that underscores how far it has progressed 
since the Taliban's ouster. Bazaars are filled with merchandise, from 
photos to VCRs, that would have been unthinkable during the Taliban era. 
Picking through the wares are scores of women -- most of them veiled 
because of tribal custom, but far more numerous than they would have been 
in the days when the Taliban morals police prowled markets with leather whips.

Still, residents say, the outward trappings mask entrenched problems, from 
lack of jobs to street crime. Many said they personally knew someone whose 
motorbike, car or other property had been stolen, often at gunpoint. Zahir 
Jan, 35, a stadium painter, said he longed to find a better job but would 
be satisfied with the government if it weren't for the kidnappings.

"Imagine how things are, that we are wishing for the Taliban again," he 
muttered.

Khalid Pashtoon, a spokesman for Gov. Gul Agha Shirzai, said reports of 
kidnappings were greatly exaggerated. In most cases, he said, children 
reported missing had merely wandered off.

"Sometimes people in Kandahar get confused," Pashtoon said. "They've been 
raised amid continuous fighting, and they have a very pessimistic mindset. 
. . . But most of this is just rumor." As for the street protest last week, 
Pashtoon said there were signs that members of a Taliban splinter group 
were involved.

Khan Mohammed, the police chief, said that since he took office six months 
ago, the number of robberies in Kandahar has dropped dramatically. "If 
before we had five to 10 robberies a week, now that's what we have in a 
month," he said.

Mohammed said that apart from the two boys killed recently, the police had 
received "no reports of kidnappings at all" and had made no arrests. But 
several residents said they personally knew of other children who had been 
kidnapped for ransom.

Members of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission noted that many 
kidnappings may not be reported to police. The logbooks at Kandahar's 
independent radio station indicated that it had received 10 to 15 requests 
per month to broadcast reports of missing persons, most of them children. 
But the station does not keep track of the circumstances of each child's 
disappearance or whether they are found.

Whatever the facts may be, there is a widespread perception here that 
children are frequently kidnapped. Furthermore, some people suggested that 
instead of tracking down the culprits, the police themselves may be 
involved. Mohammed, the chief, categorically denied the accusation, and no 
residents could provide hard evidence. Instead, they pointed to suspicious 
circumstances.

Abdul Qader, for example, said a friend's young son had been kidnapped 
several months ago and then released. "Now, every time that boy sees men in 
uniform, he becomes afraid," Qader said. "Why would he act that way unless 
some officials were involved?"

Then there was Qader's own experience with the police. He did not report 
his son's disappearance, he said, because he believed the police would not 
help him. Instead, he broadcast appeals for information on television and 
radio.

After news of his son's death became public, Qader said, the governor 
called him in for a meeting. Qader said Shirzai promised to track down 
those responsible. Instead, he said, national intelligence police arrested 
one of Qader's cousins and two of his brothers.

Pashtoon said police had obtained evidence that one of the brothers, who 
remained in custody, was a member of an organized crime gang from Pakistan. 
Qader said that the charges were baseless and that, after two weeks, he 
finally persuaded the police to release his brother.

"The governor said he would help me, but instead he caused me even more 
pain," Qader said.

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