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    Central Asia
     Oct 22, 2005
Stoking Afghanistan's resistance
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - The onset of winter and the heavy snows that go with it have traditionally brought Afghanistan's civil wars to a halt over the past 25 years.

But in the last two years, the Taliban-led resistance has bucked the trend. Two years ago, the winter was marked by the country's first-ever suicide attacks, which took place against US bases. And last year they continued with sporadic guerrilla activities throughout the long, cold months.

This winter, the Taliban had planned to draw warlords further into their struggle, luring them with promises of protection for their drug-growing and smuggling activities. The overall aim is to spread as much chaos as possible across the country.

Now their cause has received a significant boost from an unexpected quarter following reports that US soldiers desecrated

the bodies of Taliban fighters by burning them.

Islam traditionally forbids the cremation or embalming of corpses. Further, as a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said, "We strongly condemn any disrespect to human bodies regardless of whether they are those of enemies or friends."

An Australian television report from a journalist who had been embedded with US troops in Afghanistan, including video footage, purportedly shows US soldiers standing by the burning corpses of two suspected Taliban fighters with their bodies laid out, facing Mecca.

The footage was filmed outside the southern village of Gonbaz near the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. It included a propaganda message taunting Taliban fighters to retrieve their dead and fight.

In the complex tribal structure of Afghanistan, where Afghan traditions (Pakhtoon wali) compliment Islam, such an incident can be blown to exceptional proportions.

This happened in the 1980s, during the Soviet occupation, when Soviet authorities launched anti-traditionalist policies, such as discouraging the role of Muslim clerics in mosques and encouraging women to take a lead role in society.

The result was the wrath of the Afghan rural masses from north to south and among Tajiks and Pashtuns, Shi'ites and Sunnis. The reaction was far greater, and more damaging, than the intended objective, and the mujahideen resistance gained further popular support.

Both the Afghan and US governments have expressed strong revulsion over the footage, and have launched inquiries.

However, the incident gives the resistance a perfect propaganda tool for rabble-raising and widening its support to create the utmost political instability.

The Taliban have achieved some success on this count recently.

Two years ago, Asia Times Online wrote about the formation of the Jaishul Muslim (See Tribes, traditions and two tragedies, September 12, 2003).

The Jaishul Muslim was created to split the Taliban by turning some against their leader, Mullah Omar. The main purpose was to create an organization that could control those warlords and tribes siding with Mullah Omar by bringing them into the Jaishul Muslim's fold, especially in southern and southeastern Afghanistan.

Last year the Jaishul Muslim joined with the Taliban, but soon the Taliban found them to be unreliable and contact was broken off.

Now Asia Times Online contacts in Afghanistan say that recently some powerful commanders who were with Jaishul Muslim have agreed to join Taliban. These commanders have each been assigned to particular regions to carry out operations against US-led forces.

Similar deals have been struck with other commanders in places such as Kunar, Ghazni, Jalalabad and Kandahar.

From the resistance point of view these developments have come at a perfect time as the Pakistan Army is tied up with relief operations in the Kashmir region following the massive earthquake there last week.

This means that the resistance can use Pakistani territory on the rugged border area with Afghanistan with impunity.

It could be a long, cold and bloody winter.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan Asia Times Online. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

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