Taliban take the fight to the
country By Syed Saleem Shahzad
PAKISTAN-AFGHANISTAN border areas - The
Taliban movement has evolved beyond its guerrilla
struggle into an organized widespread rebellion.
It has fully matured in southern Afghanistan and
is heading north toward Kabul and beyond, all the
way drawing on growing popular support.
"Don't consider the present [insurgency]
movement as Taliban only. This is a mass mutiny
against the foreign presence, and all common
Afghans are solely responsible for that," Gul
Mohammed, a Taliban commander, explained to Asia
Times Online in an interview in Qalat, the capital
of Zabul province in Afghanistan.
Mohammed's views are not exaggerated. They confirm
on-the-ground-investigations and reports over the
past few months. And this week, the Senlis
Council, a London-based international security and
policy advisory think-tank, reached a similar
"Helmand [where the Taliban
have a strong foothold] is an early warning of
what the whole of Afghanistan could become if a
radically different approach is not taken in the
coming months," the Senlis Council, an independent
group actively engaged in work in Afghanistan,
said in its report.
"The United States
unilaterally bombing Kandahar undermined the
civilian population's support for the [Hamid]
Karzai government," the council said. "The recent
riots in Kabul were also an example of the
increasing hostility of the Afghan people towards
the international community."
picked up the point: "Americans crashed our gates
and the sanctity of our houses. They disrespected
our traditions and gave Christian missionaries a
free hand to operate in Afghanistan. We just
explained these features to the masses, who are
our brothers and sisters."
Mohammed Jangvi (the last name means "warrior"),
to give him his full name, was the commander of
the Taliban at Pul-i-Khumri in central Afghanistan
when the US attacked in 2001. When the Taliban
retreated from Kabul in the face of the invasion,
he took refuge in Kandahar, the Taliban's
In 2003, he was
betrayed to US forces, arrested and taken to
Bagram Base near Kabul, where he was tortured and
then coerced into joining the Jaishul Muslim, a
proxy US outfit established among the Taliban in
an attempt to dislodge Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
But soon after Gul Mohammed was released,
Jaishul Muslim evaporated and he rejoined the
Taliban, along with 1,600 men. He is now one of
the main commanders in the Qalat and Helmand area.
The US invested millions of dollars to
built a support system in this region, which
included buying the loyalties of local warlords,
establishing proxy organization such as Jaishul
Muslim, appeasing local tribes by releasing their
men from Bagram Base, and recruiting local youths
for the Afghan National Army.
when this year's spring offensive by the Taliban
started, the whole scheme fell apart like a house
of cards, with the chief beneficiary of the
elaborate investment being the Taliban.
"Before the present [spring] campaign, we
had adopted a strategy to educate the masses about
the high-handedness of the Americans. Whenever we
entered any village, we surrounded the whole area
and asked the people to gather in a nearby
mosque," said Gul Mohammed.
"We then told
the people that they are under foreign occupation
and there is a need to stand up against the
foreign forces. We distributed night messages [a
traditional Afghan way of spreading information]
and passed on our messages through audio cassettes
and computer disks."
maintained that the Taliban would continue their
twofold strategy - military and political - and
expressed confidence that soon the movement would
reach into northern Afghanistan and foreign forces
there would be very much under attack, as they are
in southern Afghanistan.
"At present we
have made Kandahar, Qalat and Helmand our
strategic nucleus, where we have completely
debased the enemy. There are seven main districts
in Kandahar which are completely in our hands.
Soon we will intensify our suicide operations
throughout Afghanistan, and then you will see how
the Afghan administration will collapse," said Gul
This is substantiated by the
Senlis Council report: "About 80% of the
population in Helmand supports the Taliban. The
British troops [who are to replace US troops] will
need to regain control, and for this they will
need a different approach. That approach will have
to be to listen to people and their needs."
The report continued, "The perception of
the local people has changed ... they now see the
Taliban as acceptable. So actually the Taliban are
about to win the battle for the hearts and minds
of the local population."
Gul Mohammed is
of the same view: "In the next stage, ethnic
groups from the Tajik and Uzbek communities will
join hands in our struggle and foreign forces will
not have any option except to leave Afghanistan.
"We have made southern Afghanistan a hell
for foreign forces. There is little media coverage
on our activities, otherwise [people would know]
we are far ahead of the Iraqi resistance. There is
not a single day when the Taliban don't carry out
an operation against foreign forces.
the last two months we launched 20 successful
attacks against foreign forces in which they lost
men and assets. For instance, a recent incident
happened in Maroof district of Kandahar in which
we targeted a military convoy in which two tanks
and eight US [foreign troops] were killed. The
media did not mention this operation," Gul
Mohammed said with some satisfaction.
Mohammed said the Taliban had stored a lot of
weapons before the US invasion, which they were
now using, including Stinger missiles.
Again, the Senlis Council report confirms
this. "We're talking about attacks being conducted
every day. We're talking about a rise in suicide
bombings, from five in 2004 to 21 in just the
first semester of 2006. We're talking of a
sophistication of terror techniques used, for
example in the explosive devices used. So there is
definitely a change in the way the insurgents are
organizing their operations."
The rise in
insurgency activity is admitted by General Peter
Pace, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, as
quoted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: "In the
last two months, the Taliban have been conducting
larger attacks this year than they did during the
same time last year.
"The problem for the
Taliban is that as they have gotten larger groups
together, they have become much bigger targets.
And they have lost about 300 Taliban in the last
two months during those operations. So the Taliban
are a tactical problem for the coalition in
Afghanistan. [But] the coalition in Afghanistan is
a strategic problem for the Taliban," said Pace.
Gul Mohammed, however, maintained that the
real asset for the Taliban was the mass support
they already had, and which was increasing
"The Americans bombed Panjwai
[a district of Kandahar province], where innocent
civilians were killed. The Taliban did not sustain
a single injury in that incident. However, the way
the Americans brutally bombed the area brought
cascading effects. People turned against the
Americans with conviction. There were 18,000
soldiers in Kandahar in the Afghan National Army.
After the bombardment, it was reduced to 7,000 as
the rest left the army in anger.
they oppress Afghans, the more the reaction
generates against the Americans. The same happened
with Soviet Russia [in the 1980s], and ultimately
it was defeated in Afghanistan and collapsed. The
same will happen with the Americans," Gul Mohammed
Caught in the
crossfire For Merajuddin, a 29-year-old
welder, and Mohammed Din, a 45-year-old farmer,
both from Panjwai, their lives have been turned
Both belong to the Ishaqzai
tribe and fled to Chaman, Pakistan, with their
families, like dozens of other families from their
home town, after the US bombing of Panjwai
recently in which more than 50 civilians were
"We saw an end-of-time sort of
situation," said Merajuddin. "It is true that the
Taliban had came to our area, but they left. The
US got information and send aircraft 24 hours
after the Taliban left. From 11pm to 5am aircraft
constantly bombed Talaqan, the district
"Initially they released
gases which [put] many of us in an
unconscious-like condition, and then they bombed
the area. It looked like aircraft were static in
the air for hours, and they showered bombs,"
"As soon as the bombing
ended, foreign troops took positions. They never
allowed us to look after affected families.
Instead, they took away the wounded men to
interrogate them. The incident prompted us and
other Afghan families to leave the area and take
refuge in Pakistan," Merajuddin said.
Migration of tribes symbolizes the
seriousness or depth of any crisis in Afghan
history. When tribes leave their places in bulk,
it shows that they would participate in a
"The Americans walk into
our houses when they feel like. Neither do they
ask permission nor are we in a position to stop
them. They think all Afghans are Taliban. They
entered in areas where only women live," Mohammed
Din said, adding that the behavior of the Afghan
National Army was even worse.
given a free hand to humiliate us. They come to
search for Taliban in our houses and eat our food
and take away blankets and even money from our
pockets," said Mohammed Din.
to leave his place, but we were forced to do so.
Here in Pakistan, we will do some labor jobs to
make our two ends meet," Mohammed Din maintained.
"And we won't leave here until the foreign
forces leave Afghanistan."
Saleem Shahzad is Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia
Times Online. He can be reached at
reporting by Sanjay Suri of Inter Press Service.)