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    South Asia
     Jul 19, 2006
Taliban pause for fresh breath
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - A sudden lull in the Taliban's activities has surprised the thousands of coalition forces that were sent to Kandahar and other parts of southwestern Afghanistan to patrol the deserts and the populated areas in the scorching heat.

These fresh troops, many of them British, now wander around without being challenged, unlike up to just days ago after the Taliban launched a massive spring offensive three months ago that has cost hundreds of insurgent lives.

Apart from sporadic armed guerrilla attacks, the detonation of improvised explosive devices and a few suicide missions, all sustained battles have ceased.

A Taliban contact told Asia Times Online that the development

was a "break" as commanders had been told to call off their forces until further orders. The thinking is that the unrest in the Middle East will generate a new wave of fury among Afghans against Israel and its backer, the United States. The Taliban will then renew their efforts, bolstered by increased support on the ground among the Afghan population.

To the surprise of coalition forces on Monday, the Taliban surrendered Sangeen (or Sangin district) without much of a fight. In an interview with Gul Mohammed Jangvi in Asia Times Online, the Taliban commander announced the capture of the district: "We have had some initial successes, which boosted our morale. Tarood, Sangeen and Musa Qila districts in Helmand province are our recent victories" (Taliban in search of a winning formula, July 12).

A source close to the Taliban's inner circles explained to Asia Times Online how the events in the Middle East could impact on Afghanistan: "The Taliban aim to stir up a national movement, not merely a military mobilization against coalition forces.

"Therefore, issues concerning the Muslim cause or Islam give a wake-up call, like what happened after the Iraq war; on the issue of Christian convert Abdul Rahman [whose possible death sentence in Afghanistan created an uproar in the West]; the issue of the desecration of the Holy Koran in Guantanamo Bay prison; and when cartoons were published in the Western press to satirize the Prophet Mohammed. All these incidents produced positive results for the resistance."

The Taliban are wasting no time in capitalizing on the latest events - they are distributing shabnamas (night messages) with news of the Israeli attacks on Lebanon. On the weekend, independent calls from mosques condemned the attacks and the events were placed in the perspective of the US role as a backer of the Zionist state.

Political and religious rhetoric apart, there are other reasons to turn popular sentiment in Afghanistan against the alliance between President Hamid Karzai and the US. Foremost is the drought in southwestern Afghanistan.

According to reports quoting the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, the harvest of rain-fed wheat is about half of what it was last year, and up to 2.4 million Afghans now face hunger.

The drought has caused a massive displacement of people to areas where they can find food and water. The issue is generally perceived as mismanagement on the part of the government, which has failed to meet the food requirements of the masses.

Taliban sources anticipate that this discontent can be harnessed once the "break" is over in a few weeks, and the offensive will be resumed, including suicide attacks in Kabul against US forces.

"At this time the Taliban will awaken their network of over 300,000 men who were part of their army and police during their rule [1996-2001], and a mass mobilization movement should be in place in the urban centers of Afghanistan. That's how the resistance will reach its high point of its spring offensive this year," sources close to the Taliban asserted.

During the "break" in operations in the southwest, some guerrilla attacks will be staged in southeastern Afghanistan, where in coming days top Afghan officials and the bases of coalition forces will be targets in such places as Laghman, Kunar and Nanagarhar.

"The storm after the lull will be stronger than all previous Taliban military campaigns and Afghanistan will soon again be the center of world attention," the sources said.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com.
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Afghanistan reels under bumper harvests (Jul 11, '06)

Inside the anti-US resistance (Jul 8, '06)


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