Deep inside the 'kingdom of
heaven' By Syed Saleem Shahzad
Editor's note: Syed Saleem
Shahzad returned to Karachi on Wednesday after
being held for six days in the captivity of the
Taliban in Afghanistan. Along with fellow
journalist Qamar Yousufzai, Shahzad was detained
on November 21 after entering the Baghran district
of the southern province of Helmand. They were
accused of being spies and of not having the
Taliban's permission to be in the area. SeeA 'guest' of the Taliban
KARACHI - When the Taliban
came to power in 1996 they promised to establish a
kingdom of heaven, with its center based
rugged southwest of Afghanistan. The people were
promised showers of blessings from the skies, and
the earth would give up unlimited treasures.
The Taliban were welcomed, but in the five
years until their ouster by US-led forces in 2001,
the land remained barren and the heavens silent.
The Taliban did, however, deliver peace - probably
the most precious gift of all.
the Americans, and they pledged a paradise on
Earth. The dirt-poor tribespeople of the southwest
voted unanimously to give this a chance, and they
handed the defeated Taliban an ultimatum: "Be good
sons of the soil and surrender your guns, or go to
the mountains." The Taliban headed for the hills,
and their insurgency was born.
Now, once again after a
five-year cycle, the wheel has turned and
the Taliban have been asked to come
down from the mountains and re-establish
themselves among the people of the southwest.
This has been a pivotal development, as it
gives the Taliban a friendly environment from
which to launch the first phase in their ultimate
goal of retaking first Kandahar, and then the
Southwestern Afghanistan is
a wasteland. In hard rocky hills and deserted
plains, clean water is as much of a dream as
roads. This portion of 21st-century Afghanistan is
a place where people do not have any means of
communication beyond satellite phones. But it is
this very remoteness that makes it attractive to
the Taliban as a base from which to run their
missed opportunity The promised American
paradise in the southwest quickly turned into a
hell. Tribespeople were drafted into the Afghan
National Army on a non-tribal basis along with
Tajiks and other non-Pashtuns, which created
resentment. What little reconstruction and
development work that was undertaken in
Afghanistan all but bypassed the southwest. A
prolonged drought did not help.
killer blow, as far as the tribespeople were
concerned, was the decision to ban poppy
cultivation, and without adequate compensation.
Poverty and hunger are strong drivers. Mix
in humiliation over being treated as second-class
citizens and anger at the indiscriminate nature of
the draft, and one has a potent mix, which the
Taliban exploited - and at least they talked the
same language of religion as the tribespeople.
It was time to give the kingdom of heaven
The Taliban's spring
offensive this year has been its best ever,
augmented by the widespread use of suicide squads.
Popular support has turned noticeably in the
Taliban's favor in many regions. However, the
invitation by the tribespeople to the Taliban to
return to the plains of the southwest was the real
surprise of the year and outweighs all the
successes of the spring offensive.
step closer to Kabul As they have in
conflicts over the centuries in Afghanistan,
winter snows will bring any meaningful fighting
between the Taliban and North Atlantic Treaty
Organization-led (NATO) forces to a halt.
This will be the time for planning, and
all roads lead to Kabul. Since the 18th century
this has meant taking Kandahar first - the Taliban
also did so before they took the capital in 1996.
The Taliban have apparently decided that
they will follow this tradition, but overpowering
US air power and the sophisticated weaponry and
technology of the NATO forces rule out any
Taliban will attempt to isolate Kandahar by
cutting off the Kandahar-Herat highway to the
west, and the road leading east to Kabul. That is
the battle to come.
Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau
Chief. He can be reached at