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    South Asia
     Dec 7, 2006
Page 1 of 2
Rough justice and blooming poppies
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - As one approaches Gerishk district in Helmand province in Afghanistan, one world ends and another begins, marked by the final checkpoint manned by Afghan police before Taliban country begins.

Once through the checkpoint, the road disappears into a vast wonderland that reminds the traveler of the supernatural tales of One Thousand and One Nights and a lifestyle that goes back to

when history was not documented.

The vast plains and hills could easily swallow an invading army and watercourses provide natural barriers ideal for ambushes. To make matters worse, the Pashtun tribespeople of the region wear many hats, and they are not afraid to switch them as needs demand, as British troops found out in Musa Qala, a district in the north of Helmand province. The district center is the village of Musa Qala, a grinding four-hour drive from Gerishk.

In the middle of the year, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) moved into this region, under the command of British forces. The village of Musa Qala saw fierce fighting between British Pathfinder Platoon troops and the Taliban.

The British were based in the governor's office and faced daily attacks. The British garrison was subsequently relieved by a Danish infantry team, which came under renewed Taliban attacks. After a month, the Danish forces handed control of the base back to British forces, who in mid-October left the village.

They had struck a deal with the Taliban and handed over everything to pro-Taliban tribal elders. Now the area is free of NATO forces and the Afghan National Army (ANA) and is a strategic back yard for the Taliban from where revenue is generated and disbursed, arms stockpiled and pro-Taliban forces regrouped.

Until just a few months ago, various independent warlords held sway in the countryside, and with impunity they abducted journalists, foreign workers and other professionals. They usually demanded ransom, or simply killed their captives.

Under the Taliban, outsiders are as likely to be apprehended, but they will face a tribal council to be tried as spies. If found guilty, they will have their heads cut off.

The same goes for informers. As this is a Taliban stronghold, they want to build up and protect their resources as much as possible in preparation for next year's spring offensive. Similarly, they want to eradicate any anti-Taliban elements. Suspected informers are given a summary trail and then publicly executed by having their throats slit with a knife.

These gruesome killings are filmed and then burned on to compact discs, which are widely distributed. Images are even spread by mobile telephone as a chilling reminder for those who work for the administration of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

"These executions and the modus operandi are both justified. Because of these informers US aircraft bombed us and killed hundreds of innocent people. So there was a need for a powerful message to be send around," Haji Naimatullah told Asia Times Online.

Haji Naimatullah, in his 50s, is a one-legged Taliban commander who cut his teeth fighting against the Soviets in the 1980s. More recently, he fought against the British in Musa Qala, sustaining a serious injury to his leg.

Battle scars
The first thing one notices in the village of Deh Zor in the Musa Qala district is bits of British army equipment hanging from trees. According to the locals, a relief convoy of British troops was sent to Musa Qala at the height of the battle in that town.

The convoy had traveled unimpeded - although closely watched - until it arrived at Deh Zor. There, Taliban fighters were waiting behind a wall running along a field. The convoy came under heavy fire and, according to the villagers, about 50 troops were killed and their bodies hung from trees. There they remained for several days until the deal was struck with the Taliban for the British to leave Musa Qala. The bodies were then reclaimed, with some kit left behind. The event is still the talk of the town, but it was apparently never reported in the press.

Once the British, the police, the ANA and the Kabul-installed administration departed, there was no police force, no formal administration or courts in Musa Qala - only the tribal elders.

"Despite lacking such infrastructure, we have had a pretty good time in comparison to the past," Abdul Nabi told Asia Times Online. Abdul Nabi owns a "hotel" - one of several rudimentary unnamed establishments in Abdul Nabi where the guests sleep together in a large room and where such basics as running water and flushing toilets are light-years away.

"Life was made miserable by the Afghan police and the ANA," Abdul Nabi said. "They extorted money, robberies were common

Continued 1 2 

How the Taliban prepare for battle (Dec 4, '06)

NATO fighting the wrong battle in Afghanistan (Dec 4, '06)

Deep inside the 'kingdom of heaven' (Dec 2, '06)

A 'guest' of the Taliban (Nov 30, '06)


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