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
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
history was not documented.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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