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2 Rough justice and blooming
poppies By Syed Saleem Shahzad
and it was impossible to travel anywhere
after dark without being looted. There were many
incidents of abduction of small boys and even
girls. The Afghan police and the army were behind
"The public reaction was
natural and they stood up against them. But then
US aircraft bombed the area and NATO forces and
the ANA tried to suppress the uprising. Every day,
we found many
bodies in front of our hotel
and dragged them into the premises.
"Finally, the Taliban took to the
battlefield. The whole town was emptied and
British troops and the Taliban dug in against each
other. Afghan forces chased the Taliban
everywhere, even into our hotel, and took away all
valuables during raids. The Taliban won and the
foreigners left the area.
"The people of
the town then returned to Musa Qala, but now,
without the police and the army, peace prevails.
Robberies have come to a halt. There are no cases
of abduction, and not any cases of sodomy," said
Poppy power This
completes a full circle for Musa Qala. As in other
areas in Helmand province, the people of Musa Qala
happily said goodbye to the Taliban when the US
drove them from power in 2001, and they welcomed
the installation of the US-backed Karzai
administration in Kabul. The tribespeople
discouraged the Taliban from turning to guerrilla
warfare, and asked them to leave if they did not
want to live peacefully.
All the people
wanted to do was go about their business, which
happened to be poppy cultivation. This the Taliban
had, for the most part, prevented them from doing.
But the Americans, too, would not allow
the poppies to bloom again, although they did
offer compensation, either in money or other
means. All that came, though, was plenty of
noxious spray to kill the plants.
years ago, the Taliban tried to set up a base in
Musa Qala, but they lacked the grassroots support
to sustain their resistance struggle and left the
area. Now they are the uncrowned kings. Taliban
commander Haji Naimatullah explains how this
happened. "As soon as the Taliban retreated
from Kabul and Kandahar [in 2001] and the Karzai
administration was in place, a new setup was
established in Helmand province as well. I was the
Taliban's commander in Musa Qala, and I was told I
would have to pay bribes to the new governor or
face dire consequences.
"So I left the
area and took refuge in Akhtak village [in the
Baghran district of the province] situated in
rugged mountains. The people of the area were just
not with us. Then, in the past few years, the
people witnessed for themselves what little
development work had been done in the area.
"There were a few other events which
turned everything against the Karzai
administration. The major event was in 2003 when
the governor of Helmand province, Sher Mohammed,
came after Taliban fighters in Akhtak village. Out
of 80 people killed during the raid, most were
civilians. So the people of the village demanded
compensation from the governor.
of the tribal jirga [council] also made the
same demand to the governor, who agreed - but
nobody was paid anything. There were other
incidents like this where the government made
promises but never kept them.
result, the people turned to the Taliban again and
under the command of Mullah Abdul Manan the
Taliban laid siege to the base of the British
forces in Musa Qala on July 17," said Haji
The former British base was
near the main market. The Taliban sent all the
townspeople away and dug in in nearby shops and
houses. The fighting was intense. All the mosques
in the town
were bombed, as well as many houses
suspected of being safe havens of the Taliban. The
shops still standing are pockmarked from bullets.
"The fighting and the siege were so
prolonged that everybody was sick and tired,
especially the British troops, who could find no
way to get out, and they were sweating without
many supplies. Finally, a deal was struck between
the local tribes and the Karzai-backed
administration of Musa Qala that neither the
Taliban nor the Karzai administration would run
the district. Instead, tribal elders would
nominate neutral people and they would run the
district," Haji Naimatullah said.
reality, though, the area is now fully manned and
controlled by the Taliban. They have come down
hard on crime, but they allow people to grow
poppies. Indeed, in all parts of Helmand where the
Taliban hold power, the poppies flourish.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia
Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be
reached at email@example.com.