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Afghans Want the Taliban Back
The Independent
By Chris Sands in Kandahar
April 8, 2007

Faiz Mohammed Karigar, a father of two, fled Kandahar when the Taliban held power in Afghanistan because he was against their restrictions on education. Now he wants the fundamentalists back.

"When the Taliban were here, I escaped to the border with Iran, but I was never worried about my family," he said. "Every single minute of the last three years I have been very worried. Maybe tonight the Americans will come to my house, molest my wife and children and arrest me."

Last week, President Hamid Karzai acknowledged for the first time that he had held talks with the Taliban in an attempt to reach a peace deal and avert a bloody struggle for control in the south and east of the country, where the movement has enjoyed a resurgence in the past year.

The failure of Nato forces to deliver security and development and rising civilian casualties inflicted by Western forces in clashes with the Taliban have led to a loss of support in Kandahar. "How can we forgive the Americans?" asked Mr Karigar, who like most people here does not distinguish among the different elements in Nato. "I will fight them any way I can."

The majority of forces in Kandahar province are Canadian, with a British commander, Major-General "Jacko" Page, about to assume responsibility for the whole of southern Afghanistan at a time when a renewed Taliban offensive is thought to be imminent. British troops have been based mainly in neighbouring Helmand province so far, but the fresh forces now arriving will operate across the region.

The Taliban failed last year to carry out its threat to seize back Kandahar, its former stronghold, and Nato insists the movement can never win a military victory against it, even if many Afghans believe it possible. But the occupiers have lost crucial support in the city, which has become one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan.

Political and criminal violence has spread fear among the population, and most try to avoid going out after dark, when the only sounds are the helicopters flying overhead and the odd burst of gunfire in the streets. Suicide attacks are common, and on several occasions in recent months nervous Nato troops have shot civilians they mistakenly believed were about to blow themselves up.

Whatever the cause of the bloodshed, the local population almost always blames the foreign soldiers in their midst. Even moderate Afghans are openly declaring they will join the insurgency.

The British Government calls the Taliban "terrorists" and "extremists", but people in Kandahar associate it with security. Before the 2001 invasion, they say, they could walk the streets safely as long as they complied with the movement's strict interpretation of Islamic law. Now even a simple outing to the local market is seen as a risk, and the Taliban, established as a response to lawlessness in the 1990s, is gaining fresh strength.

"I think life under the Taliban was very good," said Maria Farah, a mother of five. "If we did not have a full stomach, we could at least get some food and go to sleep, and if we went out somewhere there were no problems. How about now? If we go out, we don't know if we will arrive home or not. If there is an explosion and the Americans are passing, they will just open fire on everyone. The security problems are too much here."

Foreign attempts at development were waved aside by Haji Abdul Rahman, a tribal elder, who demanded: "If a road has been built and you are killed, what good is it? Everyone is a robber. I guarantee if you sit in my car and we go for a drive, no Taliban will take you away. But I cannot guarantee that about the police. If they stop you they will steal your money and your camera."

The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force denies the insurgency is gaining strength. "Most polling data shows only about 5 per cent of the people actually support the Taliban extremists," said a spokesman, who insisted that fighting in Kandahar province was a result of foreign and local troops "extending the reach of the legitimate government" into militant strongholds.

But a recent poll of several thousand men in Kandahar and Helmand by the Senlis Council, a Brussels-based thinktank, found that Taliban support among civilians had jumped to nearly 27 per cent. Only 19 per cent in the two provinces felt that international troops were helping them personally.

In southern Afghanistan, said the report, people "are increasingly prepared to admit their support for the Taliban, and the belief that the government and the international community will not be able to defeat the Taliban is widespread".

In the Panjwayi district west of Kandahar city, which saw heavy fighting last year, Mawlawi Abdul Hadid said 18 members of his family died in an air strike last May against suspected insurgents. "In the beginning you had only one enemy. Then you made two, then three, and now I also stand against you," he declared.

Original Text