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Resist the Taliban? What For?

Even though his students are on summer vacation, Nazirullah, the principal of the girls' section of the Mashakrel primary school, has returned to his classroom to put away the results of year-end exams. Squatting on the ground in the middle of burned papers and blackened walls, he applies himself to transferring the grades. Two months ago, masked Taliban sympathizers set fire to this school, which welcomes 760 children - boys in the morning, girls in the afternoon. The arsonists broke the windows, pulled out the doors and the blackboards, then set the buildings on fire. On the ground, people found warning tracts: the pyromaniac Taliban promised to disfigure teachers who continued to conduct classes for girls.

What's worrying is that this burned school is not located in one of the southern provinces where insurgents have been able to strengthen their presence and where the American Army unleashed "Operation Mountain Storm" against them. This "students-of-religion" target is located in the fertile valley of the Laghman province, less than three hours by car east of Kabul. It is one of the three hundred schools that have been attacked by the Taliban in the last six months. For even if they've been hounded out of power in Kabul, the fundamentalists have obviously remained faithful to their reactionary obsessions, among which is the prohibition on education for girls. In Mashakrel, two months after the attack, nothing has been repaired. No book has been replaced, and the students had to finish the year in the middle of charred remains. As for the police, they gave up guarding the buildings: "We aren't safe in this village," sighs Nazirullah. "And, unfortunately, the government of Afghanistan is in the same state as our school!"

Last year, the Afghans still tried to resist the incursions of the bearded men on mopeds. At Spin Boldak, on the Pakistani border, residents took up arms against the Taliban, who had occupied administrative buildings. According to Ahmed Nader Nadery, a representative on the Afghan Human Rights Commission, such an exemplary event could not be re-enacted today. "Fight to defend what?" he asks. "A poll effected in twenty-nine provinces showed that in case of a problem, not a single resident would look for help from the local authorities. Putrid with corruption, the Afghan state no longer reassures anyone...."

A few months ago, after the success of the legislative elections, the international community hoped that Afghanistan could become a model for the construction of a modern state. Today, in spite of the presence of 27% women in Parliament, foreign officials present in Kabul present a somber account of their actions. And wonder what mistakes they've made.... The Taliban are reinstating themselves in the south of the country. President Hamid Karzai believed himself - in order to create obstacles to their advance - forced to appeal to the warlords whose bloody rivalries led to the mullahs' regime. International troops are subject to the population's hostility and are the targets of ever more frequent attacks. In fact, since the May 29 riots that killed seventeen people in Kabul, the divorce between President Karzai and the international community has been consummated.

Former planning minister and deputy Ramazan Bachardoust has planted what he calls the "Tent of the Nation" right in the middle of Kabul's big public garden, the Share-e-Naw. This Hazara, who studied in France, is one of the most virulent members of the opposition. The degradation of the situation in Afghanistan exasperates him: "For the first time in their history, Afghans welcomed foreigners with a smile. Our country could have been a hyphen between Muslims and Christians, but we botched that opportunity!" Disgusted by the corruption that, to hear him tell it, is rotting the whole government and many NGOs, he resigned from his ministry: "Even the Commission against Corruption is corrupt...." According to him, a person cannot get even the least little insurance certificate in Afghanistan without paying a "tip" to the officials involved: "Afghans expect nothing from this government. But every day they hear on the radio that different countries are giving us millions and millions of dollars. And they don't see where that money is going: 80% of Kabulis still don't have electricity, and people are dying of thirst in practically the whole country!"

Yet, Hamid Karzai continues to find grace in his eyes. The representative describes his president as a "good man," but the prisoner of his own analysis: "I was very close to him when I was in the government. He thinks that if he attacks a minister who is close to a warlord, the warlord will put Afghanistan to fire and sword. And that the civil war will recommence. So he plays Machiavelli and, while he's doing that, the warlords are making alliances with the Taliban...."

Under the Bachardoust tent, between the deafening musical ringtones of cell phones, one hears the grievances of the dozens of Afghanis who follow one another to be next to speak with their favorite deputy. In their sand-colored shalwar khamiz, wearing blue and beige longhi headdresses, two tribal chiefs from Ghazni province - where the Taliban are reinforcing their presence - approach the politician's desk. One is a school teacher, the other a member of the municipal council. They don't even dare say their names out of fear of potential reprisals. In an undertone, they both paint a worrying picture of the situation in Ghazni province.

According to the two men, several days ago, Taliban regime sympathizers rode through the streets of six Karabah district villages with loud speakers, threatening any who cooperated with the Afghan government with death. For three months, the Taliban have become emboldened, and now they make these "visits" with their faces uncovered. The village residents could, in consequence, recognize these Taliban, who have even established their headquarters in a mosque. Yet no one has denounced them. Why would they? The last time the villagers pointed out who was responsible for an attack, the perpetrators were released immediately after paying the district's chief of police some money. Moreover, the "Kabul people" are as feared here as the Taliban. The "governor's men" take what they want in stores and at the gas station, and then get indignant when someone asks them to pay. When merchants protest, the warlords' protégés threaten to denounce them to the Americans as al-Qaeda.... As for the Americans, they come, make promises, then disappear: "If they can't guarantee our security, why waste their time?" wonders Karabah's elected representative. "They should let the Taliban come back!"

Bachardoust says that the people in his district who miss the time when there was a strong and uncorrupted judicial system are more and more numerous. If Ghazni province residents still hesitate to rally to the Taliban, he deems, it's not from conviction, but because taking the Taliban's side or the government's side seems equally risky to them. "Yet, if nothing changes, we, the local authorities, will have to give way to them." As for the teacher, he's already gone to negotiate with the Taliban. To guarantee his school's security, he's committed to not welcoming any girls there....

The situation described by the two Ghazni tribal chiefs is a recurrent scenario in the south, according to an international official who preferred to remain anonymous: "A group or a tribe is designated to the Americans as al-Qaeda members by another group that wants to appropriate its revenues (from corruption or drug trafficking) for itself. The Americans arrive, arrest the old guys, imprison people left and right. And the populations are pushed into the arms of the Taliban. In Oruzgan [one of the states in the south], we're the ones, we Westerners, who have put them in power!" According to this person, the international community has collapsed in the last few weeks: "We tried to impose a state of law and we were directed by tribal predators."

Then there's the question of the rearmament of the militia, about which foreign ambassadors posted in Kabul have apostrophized President Karzai since, for those diplomats, the militias' disarmament was a barometer of the progression of a Government of Law in Afghanistan. "In substance, he answered that they didn't know anything about it. That the police and the army were not ready to fight against the Taliban and that only the tribal militia could do the trick.... In consequence, the tribes of northern Afghanistan refuse in turn to give up their weapons. "They tell us: 'You are rearming the Pashtuns, who, at the first opportunity, will rejoin the Taliban and you prevent us from defending ourselves?'"

Another point of friction between the international community and the Afghan president: the question of police reform. Everyone in Afghanistan complains about these violent officials with their Mafia behavior, the kingpins of corruption. As soon as one leaves Kabul, one sees them on the roads, at check-points, there to exact their "tax" on automobile drivers. For in this predation economy that survives in Afghanistan, the post of police chief, even a local police chief, is a center of crucial power that buys itself a fortune.... "We've worked really hard on the new list of police to expunge the scum. But Karzai sat on our work. He threw out the good guys and promoted the worst, rapists and war criminals," despairs one Western diplomat.

Among the ranks of the contested nominations, that of Kabul police chief Amanullah Guzar, a Tadjik - accused, among other things, of having participated in the kidnapping of three people who worked for the UN in 2004.... Some even suspect him of having inflamed the May 29 demonstrations: "He wanted to show Karzai who was boss," according to one diplomat's analysis. This - at the very least, surprising - nomination took place the night of the May 29 riots. On that day, after a car accident caused by an American Army vehicle, the crowd ended up striking out at international community institutions and NGOs. "You know, Karzai is the loneliest man in the palace," explains 35-year-old Shoukria Barakzai, a Kabul deputy close to the president. "He's caught between the Americans and the war criminals who want to show their power. So that time he had to make a gesture to the Tadjiks...."

In the face of this disaster, the international community says its mea culpa . "Perhaps rather than pouring ourselves into the Afghan mold, we should have tried to change it," another diplomat, hardly more optimistic, offers. "But what could we have done against the drug trade? Remember that Karzai's brother controls close to 70% of global heroin production. If there hadn't been opium, the Afghans would have had to accept our reforms. But in this narco-state from which any notion of the common weal has disappeared, one can become immensely rich in a year. And those who want to profit from the drug money have to be against us, the Westerners...."

According to a UN study, in the province of Helmand alone, where Westerners have spent two billion dollars for the eradication of opium poppies since 2001, the harvest has doubled in the last year. Drug experts estimate that there has never been a better year for the poppy harvest in the history of Afghanistan.

Translation: Leslie Thatcher.

Sara Daniel

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About Sara Daniel

Portrait of Sara Daniel
Sara Daniel, a French journalist, war correspondent, expert on the Middle East.
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