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Afghan Villagers Hit Back Against Taliban

  • Frud Bezhan

Afghan authorities present captured Taliban insurgents in Ghazni province last March. Now, local villagers from the same area have formed their own militia to take on the militants by themselves.

Afghan authorities present captured Taliban insurgents in Ghazni province last March. Now, local villagers from the same area have formed their own militia to take on the militants by themselves.

A group of angry Afghan villagers have got the Taliban scrambling after they mounted an unlikely rebellion against the insurgents in eastern Afghanistan -- and won.

Remarkably, the poorly-armed tribesmen, calling themselves the National Uprising Movement (NUM), have inflicted heavy casualties on the Taliban and succeeded in driving them out from scores of villages and several districts of Ghazni Province, a long-established militant stronghold.

The uprising, which has fed on the popular discontent with the Taliban’s brutal rule, has put the militants in an uncomfortable situation.

Initially, the Taliban responded with heavy-handed tactics, torching villagers' homes and kidnapping tribal elders. But with the villagers standing firm, the militants have since backed down and offered to negotiate, a proposal to which locals have responded with a resounding "no."

According to Ahmad Wali, a resident of Ghazni's restive Andar district where the uprising first began, the revolt started in May when the provincial government introduced a ban on motorcycles, the main form of transportation for the Taliban.

Harassing Locals

Wali recalls how the Taliban began harassing locals as they sought to pressure the government into reversing its ban.

"It was very difficult for people to get around," he says. "The schools and hospitals were all closed down. Nobody could go anywhere [without being harassed by the Taliban]."

Locals in Andar say they tried and failed to reason with the Taliban.

They even offered to side with the militants against the government if they reopened the schools and markets and allowed the roads and wells to be improved. When the Taliban refused, locals went back to their villages and organized themselves into a militia, which became the basis for the National Uprising Movement.

The next day, the shooting started, with the Taliban coming out the worse for it.

Baryolai Andar, a resident of Andar, says the movement, which numbers several hundred, has captured and imprisoned dozens of militants, while scores of others have been killed in fierce fighting. He claims the new militia has brought order back to the area and life, in many ways, is returning to normal.

"All the people are overjoyed with the movement," he says. "God willing, they will take their fight [and free] other areas. They have restored security and have helped us greatly. All the schools that were closed by the Taliban have now been reopened."

The Taliban has accused the movement of being a project engineered by the United States and officials in Kabul, a claim strongly rejected by the NUM.

Abdul Karim Khan, a member of the movement, maintains that the group is acting independently from the NATO-led coalition and the Afghan government, which he insists has little support in the area and is seen as corrupt and a puppet of the West.

"The Taliban is bringing harm and cruelty to our people," he says. "They are attacking and killing the village elders and leaders [of the movement]. We have our own resources and we will lead this fight ourselves."

The Afghan government has said it supports the local uprisings, but has fallen short of confirming they are providing financial or logistical support.

Daud Sultanzoi, a former member of parliament from Ghazni, believes the movement is wary of accepting support from the government for fear that it could damage its legitimacy and its standing as a grass-roots movement.

"Anti-Taliban movements cannot have a sponsor and be identified with this government," he says. "As soon as this government touches anything it turns into evil. The government doesn't have the credibility to be the backbone for such uprisings. These uprisings need energy, which has to come from the people. But people cannot become energized because they say if we fight against the Taliban the alternative is this government."

Quickly Spreading

The NUM has quickly spread beyond Andar in recent months to neighboring districts.

According to the movement, there are currently anti-Taliban rebellions in at least 10 of the 19 districts in Ghazni.

Similar pockets of resistance to the Taliban have also been reported in the neighboring provinces of Paktia, Konar, Nuristan, and Laghman, although these have little connection to the movement in Ghazni.

Jeffrey Dressler, a senior analyst and team leader for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, suggests that since popular discontent with the Taliban and its tactics are growing, the local uprisings could spread and have the potential to gain a footing in disgruntled communities across Afghanistan.

"We’re not seeing any signs of some sort of a broader cross-provincial or national movement," he says. "But I think the reasons for the uprising are reasons that populations are experiencing throughout the country, which is basically frustrated with the Taliban closing schools, pressuring the population, and intimidation. You’re seeing local tribesman basically saying look we've had enough."

RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to bezhanf@rferl.org

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