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Afghanistan: Insurgents Kidnapping Afghans, Disrupting Society

Afghan National Army soldiers search a school in Spin Boldak after it was damaged by a bomb blast last year (epa) August 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- While almost every hostage crisis in Afghanistan that involves foreigners makes headlines in world media, the abduction and killing of local Afghans often goes unnoticed.

But being kidnapped for ransom is just one of many problems facing ordinary Afghans in the southern and eastern provinces where the Taliban are most active. And the situation has worsened as observers say the Taliban are increasingly targeting innocent civilians.

Ajabgul is a 22-year-old resident of Lashkargah, the administrative center of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan.

According to international rights group Human Rights Watch, the Taliban's most worrisome new tactic is suicide bombings. The group said some 800 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in suicide attacks last year.

Held For Ransom

In recent years Helmand has became a center for the Taliban-led insurgency. Ajabgul, who runs a small shop in the city, says he was kidnapped recently by a group of armed men on his way home from work.

"It was around 7:45 in the evening," he said. "They forced me into their car. They blindfolded me. At 1 a.m. they took me somewhere. They tied my hands and put tape on my eyes. There were four other [hostages]. They beheaded two of [them] that night."

Ajabgul said he gave his abductors his brother's phone number and subsequently was freed after his brother agreed to pay the $16,000 ransom that the kidnappers demanded.

General Hussein Andiwal, the chief of police in Helmand Province, confirmed Ajabgul's account of the abduction and said it was not a unique case in the region.

"I know that two or three kidnappings have taken place during the past month, and it is big problem for us," he said. "We are keeping an eye on the kidnapping network, and [those responsible] will be detained soon. I cannot disclose anything more about this issue."

Local Abductions Unnoticed

Unlike the abduction of foreigners -- which usually is followed by international media coverage and the active involvement of the Afghan and foreign governments to free the captives -- the kidnappings of Afghans go largely unnoticed and unreported. Usually the hostages' family members have to pay the ransom -- if they can afford it -- in order to free their loved one.

Being kidnapped and held for ransom is one of many security problems that Afghans face, mainly in the country's southern and eastern provinces where the Taliban is strongest.

Tens of civilians have also fallen victim to ongoing military operations in the area as Taliban fighters reportedly hide among villagers.

News agencies quoted Gereshk Governor Abdul Hanaf as saying that some 25 civilians were killed during NATO air strikes in the area on July 28.

Dozens of others were reportedly killed and wounded on August 3, when air strikes targeted two Taliban commanders allegedly meeting in Helmand's Baghran district.

The continuing insecurity caused by the insurgent activity has also resulted in great losses to many local businesses, and in the shutdown of medical facilities and schools.

Terrorizing Schools

The Taliban often threaten people who work for the government or send their children to public schools.

Zuhur Afghan, the spokesman for the Education Ministry, said that 140 schools have been set on fire by militants in the past year -- the overwhelming majority of them in the southern and eastern parts of the country.

An estimated 300,000 children have stopped going to school due to the lack of security. Zuhur Afghan said the Taliban have attacked teachers and even young children while on their way to school.

"Since July of last year until today we have lost some 85 people who worked for the education system," he said. "They were killed by the Afghan nation's enemies. Some 50 education workers have been wounded."

Fleeing Insecurity

Speaking at a press conference in Washington on August 6, President Hamid Karzai said the Taliban -- which he described as a "defeated" and "frustrated" force -- have lately been focusing on soft targets, which means innocent civilians.

"The Taliban do pose dangers to our innocent people: to children going to school, to our clergy, to our teachers, to our engineers, to international aid workers," he said.

According to international rights group Human Rights Watch, the Taliban's most worrisome new tactic is suicide bombings. The group said some 800 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in suicide attacks last year.

The insecure situation has even forced thousands of Afghans -- many of whom have spent many years as refugees in Pakistan -- to leave their homes once again.

Some 50,000 people have reportedly been displaced in Helmand Province alone.

Afghanistan's Opium Problem

Afghanistan's Opium Problem
An antidrug billboard in Kabul shows a skeleton hanging from an opium bulb (AFP)

OPIUM FARMING ON THE RISE Despite a nationwide program by the Afghan government to eradicate opium-poppy fields and offer farmers alternative crops, international experts say that the 2006 opium crop was as much as 50 percent larger than the previous year's record crop. Afghanistan also accounted for practically all of the world's illegal opium production.(more)


NATO Struggles With Security, Rebuilding In Southern Province

UN Antidrug Chief Wants NATO To Destroy Opium

Saffron Could Help Wean Farmers Off Opium Poppies

Poppy-Eradication Drive Launched In Western Province

Insurgency Gains Ground As Poppy-Eradication Efforts Struggle


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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.