Taliban exploiting openings in neglected northern Afghan province

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Pul-i-Kumri (Afghanistan), July 30 (ANI): The Taliban is exploiting people in the neglected northern Afghan province of Baghlan, which according to reports, is slipping away from government control.

Deprived of jobs and local government services, people are turning to Taliban courts for speedy justice and drifting toward those who will pay them - either local strongmen or the Taliban.

"The situation of Baghlan is very serious, and day by day it is getting worse and worse," the New York Times quotes Mohammed Rasool Mohsini, the chairman of the provincial council and a former commander, as saying.

Till 15 months ago Baghlan had few trouble spots, and for the most part it seemed safe enough to allow both Afghans and Americans to work on development projects.

"Even two years ago the Taliban had a very small influence in Baghlan and we were telling the government, 'If you don't deal with their small activities, they will grow,' " Mohsini said.

There are no major NATO bases in Baghlan. The nearest is in Kunduz, and until recently it was manned exclusively by the Germans who focused on turbulence in that province.

Now, the United States Army's 10th Mountain Division has arrived with some 3,000 troops and begun operations in Baghlan, but only temporary quiet prevails.

Insurgents are reported to have resurfaced elsewhere in the province. Last week, a group of 80 Taliban fighters briefly took over the main bazaar in Dahana-i-Ghori District after engaging in gun battles for several hours.

Although the police ultimately forced the Taliban to retreat, eight officers were killed after firing their weapons until they ran out of ammunition, said General Abdul Rahman Rahimi, the provincial police chief.

Since then, the Taliban have blocked most roads to the district and attacked any government or development workers who have tried to pass, local elders said.

The police have returned but are all but confined to a 500-yard area around the district center, said Obidullah Khan, an Uzbek tribal elder in Dahana-i-Ghori.

A corrupt judiciary and the lack of government services have made it easy for the Taliban to gain a foothold in rural areas.

At least the Taliban judicial system is swift and free of bribes, said Nuria Hamidi, a provincial council member. The Taliban has also been able to exploit ethnic differences, suggesting that the Tajik-dominated local government does not care for the Pashtuns here.

Baghlan, like many other areas of the north, has long been a political and ethnic crossroads of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. They made up the Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban, whose ranks are dominated by Pashtuns.

The three allied ethnic groups live uneasily alongside the minority ethnic Pashtuns, who feel abandoned by the central government, which has allowed local security forces to be dominated by non-Pashtuns.

The lack of development is another common complaint. There is little electricity, and rutted roads are common even in the cities.

Baghlan's Governor, Munshi Abdul Majid, a Pashtun, is frustrated by the neglect from Kabul, urging the central government to give him and local officials better security to carry out their duties.

The Taliban began to encroach several months ago, and now the elders find themselves accused of being Taliban by the police, many of whom are Tajiks, even though most people who live in the area oppose the Taliban. (ANI)

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