Thursday, May 18, 2006


About 100 people were killed in two of the most violent days in Afghanistan since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban, as hundreds of insurgents attacked a southern town and fighting flared across the country.

A fierce Taliban-led insurgency in recent months has placed Ghazni, which lies just 135 kilometres south of the capital Kabul, among the most volatile provinces in southern Afghanistan.

Analysts now fear that the Taliban resurgency there is part of a wider resurrection of the Islamist movement, that will lead to a dramatic escalation in violence in other areas of southern Afghanistan, including Helmand province where British troops have been deployed.

In a dispatch from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, Jandad Khan, a bus driver who travels regularly from Andar district to Ghazni city, said that outside district headquarters, security posts and major roads, the government exerts little authority.

“The real authority in the countryside is in hands of the Taliban who are patrolling in the area freely, without any fear, day and night,” he said.

Local Taliban commander Mullah Muhammad Anas (not his real name), who claims to be appointed by the militia’s so-called governing council to lead insurgency operations in Andar, claimed in the same dispatch that the authorities are reluctant to confront his forces.

“Their strategy is to avoid the Taliban,” he said. “We see police in checkpoints along the roads standing idle. We pass by them constantly.”

According to Anas, the Taliban is winning in Andar, not only because of better equipment and tactics, but also due to the increasing support and growing sympathy of the population. “We are gaining influence among the people,” he said.

“We had very few sanctuaries in the district two years ago, but now there is a place for us in every village.”

And now back to Afghanistan with the following report from AKI.


Many jihadis in Afghanistan and farther afield are convinced that by year's end Taliban leader Mullah Omar will be back in power in Afghanistan, from where he was driven by US-led forces in late 2001. That may be wishful thinking, yet Taliban preparations over the past eight months indicate the so-called 'spring offensive' will be bloody. The gunbattles in southern Helmand province which have killed at least 70 people in the past two days are proof. And crucial to the offensive is Mullah Omar's recent decision to bring in a legendary anti-Soviet fighter, Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani as commander-at-large.

The winter buildup for the Taliban's ongoing attempts to destabilise the Karzai-led administration, as NATO troops move into the more restive southern provinces, has involved the mass recruitment of suicide bombers and underhand deals with local tribal elders in various Afghan provinces.

"Once again we are facing like situation like the mid-1990s when bloodshed was everywhere, the situation went from bad to worse and circumstances prompted the Taliban movement to emerge and boot our government out," warned former Afghan prime minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, on a telephone with Adnkronos International (AKI) from Kabul.

"The Karzai administration has no writ anywhere and we are once again in a limbo," added Ahmad Shah, acting premier of Afghanistan before the Taliban seized power in 1996.

However, sources across the border suggest that while recent decisions by Mullah Omar have contributed to the Taliban broadening their armed revolt in southern Afghanistan, their progress has been made possible by long months of ground work and planning.

The major decision - which sources believe dates back to April 2006 - was bringing in Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani as the key commander in Afghan resistance.

Jalaluddin Haqqani was not part of Taliban movement when it emerged from Zabul in the mid-1990s, but he was the first, most powerful commander of the Afghan resistance who surrendered to Taliban, unconditionally.

Now in his 50s Haqqani is respected as a legendary commander of Mujahadeen who fought against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan and was responsible for seizing the first major city, Khost, in 1991 from the communist government.

Though Haqqani still command greatest respect all over Afghanistan and among tribal elders of Khost, Paktia Paktika and Gardez, because he did not belong to the original Taliban core, he could not acquire any central role in the Taliban-led resistance.

Yet he has always remained loyal to Mullah Omar. Proof of that was given in after 9/11, when Haqqani was invited to Islamabad by the Pakistani secret services, the ISI, who offered him the presidency if he would lead a revolt against Mullah Omar and carve out “moderate Taliban”. Haqqani refused and went back to the Ghulam Khan mountains to pitch intense battle against allied forces.

He continue to operate in the areas of Khost and Paktia with random attacks but Mullah Akhtar Osamani and Mullah Dadullah remained the central commanders of Taliban.

That all changed, sources believe, last month. Mullah Omar examined his forces and decided to 'promote' Jalaluddin Haqqani, giving him more funds, huge stockpiles of arms and ammunition and many hundreds of youths who had been trained with Iraqi resistance in the techniques of urban guerrilla warfare.

Mullah Omar has assigned geographic areas to each commander but now Jalaluddin Haqqani has been made commander at large. He is given control of suicide attackers to launch them through out Afghanistan and is authorized to pitch battles with his group any where on Afghan soil.

The flow of funds and human resources have boosted Haqqani’s influence in the southern region and many old veterans of the Afghan resistance, like Nasrullah Mansoor’s commander Saifullah Masoor, who were previously sitting idle in Gardez and other areas have joined Haqqani.

The personnel change at the top comes at the end of steady preparations throughout 2005 and in to 2006.

The Taliban launched a major recruitment drive all last year. When the Pakistan government clamped down on Jihadi activities and discouraged militants from infiltrating Indian-administered Kashmir, many fighters were re-routed to the Taliban.

In Pakistan, former members of banned organizations such as Laskhar-i-Toiba and Jaish-i-Mohamed gravitated towards North and South Waziristan, in the mountainous borderlands with Afghanistan, where the Taliban have established an Islamic state on the pattern of their regime in Afghanistan. All pledge their allegiance to Mullah Omar.

Jihadi sources indicate that there may be up to 27,000 fighters gathered in North Waziristan alone, with a further 13,000 believed grouped in South Waziristan. It is from this predominantly tribal area - where Pakistan's central government has no writ despite attempts to send troops - that militants can pass into southern Afghanistan, stage their attacks, and retreat.

The local Taliban leadership is believed to have formed 100 suicide squads by February 2006. Their motto “fight till the last man and last bullet” though if they carry out suicide attacks there will, naturally, be no fighting at all.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, author of the above report, is the Karachi bureau chief for Asia Times.

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