KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — They mete out justice in their own courts, ban schools and even organize large religious gatherings, like one that drew thousands of people just outside Kandahar city recently.
As Canadian Forces continue to fight and die throughout Kandahar province, the Taliban have quietly set up parallel governments only kilo-metres away from the provincial capital, local residents say.
Large swaths of the province for which Canada is responsible have fallen under the control of the insurgents, they said, and out of the grasp of a national government villagers consider corrupt and weak.
The three farmers, interviewed this weekend by a Canwest News Service translator, painted a fascinating picture of life under the unofficial Taliban administrations. And while they voiced dismay at the continuing conflict and some of the insurgents’ policies, they say not everyone is displeased with the situation.
A panel of three or four judges in Maiwand district, for instance, has for the past year been issuing prompt rulings on civil and criminal matters, said one man.
“The Taliban announced to the villagers that if they face any kind of problems, they should come to the court and they will find a transparent judgment,” he said. “They deal with a number of cases: land disputes, family disputes, loan disputes, robbery, killing, fighting… and the people are happy with them.”
In Zhari, the insurgent court has sentenced 27 people to death, said a resident of that district. Surprisingly, the farmers said the Taliban have issued no edicts against radio and TV or even shaving beards — all things banned under their government — though the villagers tend to eschew such behaviour out of fear, anyway.
Their accounts raise difficult questions about the progress being made by Canadian troops in almost three years of hard fighting and reconstruction efforts in the province.
A Canadian Forces spokesman said he could not comment immediately on the stories. The men spoke of deep frustration at having to choose between insurgents they say are often too harsh, government officials who are crooked and ineffective, and NATO forces who bring them little more than warfare.
“If the Taliban knew that I am giving information to you, they would skin me alive, but my heart and mind are full of words,” said another Maiwand resident. “We see trouble from the Taliban, from NATO and from the Afghan government…. They [Taliban] don’t allow schools. We don’t have schools and our children don’t understand what schools are. We are totally deprived of the rights that a human being should have.”
All asked that they not be identified, and none would meet directly with a foreign journalist, for fear of repercussions. They said about 70% of the districts of Zhari and Maiwand, both west of Kandahar city, are under Taliban control.
It was in Maiwand that insurgents hijacked a passing bus this month and executed as many as 24 of the passengers, claiming they were army recruits.
The Taliban, sometimes appearing in “huge” numbers, have separate units of eight to 12 men each in the district, said the first Maiwand farmer. One is responsible for planting improvised explosive devices, one carries out attacks on police and NATO forces directly, one ambushes military supply convoys and another conducts intelligence on locals, reporting anyone working with the government or foreign forces, he said.
For the Eid festival marking the end of Ramadan early this month, Taliban invited people to a special prayer in Senjaray, 15 kilometres west of Kandahar city. Thousands came, with the insurgents handling security.
“It was amazing, and shameful for the current government,” he said.
Taliban courts move from place to place, hearing complaints and seeking out witnesses before delivering a decision, which the people tend to heed, said the farmer.
The Zhari resident said he is not always happy with the insurgents’ brand of justice, though. “Yes, we do like Islamic Sharia law, but not the way the Taliban are doing it right now,” he said. “Islam is not strict and harsh, it’s a religion of peace and brotherhood.”
The same man said education is simply not an option in areas controlled by the insurgents. “They are burning the schools, killing the teachers and the students,” he said.
The Taliban do have willing supporters in these areas, including young people who enjoy the insurgent life because “they have guns, power and money, plus motorbikes,” said the second Maiwand farmer. But others “don’t like to kill people, they don’t want to fight.”
Still, the residents said that taking their troubles to the notoriously corrupt Afghan National Police or other government agencies simply causes more problems.
Even in Kandahar city, more or less under government control, the Taliban have officials who secretly parallel actual positions, from mayor to police chief, said Mohammad Naseem, a local businessman.
Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, confirmed the insurgents have set up such shadow administrations and that it has barred any kind of non-religious teaching in areas under its sway, but blamed NATO for endangering schools with its bombing.
“We let boys study in the mosques, we are not against modern education or against schools, but this time is not suitable for schools to be set up or remain open,” he said. “We are in the phase of serious fighting.”
Ultimately, though, the residents said they do not believe in either the Taliban or the Afghan government.
“We don’t like all these troubles,” said the first Maiwand farmer, tears welling in his eyes. “We have the right to have schools for our children, clinics for health, roads for driving, business for income. People think we like this chaotic situation. No, we don’t like it at all.”
The farmer from Zhari said he favours neither the foreigners nor the Taliban.
“I would like a new government, a government that brings peace and stability to our country,” he said. “I don’t expect to get any of that.”