Internet Anthropologist Think Tank: Enemy, Helmand, Mary jane

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    Tuesday, September 18, 2007

    Enemy, Helmand, Mary jane

    Long article, but a good one, you can see light at end of tunnel, great perspective.
    Need to seperate taliban from al Qaeda. Social change.
    Tali wil consider gov. co-operation...


    For residents of the northern
    province of Takhar, there are worse things than the Taleban. By Sayed
    Yaqub Ibrahimi in Takhar

    #2) ROUGH JUSTICE IN HELMAND The Taleban’s Sharia courts are meting out
    swift, sometimes brutal punishment, but many residents say they prefer
    it that way. By Aziz Ahmad Tassal in Garmseer

    of Balkh was deemed poppy-free, but now industrious farmers are
    to another cash crop - marijuana. By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in



    For residents of the northern province of Takhar, there are worse
    things than the Taleban.

    By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Takhar

    While attention focuses on fighting in southern Afghanistan, there are
    parts of the north where the law is made not by Kabul, but by militia
    commanders who use violence and intimidation to maintain their hold
    the civilian population.

    An IWPR investigation in the northern province in Takhar has revealed a
    succession of stories of abduction and brutal assault. A militia
    commander denied any involvement, while officials said merely that
    should use legal channels to pursue their complaints – no easy route
    when local institutions tend to favour the strong over the weak.

    At a national level, the Afghan government appears unwilling or unable
    to curb the “warlords” – and some argue that it ignores the
    problem at its peril, as these strongmen not only rule the roost on
    ground but have been allowed to permeate and influence the
    institutions of

    Habib Rassoul, a resident of Takhar, cannot talk about his wife without
    tears of grief and rage. For the past three months, he has had no word
    of her.

    “Commander Piram Qul kidnapped my wife while I was away in Kabul
    helping my sick brother,” he said. “I have no idea what has
    happened to
    her. I went to every office, complained to every official, but no one
    will help me. They are all afraid of Piram Qul.”

    According to Habib, the kidnapping was intended to punish him for
    attending a demonstration in April against the dominance of local
    commanders in the province.

    “The government is lying when it says it’s in control of the
    country,” he said bitterly. “There is no government here, just
    commanders who control our destinies. NATO and ISAF [International
    Assistance Force] are busy in the south, and they have left us in the
    clutches of local commanders who are more dangerous than the

    Takhar, in the far north of Afghanistan on the border with Tajikistan,
    receives little attention from the Kabul government or the foreign
    military forces in comparison with the violent and volatile southern
    provinces. While ISAF and the Afghan National Army fight pitched
    against the resurgent Taleban in Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and other
    southern provinces, Takhar like other northern areas has remained
    quiet, and has consequently been left to its own devices.

    During the early Nineties when the mujaheddin who had fought the
    Soviets were in control, Takhar held by Jamiat-e-Islami, one of the
    powerful factions in the Northern Alliance. While Jamiat has made the
    transition from armed grouping to legitimate political organisation,
    residents complain that many of the strongmen on the ground have not
    ceded control and are still using their influence and their guns to
    the province.

    “I have been threatened with death six times by these local
    commanders,” said Habib. “You can go to every office, from the
    civil servant right up to the governor, but they cannot act against
    commanders because they are scared of them. We don’t know where to

    Habib is one of hundreds of people who claim to have been victimised by
    “warlords” in Takhar. Most of the people interviewed for this
    report would not give their names and appeared to be in fear of their

    One man, 31 years old, held pictures of his two sons, aged eight and
    six. He wept as he told his story.

    “Commander Piram Qul took my two sons from my home last year. He
    killed them, put their bodies in a sack and dumped them in the
    river,” he
    said , tears pouring down his cheeks.

    He claimed that the murders were retribution for his own continuing
    protests against local warlords.

    “Piram Qul told me when he took my sons, ‘This is your punishment
    for your propaganda against the commanders,” he said.

    “I went everywhere. I wanted justice. I wanted to avenge the murder.
    But everyone told me just to forget it. No one listened to me.”

    Mullah Piram Qul was a powerful Jamiat-e-Islami commander in Takhar
    before the beginning of the nationwide disarmament programmes that
    followed the ousting of the Taleban regime in late 2001. According to
    Qul himself, he had 5,000 men under arms at the time.

    Now he is a member of Afghanistan’s parliament, one of nine
    representatives from Takhar who sit in the legislature in Kabul and
    help shape
    the country’s future.

    Piram Qul rejected all allegations that he is implicated in abductions
    and killings.

    “That is a complete lie,” he told IWPR. “These accusations are
    false. The people who are accusing me are either Taleban or have
    connections to the Taleban. They are just trying to cause a rift
    between the
    central government and the former commanders. They are trying to
    the mujaheddin to act against the government, and to weaken the

    Piram Qul insisted that he had no gunmen under his control, and that he
    had handed all his weapons over during the DDR (Disarmament,
    Demobilisation and Reintegration) and DIAG (Disbandment of Illegal
    Armed Groups)

    DDR and DIAG, part of the generously-funded Afghan New Beginnings
    Programme backed by the United Nations, sought to reduce the number of
    with guns and break up the paramilitary groups they belonged to. But
    even the proponents of these programmes admit that the lofty goals
    were set initially have not been achieved.

    Piram Qul was adamant, however, that he had made the transition from
    militia commander to parliamentarian.

    “I am a representative of the people,” he said. “I am with the
    government, and I work within the framework of the law.”

    Anyone with a case against him was welcome to seek legal redress, he

    “Let them prove their charges,” he said. “Nowadays we have laws,
    police, attorneys and courts. Accusations made outside these
    institutions are merely an attempt to heap blame on someone.”

    Takhar’s provincial governor Latif Ibrahimi agreed.

    “If someone makes an accusation, the government has clear procedures
    for doing something about it,” he told IWPR. “When a crime is
    committed, there is the district governor, there is the chief of
    police, and
    there are courts. People should go through these channels, and the
    government will act in accordance with the law.”

    The governor denied that his administration was in any way intimidated
    by the commanders.

    “We implement the law equally for everyone,” he said. “We are not
    under the influence of the commanders. But we cannot punish people on
    the basis of accusations. The accuser has to prove his charge.”

    Victims say that the government is unwilling or unable to help them.

    Daulat Bibi, 40, told IWPR that she was raped by 13 men working for a
    local commander.

    “I was hospitalised for one and a half months,” she said. “I went
    to the district governor’s office, but no one listened to me. Those
    who raped me walk free, and the government did not even bother to
    arrest them. I went everywhere, but people told me, ‘There is no law
    can do anything against these commanders. Just forget it.’”

    Human rights organisations confirm that the government does not seem
    capable of resisting the power of the commanders, and that people with
    grievances often have little recourse.

    “These people are really unfortunate,” said Mohammad Zahir Zafari,
    head of the northeastern division of the Afghan Independent Human
    Rights Commission. “In the past these commanders destroyed their
    But now the commanders get appointed as district governors, police
    chiefs and so on. Where are people supposed to go to defend their

    Zafari’s organisation receives an average of four complaints a week
    against commanders, he said. But in most of the cases where formal
    charges are brought, the courts decide in favour of the commanders.

    “Five months ago, one of the minor commanders raped a 10-year-old boy
    in Bangee district,” he said. “The child was injured, with a
    perforated bowel. But when the child’s father tried to sue the
    he had no success. The commander used his money and influence, and the
    whole matter was decided in his favour.”

    There were hundreds of such cases, he added, concluding, “It is a
    disaster here.”

    A member of parliament who did not want to be named said that the
    commanders were a law unto themselves.

    “Every single former commander has created his own local government
    in the districts,” said the parliamentarian. “They do whatever
    please, with no regard for the law. No one, including the institutions
    of central government, can do anything without the permission of these
    local commanders.

    He cited an example from Takhar’s Chah Ab district, where the
    appointment of a mayor was opposed by a local commander.

    “The mayor was run out of his office immediately after he got in,”
    he said . “The commander told him, ‘I have been governing here for
    years, and I have the power. Anyone who wants to be appointed needs to
    get my permission first. Not like you.’”

    There were many similar cases, added the parliamentarian. “That’s
    just a snapshot of the whole problem,” he said. “There is a
    government within the government here.”

    Abdurrahman, a shopkeeper in Rustaq district, showed his scarred
    stomach as he told his tale of violence and intimidation.

    “There’s a former Jamiat commander who owes me 12,000 he said,”
    he said. “He used to shop in my store. But every time I tried to
    it up with him, he threatened to kill me. I was beaten with a gun just
    for asking for my rights.

    “When I saw that no one was paying any attention to me, I just said
    to hell with it. I don’t know who to complain to. Wherever I turn, I
    still see that the only law comes from the barrel of a gun.”

    Nor is the problem confined to outlying districts. Mohammad Ehsan, 25,
    is a resident of Takhar’s capital, Taloqan.

    “I was engaged to Najiba, who was 20 years old,” he said. “Two
    months after we got engaged, a commander took my fiancée by force.
    she is his wife. I have been threatened and told not to pursue my
    Neither the government nor the girl’s family will listen to me,
    because they are all afraid of the commander.”

    Political analyst Qayum Babak, the editor of Jahan-e-Nau newspaper,
    blames the president for allowing the militia leaders to survive and

    “Everyone knows that the government of [President Hamed] Karzai has
    been very soft on the local commanders over the past six years, and
    has encouraged them to try to regain their lost power,” he said.
    “These commanders have taken advantage of Karzai’s leniency, and
    grown like a cancer. They will choke the life out of the Karzai

    Former commanders now have positions of influence within the
    government, which they can use to their advantage, he said.

    “They have used their positions to make laws that prevent anyone from
    putting them on trial,” said Babak. If we look at the situation
    realistically, these commanders make the law, they are in the
    and they control the provinces. So where are the poor people to

    While the attention of the president and the foreign forces is directed
    towards the south, the commanders are extending their reach in the
    north, he said.

    “Both the government and NATO think that the real danger is the
    Taleban, and that these commanders are not a threat,” he said.

    “But I want to tell them that these commanders will paralyse the
    central government. They are more dangerous than the Taleban.”

    Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter based in Mazar-e-Sharif.


    The Taleban’s Sharia courts are meting out swift, sometimes brutal
    punishment, but many residents say they prefer it that way.

    By Aziz Ahmad Tassal in Garmseer

    It was a banal, everyday quarrel over watering rights. In
    drought-stricken Helmand, farmers often come to blows over whose turn
    it is to use
    the water from irrigation canals. But Ghani and Mohammad Lal, two
    neighbours in a small village in Garmseer district, took things too

    Their dispute escalated to a point where one day, as Ghani went out to
    water his land, Mohammad Lal took his gun and shot him dead. Then he
    went home.

    Within minutes, Taleban security services had picked up Mohammad Lal
    and taken him to their base in Miaan Kushti.

    Garmseer, a district of Helmand some 30 kilometres from the provincial
    capital Lashkar Gah, is almost entirely under the control of the
    Taleban, who form the de facto local administration.

    Mohammad Lal was brought before a Taleban judge and found guilty, and
    within three days Ghani’s family was informed that they could come
    the execution.

    According to Sharia, the body of Islamic law, in a murder case the
    victim’s family has the right to vengeance by carrying out a death
    sentence themselves. Called “qisas”, it corresponds to the
    principle of
    “an eye for an eye”.

    Ghani’s brother was given a gun, and he shot Mohammad Lal without

    “I am very happy with the result,” said the brother, who did not
    want to give his name. “If the government had been in charge, there
    would have been a lot of paperwork and who knows how it would have

    “But this is good. I was given a gun and I shot my brother’s
    killer. The government wouldn’t let us do that. The Taleban decide
    very quickly, without wasting time. And they give people the right to
    carry out the punishment.”

    More and more, people in Helmand are seeking justice through the Sharia
    courts which the Taleban have set up in all the areas under their

    The Afghan government’s hold on the majority of Helmand’s 14
    districts is weak, with some areas such as Musa Qala, Washir and
    almost totally ceded to the Taleban.

    Even where the state is present, many people see its judicial system as
    hopelessly corrupt and inefficient. Increasingly, they are coming to
    prefer the Taleban’s swift administration of a ruthless form of

    Gul Agha, who works as a driver in Kajaki in the north of the province,
    professed himself happy with the Taleban courts.

    “The government cannot resolve our cases,” he said. “They do not
    punish criminals according to Islamic law. If they arrest a thief,
    don’t cut off his hand. And some of the criminals they arrest are
    set free to walk the streets.”

    A local Taleban commander, Mullah Abdullah Akhund, insists his men act
    in full accordance with Islamic law, if not with Afghanistan’s
    written constitution.

    “We do not accept the constitution,” he said firmly. “Our
    constitution is the Koran. We punish a murderer or adulterer according
    Sharia, and this is done by the Ulema [Islamic scholars] in each
    district,” he said.

    The mullah railed against the laxity of Afghanistan’s civil law.

    “There is nothing in the constitution about hair or beards, but
    shaving is prohibited by our law,” he said. “And the constitution
    that those who commit adultery should be imprisoned. But they should

    A resident of Musa Qala, Abdul Manaaf, told IWPR that people there were
    very happy with the Taleban court system.

    “The Taleban issue rulings in accordance with Sharia, and they solve
    people’s problems without taking bribes or putting other obstacles
    people’s way,” he said in a telephone interview

    Bashir Ahmad, a resident of Garmseer, agreed that the process was

    “The decisions taken by the Taleban make people happy, because the
    process does not take long. If we take our cases to the government
    courts, it can take months and months. They also ask for bribes. But
    Taleban don’t waste time,” he said.

    In areas under their control, the Taleban have set up an entire system,
    with district governors, police, courts and judges.

    According to Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, a Taleban spokesman, each district
    court has four judges.

    “They are wise and educated people,” he said. “They issue
    independent rulings, and locals who have problems can come to them for
    They rule on cases such as murder, adultery, personal injury and so

    However, Mullah Ahmad, the head of the Ulema council for Helmand
    province, rejects the Taleban’s claim to be administering Sharia

    “The Taleban cannot decide a case properly. This is just
    propaganda,” he fumed.

    He dismissed the charge that the government courts were too slow. “It
    takes time to study a case,” he insisted.

    Mullah Ahmad did acknowledge that there was corruption within the state
    system, and noted that relationship between his clerical council and
    the government was at times strained.

    “I am part of the government, but it does not pay attention to us, in
    part because there is bribery in the government courts,” he said.

    Mullah Ibrahim Akhund, a resident of Washir district, expressed mixed
    feelings about having a Taleban administration in charge.

    “Taleban rule is good to an extent,” he admitted. “There are no
    thieves, and the courts don’t take bribes. That’s very good.”

    But he also said, “We are not happy with the Taleban because if the
    government comes back, we will be in trouble.”

    In addition, he said, the Taleban’s presence heightened the risk of
    being drawn into the ongoing conflict. “It is because the Taleban
    here that foreigners are killing Afghan civilians,” he said.

    Another resident of Washir, who did not want to be named, had a major
    grievance against the Taleban courts.

    “I fell in love with my brother-in-law’s sister,” he explained.
    “One day I was at her house to see her, and her brothers caught me.
    They beat me severely, then they raped me.”

    The speaker, a 26-year-old man, said that he brought his case to the

    “The Taleban said they needed eyewitnesses. Where was I supposed to
    get them?” he said. “In the end we went to the government. But
    nothing has happened. We may never be able to resolve this case.”

    Aziz Ahmad Tassal is an IWPR staff reporter in Helmand.


    The northern province of Balkh was deemed poppy-free, but now
    industrious farmers are turning to another cash crop - marijuana.

    By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif

    First, the good news. In June, the Afghan government announced that the
    northern province of Balkh had stopped growing opium poppy.

    Balkh joined 12 other provinces as certified poppy-free zones, a
    designation which brings with it assurances of increased assistance

    But farmers and local officials say the opium poppies have been
    replaced with marijuana (or cannabis) plants, cultivation of which has
    increased at a precipitous rate.

    “The government has banned opium poppy,” said Nazar Gul, a
    54-year-old farmer in Charbolak district. “Now we have started to
    marijuana, which is also good for us.”

    Other crops would not meet his family’s expenses, insisted Nazar Gul.

    “I planted poppy last year, but soldiers came to our house to warn us
    that if we grew it, they’d destroy our homes. What could we do? The
    best way out was to switch to marijuana, and I hope to make good money
    this year, too.”

    Marijuana is not as lucrative as opium, he added, but it is still far
    ahead of any legal crop.

    “For us farmers, poppy is gold and marijuana is silver,” he said.

    The province is famed for its high-quality hashish - known as “Balkh

    Atta Mohammad Noor, the provincial governor, admits that this
    alternative crop is on the rise in Balkh.

    “People did not plant poppy this year, but it seems marijuana has
    taken its place,” he said.

    No specific statistics were available as yet, he added, and the
    government had few tools with which to combat the new problem.

    "Our counter-narcotics department has plans in hand for eradicating
    marijuana in the province, but who is going to pay for it?" he asked.

    The governor complained that central government had not allocated a
    budget for eradicating marijuana, and had not even remunerated his
    administration for the work it did to stamp out poppy, including the
    costs of
    a commission that worked with farmers to stop growing that crop.

    “We cleared 64,000 jeribs [128 square kilometers] of opium poppy last
    year,” he said. “Every year, the international community announces
    that it is spending millions of dollars on counter-narcotics but we
    haven’t seen a dime of that money.”

    With no funds to curb marijuana production, the plants can be seen
    growing everywhere in Balkh, even along highways which government and
    foreign military vehicles use all the time.

    While the government dithers, farmers are making a killing.

    According to farmer Nazar Gul, he can harvest 50 to 100 pounds of
    hashish from each jerib of land (22-50 dollars per 2,000 square
    metres), and
    he expects to make 70,000 afghanis, the equivalent of 1,400 dollars,
    from his entire crop.

    The price of hashish differs according to type and quality.

    According to Mohammad Muhsan, a farmer in Charbolak district, they sort
    the harvest into two grades, the high-quality shirak and the rest
    termed “khaka” or “dust”.

    “We can reap about 40 pounds of shirak and 80 pounds of khaka from
    each jerib,” said Muhsan. “Each pound of shirak is worth about
    afghani [20 dollars], while a pound of khaka goes for 500 afghani.”

    “Marijuana is a very good crop,” he continued. “We get five times
    more money from it than from wheat.”

    Still, it lags behind opium, he complained, explaining that he used to
    harvest about 20 kilograms of opium from one jerib of land, and
    normally earned 100 dollars a kilo, sometimes 200 dollars.

    Farmers say that marijuana has the advantage of being less
    labour-intensive than opium.

    “We used to have to spend half of what we made just to produce the
    opium,” explained Ahmad Shah, a farmer in Chamtal district. “We
    to weed the fields and we also had to spend a lot on harvesting. With
    marijuana, you just plant it, water it a little and then harvest it
    wheat. It does not take so much work or money.”

    Marijuana is planted in April and May and harvested in November and
    December, according to farmers.

    “The harvested hashish is raw. We often sell this to traffickers and
    then it’s up to them what to do with it,” said Ahmad Shah. “As
    far as I know, if the traffickers want to sell the hashish inside
    Afghanistan, they process or cook it. For smuggling abroad, they use
    both raw
    and processed hashish.”

    A trafficker in Charbolak district who did not want to be named said it
    was easier to smuggle the processed hashish.

    “I purchase several sacks of hashish from farmers up here and then
    send it to the south to sell to major traffickers,” he said.
    is mostly smuggled to Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan, and from these
    countries it is sent to Europe and other parts of the world. Balkh
    hashish is very famous around the globe.”

    The trafficker said that having a bumper crop this year has had its
    downside, “The price of hashish seems to be falling day by day. This
    because of two major factors - one, cultivation of marijuana has
    increased; and second, the government has imposed some restrictions
    and set
    up security checkpoints, so people think it is too difficult to

    In Balkh itself, people are proud of their local product and see no
    need to hide it.

    The bazaar in the village of Alam Khil is an old and venerable
    institution whose ancient shops mostly sell the local speciality.

    “We divide the hashish into small pieces called ‘tali’,”
    explained a shopkeeper who did not give his name. “Each piece costs
    from 10
    to 100 afghani [20 cents to two dollars].”

    The buyers are mostly young men with a little spare cash, he added.

    “We sell the hashish to free-spending young men, who think nothing of
    paying five or ten afghani,” he said. “We are retailers and we
    make good money. Selling this way, we get about 2,000 afghani [40
    for a pound of hashish.

    The shopkeeper went on to boast of his wares, saying, “The hashish I
    sell is very famous. People come to me from all over the country. I
    even sell to foreigners.”

    He showed IWPR’s reporter a piece of hashish weighing about 50 grams
    wrapped in plastic foil. “This costs about 200 afghani. It will make
    anybody who smokes it just fall down,” he said with pride.

    Afghanistan’s counter-narcotics ministry says it will take as tough a
    stand on hashish as it did on opium.

    “We are committed to getting rid of all types of narcotics in
    Afghanistan,” said ministry spokesman Zalmay Afzali. “We are
    planning on
    eradicating marijuana in the provinces.”

    He added that no final figures were available for levels of marijuana
    cultivation in Balkh, but added, “We will fight it as we did with

    The governor, still citing cash problems, was not so sure.

    “We obey the orders of central government and we consider it our duty
    to eradicate narcotics,” said Noor. “But this is really difficult
    to do without a budget.”

    Afzali acknowledged that the Balkh administration had not been paid for
    its anti-poppy campaign, but insisted the money would show up

    ”The Afghan government and the international community will
    definitely give the money they promised, but there have been some
    problems in delivering the money to some provinces,” he said. “We
    not living in America or Britain where there is a very well-developed
    banking system.”

    Meanwhile, Balkh’s landowners are moving ahead with plans for the
    harvest, and are keeping one uneasy eye on law-enforcement officers.

    “The government should just leave us alone to live our lives,” said
    farmer Ghulam Nabi. “They promised they would help us if we stopped
    growing poppy, but they have done nothing so far. We suffered very big
    losses. Now we are looking forward to the marijuana crop.”

    He warned, “If the government destroys our fields, we will be
    completely ruined. My family and I will throw ourselves under the
    They will have to drive over us first.”

    Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif.


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