Wednesday 6 May 2009

Two more excellent reports from CPAU

Readers may remember that I recently wrote about a report from the Cooperation for Peace and Unity organisation about the background to conflict in Kunduz. Now the same organisation has published two further reports, one on Wardak and the other on the Jaghori and Malistan districts of Ghazni. In total, CPAU has now released five reports, which can be downloaded here.

The report on Jaghori and Malistan, like all these CPAU reports, makes fascinating reading. These two districts are mainly inhabited by Hazara Shias, which are surrounded by districts in which Pashtuns predominate.

Overall in Ghazni, the Taliban has been resurgent in recent years, not least because central government authority simply does not extend to this area. According to the report, a 2008 survey found that 46 per cent of people in Ghazni had never seen the Afghan National Police and 51 per cent had never seen the Afghan National Army. In Jaghori, the figure was 90 per cent.

CPAU believes that a major factor in the growth of support for the Taliban is the failure of the government and foreign forces to guarantee security. People in the country feel that they have been left behind to fend for themselves. Thus when the Taliban presents itself as a force for stability, many people accept the argument. There are more Taliban than police and desertion rates from the latter are very high.

Despite the deteriorating security, in 2008 around 150 US troops based in the rural Nawa district were pulled out due to sustained Taliban attacks. For the people of Ghazni, this signified that the central government was not in control of the rural areas. According to the report:

“This and similar events seem at worst to have led locals to turn their support to the Taliban as the primary power holders and a source of security in the absence of an alternative, or at best diminished local will and capacity to resist Taliban presence and the establishment of associated shadow government structures”.

The report says the Taliban view Ghazni as a strategic province with proximity and road access to Kabul via the Kabul-Kandahar road. They have also spread propaganda throughout villages across the province, mostly through the distribution of night letters (shabnamah) which highlight the government’s shortcomings and urge villagers to join their movement as the only potential solution to their difficulties.

In much of Ghazni, the Taliban has already established shadow government structures with shadow District Commissioners in many Pashtun-dominated districts, including Andar, Dih Yak, Zana Khan, Gelan and Waghaz. Some areas have shadow police chiefs. According to UNAMA, the Taliban’s parallel administration in Ghazni is run by the Quetta Shura.

Another way in which the Taliban is making inroads into the region is through the migratory Kuchi minority. There is a history of conflict between the Kuchis, who winter with their flocks in the south and then move up to this region during the summer, and the Hazaras. Grazing rights and other issues have led to armed conflict, particularly last summer, when dozens of Hazaras were killed. Reports suggest the Taliban are using their followers within this community to extend their control into Hazara areas.

The report also notes changes in Taliban tactics over the past two years including an increased reliance on suicide and roadside attacks, and the exploitation of existing ethnic and cultural tensions to divide communities. In the Jaghori area, for example, this has led to the killing of key community figures’ family members, kidnappings, and killing Hazara labourers from Jaghori working in nearby Pashtun areas.

The Taliban has also begun to attack soft targets such as schools:

From January to July 2006, 202 attacks on schools in 27 provinces were reported by the Ministry of Education. In Ghazni and five other south-eastern provinces 208 schools were closed between April and July 2006 for security reasons and due to threats. Girls’ schools and schools built by foreign NGOs or with foreign funding were specifically targeted. By June 2008 the threat of the Taliban had successfully prevented school attendance to the extent that even girls’ schools in Ghazni city were forced to close down.

The CPAU report makes for bleak reading, but unlike almost all the other material coming out of Afghanistan it is based on solid, empirical studies and a genuine understanding of local ethnic, tribal and social conditions. The information contained in all five reports should be standard reading for anyone working in Afghanistan and a standard by which other work should be judged. Sad to say, that is not presently the case.

No comments: