A Trip to Taliban Stronghold

Reading time: 7 minutes

By: Noor ul Ain
Source: Daily 8 am
Translated by: Jawed Nader

For a long time, security along the Gultapa road in Northern Afghanistan made the area difficult to access. Afghan journalist Noor ul Ain from the Dari language daily 8 am recently travelled along this road and found the situation much improved. Yet, in his trip it became evident: What people are still in need for is development – schools, healthcare and governmental services that make it not only a secure place for now but that open prospects to the people in that area.

Along the series of small villages, we are on the beginning of Gultapa road. Only half a kilometer of this road is graveled and once we had passed the first security check point, it got increasingly bumpier. A policeman stands on almost every bridge with his gun in hand but appears anxious of the situation.

A few minutes later we arrive on the second checkpoint. It used to be the front line of war between government forces and Taliban and just 2 months ago, no government force could dare to come to this end. There is a police station, which was frequently attacked by Taliban during the last 3 years. I remember 2 years ago when I visited this area for this first time. It was when the German troops had built a small station for the police and army forces in Zarkharid Padsha Qaladar.

The station consisted of a small wooden room that was used as a house by police and army forces. One night Taliban launched rocket attacks on the station and demolished it. They conducted their next attack just one month later. This time it was at daytime and Taliban driving a Toyota Corona had passed by the station and had shot the government forces, killing and injuring plenty of them.  Nonetheless, that incident was not the final one and the station continued to be a prime target of Taliban even after. But now police and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) forces use this road. We are travelling on it, too, not very much knowing where it would lead us.

Passing the check point, I realized how far our vehicle was from the one ahead of us. If a vehicle wanted to overtake, it would make so much dust that the overtaken car was forced to maintain a long distance. A minute later we arrived in the small village of Zarkharid which used to be notorious for road mines and attacks on international troops.

The residents told us that a week ago a road mine had hit a US army vehicle. I remember that day I saw a destroyed US vehicle on Kunduz main road being dragged by another car. ISAF forces in Kunduz have recently stopped to share the details of their operations with media.

We passed Zarkharid,  too, and entered an area that had earlier been considered the beginning of Taliban territory. I remember last year when German troops tried to cut across this area but withdrew after some confrontations with Taliban. Last year Afghan and German forces launched an operation that resulted in the displacement of hundreds of families. But a few days later, they abandoned the area, allowing Taliban to take it over again. One of the displaced people told me, “we are tired of such homelessness; either the government forces should come and remain forever or leave Taliban to rule forever.”

We drove by Bagh-e Sherkat which a year ago was Taliban’s first checkpoint and arrived at Pul-e Pukhta and Tapay-e Borida. There is a sub-road to Karpul and Chardarache and Qari Aka’s madrasa which government officials described as the the center of Taliban. We continued and arrived in villages adjacent to Baghe Sherkat, to see its grim look. The streets were silent and no one dared to use the bridge because of mines. The army had built an alternative bridge for their own use, yet they allowed the civilians to use it too.

There are big parcels of agricultural land which have remained untouched and are threatened by the lack of shower and snow. Tapay-e Borida with its broken trees darkened by smoke of explosives, houses that have marks of bullets, and roads that are destroyed by mines and its dusty mountains portray a harsh image.

Along this road, we see residents who appear to be happy for the arrival of government troops, villagers who are not so happy and also those who appear to have mixed feelings. But along the Qalacha road some villages are silent as if they have no story to narrate. Some villagers greet, welcome and hug the police forces. They do not constitute the entire population, because a considerable number of them have fled amid fears of dreadful war.

We then went to Qalacha or Hastay-e Taliban (Taliban Stronghold) as coined by Afghan police. There, houses far outnumbered the people we saw. US forces were busy filling the bags with soil to establish a bunker. A road roller was evening out the bumps of where a station was planned to be built.

A US officer told me “we have 200 soldiers in this station and with the support of Afghan forces drove Taliban out. We want to restore security in this area.” Villagers expressed their frustration with the night raids and hoped that with the arrival of police and security forces, such raids will no longer happen.

We then moved to a small village called Larkhab where a few shops seemed open and the villagers smiling. Some of them were armed and they had fought against Taliban along with the police and US forces.

Mohamad Usman a resident of Larkhab said that he was very happy for the presence of police and army. He mentioned that the US forces did not do any harm to the people and that he loves the police because “they are the sons of this country”. He added that the security had improved and called upon the government and donors to asphalt the road, provide electricity, build healthcare centers and deliver the basic services to them. Other villagers also expressed similar things and mentioned that the lack of schools for their children is a great source of worry for them. While interviewing them, I noticed the US forces with their amazing vehicles and demining devices busy finding and deactivating the mines.

Our trip and interviews with the villagers in the “Taliban Stronghold” had finished so we started to head back to Kunduz. Along the way we were informed that police forces had caught a vehicle full of explosives so my colleague and I stopped and took a few pictures. The security commander told us that the car was full of explosives and missiles and they had just found it at a house in the same village.

After that we continued our return trip to Kunduz and arrived in the beginning of Gultapa to see the same half a kilometer graveled road - that road that previously was so deprived of government’s attention that it had ultimately ended to the “Taliban Stronghold”. I also realized the significance of people’s cooperation with the government in making these operations a success. Security forces in Kunduz agree that it was the cooperation of villagers that enabled the government forces to gain control over the Taliban stronghold.

However the questions that still remain unanswered are whether the basic services will be delivered to these areas. Will the road that is used by a population of almost a district get asphalted? Will electricity, drinking water, healthcare, and education be delivered to the people of Larkhabi and other villages?

To read the article in Dari version please click: http://www.8am.af/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=16716:1389-10-16-05-03-56&catid=3:2008-10-31-09-37-07&Itemid=488