The News, January 7, 2002

Jalalabad, Kandahar return to rule of the thieves

C.J Chivers (The New York Times)

Jalalabad: The middleman with the dark sunglasses and beard met the Afghan soldiers at the gate and was allowed access inside the provincial security station. He reappeared minutes later with a bag containing two videotapes, an Albanian passport, a Moroccan identification card and nine computer disks.

He set the prices: $1600 for videotapes, $400 each for the passport or identification cards, and $400 for each disk. All were terrorist materials taken from Al Qaeeda caves in nearly Tora Bora, he said, or from terrorist houses in the city. He said they were being offered for sale by a local intelligence chief, who would have to remain hidden for now.

"If you buy all of these today, then he will have the very important passport to sell," said the middleman, who identified himself as Dr.Kamran, a surgeon who works for Jalalabad's senior warlord, Haji Hazart Ali. "Two passports of Jihad men from Saudi Arabia, they can be yours, too."

When Dr.Kamran found no takers, he returned to the station and came out empty-handed. "May be tomorrow?" he asked, with a conspiratorial smile.

This is Jalalabad, a city in the hands of thugs and crooks.

The city-Afghanistan's first stop on the Grand Trunk Road, which links the nation to India had been a smuggler's den for centuries, providing shelter and likeminded company for the bandits, traders and thieves who traveled the soaring mountain passes nearby, But in recent years, as the Taliban enforced their severe brand of Islamic law with public executions of disbarment for criminals, crime declined.

Now the Taliban are gone, and the city and surrounding Nangarhar Province is run once again by warlords and guerrillas, whose enterprises rackets have almost instantly turned the place into Afghanistan's version of Shakedown Street, the land where almost everything is corrupt.

Markets here sell bootlegged copies of Hollywood's releases ("The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" is already available), pucks of brown hashish and in one shop the skull of a snow leopard, one of the world's most endangered cats.

The corruption runs unchecked through what counts as local government, which is essentially a group of ill-tempered guerrilla brigades.

The guerrilla welcome outsiders with threats and extortion, steal food from aid convoys and simultaneously insist that they are helping Green Berets gather intelligences materials in the mountains while trying to sell the same items on the streets, "Everywhere people are trying to sell these Al Qaeeda things," said Abdul Ghaffar, 44, the city's newly appointed interim mayor. "Some of it is real, some of it is fake. It is all a great shame."

Upon crossing the city line, new visitors are informed that they must reside in hotels controlled by the Eastern Shura, the loose coalition of three warlords who rule the provinces.

New rules are introduced almost daily. For instance, once inside the Spin Ghar Hotel, visitors cannot change residences, as was made clear last week when a New York Times translator who had tried to help an Associated Press photographer move into rival hotel was struck in the head with a rifle butt.

In another case last week, a group of guerrilla on the road to the ridgeline near Tora Bora demanded $1000 to let vehicle pass.

The Nation, January 8, 2002

Kandahar return to rule of the thieves

Shahzada Zulfiqar

Kandahar- The warlords who existed before the rise of Taliban have re-appeared as they are extorting money from the people particularly the foreign journalists.

When the foreigners enter Afghanistan, the local warlords at Spin Boldak, the first Afghan town surrounded them asking them to pay their fee levied by the local tribal council.

The fee varies as sometimes they charge 1000 dollar and sometime they extort 300 to 500 US dollar in the name of security visa fee and permission for taking a Pakistani registered vehicle.

The foreigners kept informing Governer Kandahar Gul Agha Sherzai and his authorities, but in vain.

These local tribal commanders even tell the Governor's men deployed there that charging of money from the foreigners is decision of the local commanders and the Governor has nothing to do with that.

When the Taliban pulled out of Kandahar province in the wake of deal reached with the Chairman of interim government Hamid Karzai, they handed over the control of Spin Boldak to Ghaibzai faction of Achakzai and that of Spin Boldak to Noorzai tribesmen.

When Kandahar fell, the son of the head of Ghaibzai clan started taking visiting foreigners under his security and charging the money that he wished. Later other commanders also followed their head of the clan.

The Noorzai tribesmen are also thinking that if the tribe controlling the border, why shouldn't they do it at Spin Boldak. Despite the clear instruction of Gul Agha Sherzei, the Governor of there will be no self-established check posts or extortion of the money under as pretext.

Although armed men are posted at Spin Boldak headed by his younger brother Muhammad Sharif yet they are unable to stop the practice of extortion of money. Some incidents were also reported in which the people from Chaman border town and local one were held at gunpoint and money was extorted from them.

The uniform military or policemen who are deployed at main border are just confined to the piece of land they are standing while they have nothing to do with the private militiaman.

Yes, obviously, if the practice continues and the government fails to control that, the tiny local commanders will also follow that and even they will start kidnapping for ransom as it happened before Taliban came to power." Said Muhammad Yaqub, a local Afghan. He further said this practice was stopped during Taliban regime.

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