Respite for Troubled Afghan Province
Life in Uruzgan province in central Afghanistan has taken a turn for the better over the last couple of months, according to local residents interviewed by IWPR.
As recently as July, the Taleban were able to mount a complex, concerted attack on the governor’s offices in Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan’s administrative centre. But the number of insurgent attacks has since falllen, and people say it has become safer for them to go about their business.
Agha Mohammad, whose job selling vegetables requires him to travel around the province buying farmers’ produce, described how it risky that was until recently.
“I’d be scared of the Taleban all along the way. They might accuse me of bringing in groceries for the infidels [foreign troops]. Plus there was the threat of roadside mines,” he said. “We would invoke the name of God every step of the way until we got home. It was as if we’d cheated death.”
With better security, shopkeepers like Agha Mohammad are getting more custom.
“Many people wouldn’t dare come to the market for fear of suicide attacks or clashes. Now the town of Tarin Kowt is growing more crowded day by day,” he said.
“Brother, peace is a great gift from God. Uruzgan experienced shooting, bombardment, killing and bloodshed on a daily basis, but now it is peaceful. Life is normal. People have come to realise what a good thing peace is. They won’t allow anyone to disrupt security here any longer.”
Another resident, Abdol Samad, agreed that the improved security environment had brought an increase in commerce, business activity and reconstruction work in the province.
He said the insurgents might still be present in some areas but they were no longer capable of carrying out attacks.
“The best thing is that no one is talking about killings, explosions and war,” he added.
Farid Ayel, a spokesman for Uruzgan’s police force, said government forces had even succeeded in capturing some areas where the Taleban had been in control for the last decade.
“People are tired of fighting, so they are helping the security forces restore stability,” he said.
This IWPR reporter tried to get a comment from the NATO troop contingent in Uruzgan, mainly drawn from Australian soldiers, on why security seemed to be getting better, but the was unable to do so as force’s spokesperson was away from the province.
The head of Uruzgan’s provincial council, Amanullah Hotaki, ascribes the improvements to the appointment this summer of Matiullah Khan as police chief for the region.
“The police chief was appointed by popular demand so people are cooperating with him” he added.
Matiullah Khan has long been a powerful figure in Uruzgan, controlling a militia unit that provided security on the main road south to Kandahar.
Residents say he has won their confidence through measures such cash hand-outs to the poor and an informal council of elders which identifies the major issues that need to be addressed.
Provincial counter-narcotics chief Nurollah Hotak said better security had helped slash opium poppy cultivation, while drug trafficking had fallen away to next to nothing.
Hotak showed IWPR a warehouse containing 1.5 tons of narcotics, most of it unprocessed opium, which he said his officers had seized in raids in Tarin Kowt and also in the Chura and Dehrawud districts.
“We made these drug seizures… thanks to cooperation from the public,” he said. “By next year, poppy cultivation should be reduced to zero, or to five per cent of what it was.”
One local farmer, Khair Mohammad, said he was switching from opium to wheat, and he too ascribed the change to the new police chief.
“Matiullah Khan has told us not to grow poppy, and we will do whatever he says. He has closed down all the shops that used to sell opium and he’s arrested the smugglers,” Khair Mohammad said. “People have realised that growing poppy is no longer to their advantage, so they’ve decided to grow other crops.”
Ahmad Shah Jawad Is an IWPR-trained reporter in Uruzgan province.