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Locals turn against Taliban in eastern Afghanistan

A group of villagers in eastern Afghanistan took up arms against the Taliban and say they’ve now managed to regain control.

A group of villagers in eastern Afghanistan took up arms against the Taliban and say they’ve now managed to regain control.

In Ghazni’s Andar district, one of the areas hit hardest by a series of recent Taliban-forced school closures, nearly 400 locals from eight villages in the eastern Afghan province reportedly gathered to confront the Taliban. In the two weeks of fighting, 11 people were reportedly killed; three from the citizens’ militia and eight Taliban fighters, but villagers say they’ve managed to reopen 81 of Andar’s 83 schools.

Though the fighting in Andar may serve as an indication that locals now have less patience for the Taliban’s extremist ideologies than they did almost 11 years ago, it’s not a clear beacon of hope that the tide is turning toward stability in Afghanistan. So far, the uprising remains localized and those who have stood up against the Taliban say they’re not ready to side with the government either.

“The uprising is happening because no one could tolerate the closure of the schools in the entire district. That’s why the ordinary citizens and tribal elders decided to start fighting for the schools,” says Nek Mohammad, a tribal elder in Ghanzi.

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Throughout Afghanistan, violence dropped the first part of this year. Fighting in Ghazni continues and it remains one of the more violent areas in the country. However, locals say the intensity has diminished but caution that appearances can be deceiving. The Taliban still controls many aspects of their life and has simply focused more on high-profile assassinations, rather than fighting Afghan and international forces, they say.

“The fighting and the attacks have decreased but it doesn’t mean that the Taliban has left the areas where they were strong,” says Khial Mohammad Hussaini, a tribal elder from Ghazni.

Motorcycles and schools

Ghazni’s Taliban began threatening schools largely in response to a ban on unregistered motorcycles. Local authorities say the prohibition has severely restricted the insurgents’ movements and the Taliban sought to use school closures as a means to pressure the government to change the policy.

The pervasiveness of the Taliban is a daily challenge, say many Ghazni residents. Those in the predominately rural province say they feel trapped between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and international forces, none of whom offer enough support to make the locals feel comfortable.

“The schools are not the only problem. People are poor in the districts and sometimes 10 or 15 Taliban members will come to a family and force the family to feed them,” says Mohammad Jamil, a tribal elder in Ghazni. “People don’t feel free out there. Their freedom is restricted. If they want to stay alive out there, they’ll have to always say yes to the Taliban, and the government.”

Many locals are frustrated by lost development opportunities because of the instability. The US alone has appropriated $100 billion for the reconstruction of Afghanistan since the war began. Many locals say they’re frustrated with the insurgency for impeding rebuilding efforts, potentially cutting them off from aid money.

“When an insurgency loses the support of the people, its defeat is possible,” says Waliullah Rahmani, executive director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies and a native of Ghazni. Referring to those who stood up to the Taliban in Andar.

Not necessarily pro-government

This disenchantment with the Taliban has not, however, necessarily translated into renewed support for the government. In the eyes of Ghazni residents, the local government in particular bears much of the blame for allowing the situation to slip from their control.

This disappointment has led some of those now fighting the Taliban to say they’d turn away government support, preferring to handle their own problems.

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“In Ghazni when the Taliban grows strong, it doesn’t mean that the people support them. People don’t really support them. They are just quiet because they don’t have any government support behind them. That’s why they are accepting the Taliban out there in their area, but they’re not happy with it,” says Shah Gul Rezayee, a member of parliament from Ghanzi.

Despite the success of those who stood up to the Taliban in Andar district, not everyone supports them. One resident of Andar who asked to withhold his name for security reasons said that he did not see those who stood up to the Taliban as liberators, but rather, it looked more like the beginnings of yet a new militia with its own agenda.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.