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Taleban eye Nuristan as new sanctuaryWritten by Mohammad Reza Gulkoh
Sunday, 15 April 2012 11:05
Nuristan is turning into Afghanistan’s Waziristan – Pakistan’s lawless frontier area, warn security forces and people’s representatives in the national assembly.
Armed opponents of the government based in the province are waging a war in the country’s western and northern provinces. Nuristan governor Mohammad Tamim Nuristani says armed Taleban and a 600-member strong unit of Pakistani security forces led by Pakistani Colonel Muneer, an officer of the ISI (Pakistan’s infamous inter-services intelligence), have besieged 400 government forces including the district governor and a Jihadist commander defending the area. He has warned the men could perish and villages in Kamdesh district lost to Afghanistan unless help is quickly dispatched.
Hafez Abdul Qayoom, Nuristan’s representative in the National Assembly, told members that for 10 days “the district of Kamdesh and the people who are defending the area have been under siege and there is firing of heavy weapons. I contacted the Ministry of Defence twice, but the ministry is still to take action. Whom should I turn to because the ministry is not taking responsibility?”
Qayoom sees the assassination of Mawlawi Mohammad Hashem Munib, head of the High Council of Peace in Kunar province, as a turning point. Local authorities have warned the series of assassinations will continue, adding to the insecurity in the western provinces.
Provincial police chief Nuristani says the worst affected are Kamdesh and Barg Matal districts. Help has been sought from the Ministry of Interior, he adds.
The Afghan National Army (ANA) and ANP (police) have promised to start clearing out operations in Barg Matal and Kamdesh districts. Fazldin Ayar, commander of zone number 202 of Shamshad, has ruled out the possibility of losing either of the two districts, but confirmed the district of Waigal has fallen to the Taleban.
“Ministries of Defence and Interior have planned to start the operations in Barg Matal and Kamdesh districts,” he confirmed.
As the snows in mountain passes melt, NATO commander General John R. Allen of the US army has warned of bruising battles in the western provinces.
Nuristan is of strategic interest. It is bordered on the north by Badakshan, on the south by Laghman and Kunar, on the west by Panjshir, and on the east by Pakistan. The Wakhan corridor links Afghanistan to China. Intelligence reports say hundreds of Taleban from Pakistan enter through porous borders of Nuristan and Kunar. With the launch of the recent offensive, the Taleban may be looking to control the province with an aim of transferring its networks from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
Military expert, General Amrullah Aman (retired) who thinks the government has been incompetent in controlling the combat, observes Nuristan is under attack as it is a gateway to other provinces.
Retired General Atiqullah Amarkhail is also critical of the government’s handling of the security threat to Nuristan. He thinks Pakistan and Iran are behind the recent attacks which are an attempt to control Afghanistan through Nuristan. “Due to its long mountainous borders, it will be difficult for security forces to safeguard Nuristan.”
Haji Saleh Mohammad Saleh, Member of Parliament, told Radio Azadi the armed opponents of the government are seeking to expand the war to the north of the country. Networks based in Pakistan can carry equipment and shift staff from Chitral (Pakistan) through Kunar and Nuristan to the north of Afghanistan. He warned the summer could be dangerous for defenceless locals caught in the fighting.
Dr. Hazrat Shah Nuristani, the representative of Nuristan in the National Assembly, accused armed opponents of the government of collecting 20,000 Afs (400 USD) a month from the families of people working for the government in the province as “protection money”.
Mohammad Alam, a villager, says most relatives of people working for the government have fled their homes out of fear.
Hameed Ahmadyar, a retired army colonel, thinks the hidden wealth of precious stones in Nuristan’s mountains may be another reason for the Taleban’s interest in the province. “In the past the precious stones were mined and smuggled by local people. To the local people it wouldn’t be a surprise if armed fighters go after the precious stones,” he says.
It is hard to predict Nuristan’s future. Waseq Husaini, lecturer at Kabul University, says people fear the province could become “a Waziristan in Afghanistan”. He thinks, “Pakistan is trying to deflect the criticism of the international community by shifting Taleban networks to from northern Waziristan to Nuristan.”