Kandahar violence escalates despite Karzai vow
Three weeks after President Hamid Karzai promised better security and government services in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar Province, escalating armed violence has killed dozens of people, according to human rights organizations.
“I won’t return to Kabul unless I solve Kandahar’s problems,” Karzai vowed during his visit on 4 April. But, when he insisted on knowing about the “real problems” people were facing in Kandahar, Haji Abdul Manan, a tribal elder, stood up at a public meeting and declared: “If I tell you the truth I won’t see the sun tomorrow.”
Karzai, who has been under fire for alleged nepotism in Kandahar, went to the insurgency-stricken province ahead of a major anti-Taliban military operation by NATO forces.
But tribal elder Manan told the UN news agency IRIN: “Since his visit nothing has improved. In fact, a lot has got worse.”
Abdul Qadir Noorzai, director of the provincial branch of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), agreed: “The situation has never been as bad as it is now.”
Over the past three weeks at least 30 civilians have been killed, mostly by Taliban insurgents, according to the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM). “Assassinations, indiscriminate blasts and threats to civilian safety have reached unprecedented levels,” said director Ajmal Samadi.
The UN has told its Afghan staff in Kandahar to stay indoors temporarily and has relocated some international staff to Kabul, according to UN officials.
But the move has been criticized by the governor of Kandahar, Toryalai Weesa: “It is a unilateral decision and we’re not happy with it. Other NGOs and international aid organizations are present in Kandahar and even kids are going to school,” he said.
Dan McNorton, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said UN agencies had not suspended their operations in Kandahar. “The UN remains committed to serving the people of Kandahar and we hope to resume business as usual soon,” McNorton told IRIN.
Despite the presence of thousands of NATO and Afghan forces, the southern province of Kandahar has been the scene of growing insecurity, aid agencies say. The International Committee of the Red Cross has voiced concerns about the increasing number of civilian victims it receives at Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar city.
Taliban insurgents are reportedly in control of large swathes of the province where health facilities and schools have been closed and development projects suspended indefinitely.
“The Taliban are not very strong, but the government is very weak,” explained Noorzai. He added that bad governance and corruption were fuelling insecurity and tribal infighting. The main tribes in the province are the Popalzai, Barakzai, Achakzai, Noorzai, Mohammadzai and Alokozai.
Pro-government NATO forces are said to be planning a major military operation in Kandahar to halt the Taliban’s growing momentum, but local people say the insurgents have been able to capitalize on local grievances originating mostly from governance-related problems such as the weak application of the rule of law, corruption, poverty and tribal feuds.
About 510 tribal elders, religious scholars and senior government employees have been killed in Kandahar Province in tribal feuds sponsored by powerful officials over the past eight years, according to a recent report in a local Pashto newspaper.