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Some Afghans live under Taliban rule – and prefer it

In provinces just south of Kabul, the insurgents have a shadow government that polices roads and runs courts.

By Anand GopalCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / October 15, 2008

The US has worked to increase the professionalism of the Afghan police. But in several provinces around Kabul, locals say the Taliban are far more effective at keeping order.

Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor/FILE

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Porak, Afghanistan

After a gang of thieves had continually terrorized an Afghan neighborhood near here months ago, locals decided they'd had enough. "We complained several times to the government and even showed them where the thieves lived," says Ahmad, who goes by one name.

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But the bandits continued to operate freely. So the villagers turned to the Taliban.

The militants' parallel government here in Logar Province – less than 40 miles from Kabul, the capital – tried and convicted the men, tarred their faces, paraded them around, and threatened to chop off their hands if they were caught stealing in the future. The thieves never bothered the locals again.

In several provinces close to Kabul, the government's presence is vanishing or already nonexistent, residents say. In its place, a more effective – and brutal – Taliban shadow government is spreading and winning local support.

"The police are just for show," one local says. "The Taliban are the real power here."

Widespread disillusionment with rampant crime, corrupt government, and lack of jobs has fueled the Taliban's rise to de facto power – though mainly in areas dominated by fellow ethnic Pashtuns. Still, the existence of Taliban power structures so close to Kabul shows the extent to which the Afghan government has lost control of the country.

"This is a major problem for them," says Habibullah Rafeh, a political analyst with the Afghanistan Academy of Sciences. "Even though the Taliban can't capture Kabul militarily because of the strength of the international forces there, the government can't stop them from operating freely just outside of the city."

When President Hamid Karzai's government first took power in 2001, "authorities gave every family in Logar two kilos of food," says a local resident who works with an international nongovernmental organization and identifies himself as Abdel Qabir. "When that ran out each family received $200 assistance. But that, too, ran out, and people had no money and there were criminals everywhere.

"So people turned to the Taliban," Mr. Qabir continues. "They may not provide jobs, but at least they share the same culture and brought security." 

Villagers say that almost every household in Logar Province has Taliban fighters. By day the area is quiet – most people stay indoors behind large mud walls or tend to their fields. A tiny roadside market sells dried fruits and soft drinks, and the shops often go unattended for hours.

As nightfall approaches, Taliban fighters slowly emerge from the houses and surrounding hillsides, some lugging rocket-propelled grenade launchers over their shoulders, ready to begin a night's work. The guerrillas set up checkpoints along Logar Province's central highway, stopping trucks and taxis to check IDs.

A few miles away sits a police checkpoint, but the police say they don't dare enter the Taliban-controlled areas. Yet many villagers say they don't need the police, since crime has almost vanished.

The foreign troop presence in Logar and neighboring provinces remains limited, too. NATO forces tend to only patrol some areas and focus their efforts on specific operations, usually at night.

The Taliban now have a strong presence in all seven of Logar's districts, including outright control of four of them, locals say. "In these districts the Taliban patrol openly in the daytime and there is no government presence at all," says Qabir.

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