As the Taliban presence grows throughout Northern Afghanistan, locals in a small village there have given government security forces hope after they forcibly ousted the Islamic militant group from their area on Saturday.
A day later, however, the village remains in a precarious position. Locals say they fear Taliban retribution and potentially losing control of the area without government assistance. Whether other villages in the area follow suit will likely depend on the government’s response and the fate of the village after standing up to the Taliban.
“People in the village are happy that they fought against the Taliban,” says Abdul Hakim Khan, the leader of the villagers who fought the Taliban in the Baghlan Province's Laiqa Desert. “But now people are worried that if no one takes care of them there will be a bigger problem.”
Taliban looking to expand in the north
As the NATO-led military effort focuses intensely on Afghanistan's south and the east, with 42 of its 46 combat battalions in those regions, insurgents have been shifting their activities to the north where they face far less resistance.
Outside of Pashtun areas, the Taliban has often struggled to gain the support of other ethnic groups, and the north is predominately made up of Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras with pockets of Pashtuns. Still, over the course of the past year, the Taliban has managed to recruit a number of disaffected Pashtuns in these areas who say they have suffered discrimination and harassment since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
The Laiqa Desert was a logical area for the Taliban to seek support in Baghlan, as it is one of the province’s Pashtun pockets. Most of the residents come from families who moved to the area from the south’s Farah Province almost 90 years ago, and, generations later, they still keep ties with relatives in the south.
“The Taliban had been active in our area for more than a year, but they were not based here,” says a villager who asked not to be named. “Then they told us they wanted to station themselves here and that they would start collecting taxes and people would have to give them a place to stay and feed them.”
Villagers defy the Taliban
At that point, the villagers held a meeting and decided the Taliban was no longer welcome. When they refused to let the Taliban enter their village on Saturday, a 40-minute gun battle erupted that left at least four people injured.
“This is the first time we’ve seen such an incident happen in Central Baghlan District,” says Amin Mangal, the district police chief. “These kinds of efforts by the people are a tremendous help for us to reach our goals in the fight against the Taliban. Local support is crucial…. Maybe it will also help the locals in other areas stand against them.”
Villagers now need support
While the villagers succeeded in defeating the Taliban, it remains unclear how long they can hold out. Villagers have to walk two hours to reach the nearest well, which is their only water source and also happens to be in an area controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban also controls all roads going in and out of the area.
To make matters worse, there is no permanent NATO or Afghan police or army presence in their area.
“If the government does not take care of this area and help the local people, the Taliban will again sneak in and destroy the unity of the people and they will once again have a chance to take control of this area,” says Asadullah Shahbaz, a member of the the Baghlan Provincial Council. “Some of the Taliban are from this area and they just joined the opposition because they are frustrated with the government. If the government tries hard to win them back, then this will be a good way of solving the problem.”