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Afghanistan: Taliban Impose Rule, Hefty Taxes in Musa Qala District

Integrated Regional Information Networks, United Nations, July 2, 2007

Schools are shut for boys in girls in Musa Qala. (Photo: Nematullah Zaheer/IRIN)

On June 28, the bodies of four bearded men still hung from two tall poles at a roundabout in Musa Qala District, Helmand Province, in southern Afghanistan. Musa Qala District is controlled by Taliban insurgents.

The four were hanged two days prior allegedly for spying for the Americans and the government of President Hamid Karzai. Only a Taliban decree can bring the decomposed bodies down and allow them to be buried according to Islamic rites.

In both Islamic and international law governing conflicts, dead bodies, even those of armed enemies, should be protected from disrespect, mutilation and pillage.

The Taliban have set up a special tribunal in the territory they control at which judges sentence whomever they deem to be culprits, or against the Taliban, to death, amputation or stoning, a source who cannot be identified for security reasons told IRIN.

In February 2007 Taliban rebels recaptured Musa Qala District, about 165 kilometers north of Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand Province, after a roughly five-year interval. It happened after a deal brokered by the then governor of Helmand, Engineer Daud, under which NATO-led British forces had agreed to withdraw from Musa Qala District Center and local elders promised to keep the Taliban away, proved ineffective.

The British Provincial Reconstruction Team (P.R.T.), part of a larger NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (I.S.A.F.), struck the controversial deal to impede Taliban control over the restive district in return for the withdrawal of British and Afghan forces.

Concern for Civilians

Afghan officials say the government and its international supporters have delayed plans to recapture Musa Qala because of concerns that civilians might be harmed.

"We could retake the district in less than 24 hours, but we fear that non-combatants could be affected," said Gen. Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense.

Schools Closed

However, nothing has stopped the Taliban from re-imposing their harsh interpretation of Shariah Law on the estimated 14,000 people of Musa Qala.

Millions of girls and women returned to schools and work after the Taliban were ousted in October 2001, but with the rebels return in Musa Qala schools have again been closed.

"There is no school for boys or girls in Musa Qala. Some boys go to mosques for religious studies," a resident of the district who did not want to be named for security reasons, told IRIN.

'Burqa' Compulsory

Even after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, women in Helmand Province, including Musa Qala District, did not feel a tangible change in their restricted daily lives, according to local officials.

"Either due to insecurity or a lack of opportunities women in Musa Qala have always—even when the Taliban were not ruling there—suffered deprivation and violence," said Fawzia Olomi, director of the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MoWA) in Helmand.

In Musa Qala, after 2001 women could choose to wear the 'burqa' or not, but did not get punished if they failed to wear it. That has now changed.

Furthermore, even a woman who covers her head and body with a 'burqa' now needs to be accompanied by a male relative if she leaves home.

"Women are treated like slaves in Musa Qala," said Olomi.

Taliban Radio Launched

Under the Taliban music was banned, as were all visual depictions of living beings, and TV.

According to one resident, broken TV sets and cassettes now dangle on trees and electricity pylons in Musa Qala warning locals not to watch TV or listen to music even in their homes.

The Taliban have, however, started broadcasting a daily two-hour program on FM radio in which calls are made for a religious war against the government of President Karzai.

Taliban Tax

The Taliban are levying heavy taxes on the impoverished citizens of Musa Qala.

"They have imposed hefty 'Ushor' and 'Zakaat' [Islamic charity] taxes and forced people to pay them. Those who fail to comply are punished," a local resident said.

Taliban elders call upon locals to support their cause by all possible means.

A young man from Musa Qala who moved to Lashkargah said he was forced either to join the insurgents or to pay 50,000 afghanis (about $1,000) as a form of compensation.

"Many people join the Taliban simply because they do not have any other option," the displaced man said.

Taliban-Controlled Areas

In addition to Musa Qala, Afghan ministers have confirmed that the insurgents now control at least two other districts in Helmand Province and one in Kandahar Province—both of which border on Pakistan.

In 2007 the Taliban have begun to establish a hold in some regions, using them as operational and logistical hubs, warned a retired military commander, Khalilurahman Siddique.

Since 2001 Taliban fighters have maintained a hit-and-run insurgency in the south and east of Afghanistan. They have increasingly been using suicide attacks, roadside bombs, and bombs planted in towns designed to hit ordinary people. © IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

From Integrated Regional Information Networks.

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