Widespread assassinations, intimidation and bomb blasts have spread a sense of fear in the southern province of Kandahar as pro-government Afghan and foreign forces prepare to launch a summer offensive against the Taliban.
“An atmosphere of terror is hanging over Kandahar,” Ahmad Wali Karzai, head of the provincial council and President Hamid Karzai’s younger brother, told IRIN. “People are breathing terror here,” he said.
In a statement in English, Pashto and Arabic on 8 May the insurgents vowed they would step up targeted killings of almost everyone working with or for the Afghan government and its foreign supporters. The statement also said the insurgents would use more improvised explosive devices, suicide attacks and other hit-and-run tactics in urban areas.
Such tactics led to the deaths of over 1,600 non-combatants in 2009, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Several prominent state employees and pro-government figures have been assassinated over the past two months; warnings and intimidation letters have been received by many others.
“It’s just like the 1980s chaos,” said Haji Abdul Bari, a local elder, referring to the Soviet invasion era when guerrilla fighters (the Mujahedin) were targeting pro-government people.
The Taliban claim they are engaged in exactly the same “holy war” as in the 1980s and that victory is imminent. Five people were injured in yet another bomb blast in Kandahar city on the morning of 12 May.
Hundreds of so-called teenage insurgents, who are reportedly more violent and reckless than veteran Taliban fighters, have been sent to Kandahar and neighbouring provinces to pre-empt NATO/Afghan government operations, officials say.
|It’s just like the 1980s chaos|
Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has noted a rise in the number of people returning to southern Afghanistan from Pakistan recently, but says it has no evidence of a link between this and a rise in insurgent activity.
“UNHCR has never found any evidence of links between the repatriation programme and the insurgency. All registered Afghans returning with assistance from UNHCR are processed to ensure that they have not previously benefited from the repatriation programme, to check that they have been registered with the authorities, and to deregister from the database held in the country of asylum,” Nader Farhad, a UNHCR spokesman in Kabul, told IRIN.
It said the rise was largely due to an early resumption of the assisted repatriation programme, adding that the number of Afghan returnees over the past two months had increased on the same period last year. Over 2,000 returned to the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan from 22 March to 30 April.
Calls for UN return
For security reasons the UN has temporarily withdrawn most of its international staff from Kandahar and ordered about 250 local staff to stay at home.
The UN’s decision has been criticized by provincial officials as “unilateral” and “unhelpful”.
“We call on the UN to return its foreign staff to Kandahar and resume operations as normal,” said Wali Karzai, adding that without the UN’s support the government would be unable to respond to growing humanitarian needs.
“The UN must not abandon the people of Kandahar at this difficult time,” he said.
UNAMA spokeswoman Susan Manuel said some UN national staff had returned to their offices and that more international staff would return to Kandahar soon. “We never pulled out of Kandahar,” she said, adding that not all UN international staff had been evacuated from the province.
The Taliban has launched an assassination campaign against Afghan officials in Kandahar, undermining Washington's goal of building up local governance, according to a senior US official.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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