Taliban Terrorize Streets Of Kandahar

Kandahar is the power base from which the Taliban took over the country in the 1990's. And it remains the largest city in Afghanistan's south, where the insurgency has been the strongest.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're going next to what may be the most important city in Afghanistan. Kandahar is the power base from which the Taliban took over the country in the 1990s. It remains the largest city in Afghanistan's south, where the insurgency has been the strongest.

Our colleague Renee Montagne is there.

Hi, Renee.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Hey, Steve. How are you doing?

INSKEEP: Doing fine, thanks. And how is Kandahar doing since you were last there four years ago?

MONTAGNE: Kandahar, as you might not be surprised to hear, has gotten much worse since I was here in 2006. I mean, at that time, the insurgency had heated up, and there were suicide bombings aimed at convoys of international forces, mostly killed civilians then. That's all happening now, but its worse. And there's a new kind of violence on the street that you can see driving through the city.

We saw an Afghan National Army group of soldiers drag a truck driver from his cab we're not sure why. But they dragged him out and punch and kick him. Soon after that, we dropped off one of our Afghan colleagues and he got caught in the middle of a shootout. I'm talking right downtown, Afghan soldiers chasing a white van, guns blasting; and it left a little girl and a couple of other people wounded on the sidewalk.

So, you know, our colleague - who's Afghan but from Kabul - was pretty shaken up, and said, you know, to him, this place is like the Wild West.

INSKEEP: Pretty startling scenes, in a very large city, for Afghanistan. And what is daily life for people amid that violence like?

MONTAGNE: I put that question to a young man by the name of Abdul, who works for an international contractor doing a lot of rebuilding here in Kandahar. And here's how he described daily life.

ABDUL: Nowadays, we cannot even walk in the city, inside the city, freely. There are more threats. There's killing, kidnapping, shooting - everything.

MONTAGNE: So, hard enough to spend days in Kandahar, but as it turns out, Abdul goes home to nights in a town a few miles into the countryside of Arghandab. He lives there with his wife. He has three small children, an extended family he's supporting. And Arghandab is one of the places where fighting has been the fiercest, as NATO and Afghan forces - police, army - have gone on the offensive earlier this month against the Taliban.

But from Abdul's point of view, it's not only dangerous for him and his family, but also confusing.

ABDUL: It was like a week ago, border police came to Arghandab. They announced that Arghandab is now safe, there's no more Talibs. It's clear now. Arghandab is clear. And the second day, Talibs were searching vehicles on the main road.

MONTAGNE: So the day after the border police come and announce that everything is fine, the next day they're on the road searching people's cars.

So if anybody did anything against the Taliban, in the meantime, they're in trouble.

ABDUL: Just yesterday - yesterday, one person, he just has a little bit of connection with the district government there in Arghandab. He was killed yesterday, shot on the main highway, on the main road, he was shot and killed yesterday.

INSKEEP: A man speaking to Renee Montagne on the streets of Kandahar.

And, Renee, given how dangerous it is there, how are you getting about and talking to people?

MONTAGNE: Steve, I'm wearing a burqa, like every woman who wants to go out in public here in Kandahar, and keeping myself as invisible as I possibly can. In fact, I was wearing a burqa when we ducked into a place where I could approach some other people - a truly odd addition to the main drag of Kandahar - a sleek coffee bar on the main square.

There, mostly young men are lounging on couches to the sound of steam from an espresso machine. They were chatting. There were plate glass walls that offered a view of the ancient dusty streets below.

And two of them, Mehmud Hassan and Mahmoud Toey(ph), were happy to talk about their future.

Mr. MEHMUD HASSAN: In shallah, I'm going to be a doctor.

Mr. MAHMOUD TOEY: Yeah, and I'm going to be a, in shallah, businessman.

MONTAGNE: Now, these guys, they were starched and clean shaven. Twenty-year-old classmates, as they described themselves, so they would have been children when the Taliban were the government here. So I asked them about that, the Taliban government.

Do you think that could happen again?

Mr. HASSAN: Yeah...

Mr. TOEY: Might be possible.

Mr. HASSAN: Yes, we want.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. TOEY: Taliban form of government was so good for us. So we want back their Taliban form of government, because in that we got justice and we had peace. Now we don't have peace. So that's why we want back these guys here; that we would want back Taliban's government.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

MONTAGNE: No one they said could bribe their way out of a being punished for a crime, like people can now. And shopkeepers left their doors open when they prayed and no one feared being robbed.

INSKEEP: MORNING EDITION's Renee Montagne, on the streets of Kandahar, Afghanistan. We'll be hearing more from her in the coming days.

Renee, thanks very much.

MONTAGNE: Take care, Steve.

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