Town's Fate Highlights Complexities of Afghan Conflict Taliban militants have held a small farming town in southern Afghanistan for two weeks. So far, neither the Afghan government nor NATO forces have tried to take it back. At issue is a controversial deal, struck last fall by tribal elders, that many hoped might help end the war.
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Town's Fate Highlights Complexities of Afghan Conflict

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Town's Fate Highlights Complexities of Afghan Conflict

Town's Fate Highlights Complexities of Afghan Conflict

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A small town in southern Afghanistan has been captured by the Taliban. Two weeks later, neither the Afghan government nor the NATO-led coalition has moved to take Musa Kala back. That's because much more is at stake than the town itself. A controversial deal struck last fall by tribal elders, that many hoped might help bring an end to the war in Afghanistan, also hangs in the balance.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has the story.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Abdullah Wahidi(ph) and Hamdullah Halini(ph) are an example of why it's hard for Afghan officials to resolve the Musa Kala crisis. Both men are educated and thoughtful. Each has a black beard, and both wear the dark green baggy shirts and loose trousers native to Musa Kala. But Wahidi and Halini, who fled to Kabul following the Taliban takeover of their town February 1st, have very different views on what should happen next. Wahidi, a 28-year-old doctor, says he would oppose any NATO attempts to take back the town from the Taliban.

Dr. ABDULLAH WAHIDI (Refugee): (Through Translator) All of the people have lost their confidence. And when they see NATO blindly dropping bombs like that, it's really disappointing.

NELSON: Halini, an 18-year-old college student, disagrees.

Mr. HAMDULLAH HALINI (Refugee): (Through Translator) My suggestion to the government is that they should strengthen their military position in Musa Kala so that Taliban cannot come back.

NELSON: More than five years have passed since the U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban. Yet, since then, bloodshed has only increased as NATO and Afghan troops fight insurgents. Reconstruction is slow. Corruption, on the other hand, is rampant. And the economy is lagging.

Add to that the growing desire here for a more conservative Islamic society, and it is little wonder why the Taliban have developed a foothold in towns like Musa Kala. Fighting there had been especially fierce since last spring, when it became a magnate for Taliban attacks on newly arrived British troops. But a deal that war-weary elders of Musa Kala proposed last fall seemed to offer a way out of the Afghan government's conundrum.

It was simple enough: NATO, Afghan troops, and the Taliban had to agree to stay three miles outside of town, and the elders in turn would run Musa Kala in peace. If successful, the deal could be duplicated elsewhere.

Interior Ministry spokesman Zimaray Bashiri.

Mr. ZIMARAY BASHIRI (Spokesman, Interior Ministry): The government welcomed that proposal because we do respect the elders of Afghanistan, and we appreciate their ideas and opinions. These are the people who can play key role in the security.

NELSON: British General David Richards, until recently head of the NATO-led coalition here, agreed.

General DAVID RICHARDS (Former Commander, NATO Coalition): Is a reflection of that. We can drive a wedge between people living in these rural communities and the Taliban that just want to go about their narcotics growing and terrorism.

NELSON: But Jean McKenzie, of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, says many Afghans had a far different take on the deal.

Ms. JEAN MCKENZIE (Institute for War and Peace): The Afghan population was seeing this as an abandonment or a betrayal by NATO, that NATO asks them to stand up to the Taliban. And then when things get rough, NATO withdraws and leaves them to face the Taliban on their own.

NELSON: That's the way the Taliban saw it too. Refugee, Abdullah Wahidi says that even before the Taliban replaced the green, black and red Afghan flag flying over town hall with their white one, they were running things.

Dr. WAHIDI: (Through Translator) They had re-grown in helping the elders to create law and order and Shariya law in the Musa Kala District.

NELSON: His town mate, Hamdullah Halini, says he's not surprised that the Taliban formalized their hold. And so far nothing is making them leave; not the bombing death of a Taliban leader near Musa Kala, nor NATO leaflets dropped by plane, ordering them out of town.

The Interior Ministry's Bashiri.

Mr. BASHIRI: We do have the decision to reoccupy the district. But when that decision would be implemented, this is something that I am not sure about the date and the time.

NELSON: Halini says at this point, he can't imagine anything will restore peace and allow him to go home, even if the Afghan government takes back Musa Kala as planned.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.

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