Friday, December 1, 2006

Deep inside the 'kingdom of heaven'

By Syed Saleem Shahzad
Asia Times

Editor's note: Syed Saleem Shahzad returned to Karachi on Wednesday after being held for six days in the captivity of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Along with fellow journalist Qamar Yousufzai, Shahzad was detained on November 21 after entering the Baghran district of the southern province of Helmand. They were accused of being spies and of not having the Taliban's permission to be in the area.

"KARACHI - When the Taliban came to power in 1996 they promised to establish a kingdom of heaven, with its center based in the rugged southwest of Afghanistan. The people were promised showers of blessings from the skies, and the earth would give up unlimited treasures.

The Taliban were welcomed, but in the five years until their ouster by US-led forces in 2001, the land remained barren and the heavens silent. The Taliban did, however, deliver peace - probably the most precious gift of all.

Then came the Americans, and they pledged a paradise on Earth. The dirt-poor tribespeople of the southwest voted unanimously to give this a chance, and they handed the defeated Taliban an ultimatum: "Be good sons of the soil and surrender your guns, or go to the mountains." The Taliban headed for the hills, and their insurgency was born.

Now, once again after a five-year cycle, the wheel has turned and the Taliban have been asked to come down from the mountains and re-establish themselves among the people of the southwest.

This has been a pivotal development, as it gives the Taliban a friendly environment from which to launch the first phase in their ultimate goal of retaking first Kandahar, and then the capital Kabul.
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