March 22nd, 2010
10:07 AM ET

Kandahar residents wary of coming offensive

I’m talking to a man with one arm and one leg. His other limbs were recently amputated. The bandages are bloody. He’s smiling.

Sitting on the edge of Atha Jan’s hospital bed, it’s impossible not to be moved by the trauma he’s suffered and the physical and emotional challenges he’s yet to face. This 27-year-old father of two must now provide for his family while living with a major disability. And he’s smiling.

His limbs were taken by a suicide car bomb detonated outside Kandahar’s prison. He was riding by on a motor bike at the time. It was one of five bombs that exploded across Kandahar that night, killing 35 people. 57 were injured.

The Taliban have boastfully claimed responsibility for the attack. But Jan says he doesn’t know who did it. Even more baffling – he insists he doesn’t care. But he wants the violence to end.

"This killing must stop in Afghanistan. It’s a massacre," he says.

Jan’s reluctance to openly criticise the Taliban isn’t unusual here. The Kandahar hospital is busy trying to heal bodies damaged by explosive booby traps and suicide bombs. But no one we talk to will blame the insurgents for their injuries.

Many of the people in Kandahar, especially its outer suburbs, are not free to choose sides in this war because the Taliban walk their streets.

That’s why Afghan and International forces are now focussing their attention on this region. They’re planning a strategy similar to that being used around Marja in Helmand province. First, clear the ground of insurgents. Then, hold it and quickly bring in government services to start improving people’s lives. The goal is to create a secure environment where people can choose sides and in the process hopefully win their loyalty.

Jan fears the coming offensive. "It will bring more problems," he says. "This will create more problems if they start operations like they had in Helmand. It will hurt more people."

Jan believes the fighting will be intense because everyone knows the operation is coming. "They are getting ready and the Taliban are also getting ready for a fight. And the local people will be caught in the middle and will get hurt."

His father-in-law Ubidullah expresses another common view here. "Fighting achieves nothing except destroying the country and its people," he says. "It’s better to reach an agreement. The elders must sit together. The people must sit together. We must be united."

A key part of the new military strategy here is getting permission from local communities before launching offensive operations. But in Kandahar hospital even those who suffer because of the Taliban are reluctant to approve an operation that could drive the insurgents from their neighbourhoods. They say they want peace and stability but not at the cost of more blood shed.

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