Afghanistan: Village slaughter rocks even the Taleban leadership
IT WAS meant to be another night of music and dance, a brief distraction from life in the searing heat and dust of Afghanistan’s conservative rural south for a small group of boys and girls in Helmand province’s Roshan Abad village.
Instead, it ended in brutality on Sunday that even the Taleban’s austere leadership are unwilling to be linked with amid off-again, on-again peace moves and signs that grassroots insurgent fighters may not be in a mood for any compromise.
All the revellers – 15 boys and two girls – were shot or beheaded by their own villagers and insurgents enraged by their “immorality”.
“Inside the room, there was only a smashed electric keyboard powered by a car battery, as well as a broken tabla [drum] and bloodstains,” said district elder Juma Gul, who visited the mud-walled compound where the slaughter unfolded.
The central Taleban leadership is trying to improve the group’s image in case it wants to push forward tentative reconciliation steps and perhaps even enter mainstream politics. But some units are hard to control. In the West, the Taleban are seen as one tight movement with uniform policies. But nothing could be further from the truth as Nato prepares to withdraw most of its combat troops by the end of 2014.
The warning signs of a massacre in Roshan Abad had been there for days, but went unheeded. Insurgents, who largely control the area where US marines have suffered heavy losses, had posted letters of warning on the door of the village mosque only days before.
Mr Gul said the boys and girls had met days previously at a well, where women regularly fetch water. But in an area known for its deep conservatism on relations between men and women, enraged family members of the two girls were among the attackers, villager Mohammad Gul said, backed by about five Taleban members from a nearby insurgent stronghold called Baghnai. “The boys in the house were armed and fought back, but the Taleban called in more fighters, who arrived on motorbikes,” said Mr Gul, who is not related to the other villager by the same name.
It is this that perhaps explains early reports of a clash between Taleban factions. Mohammad Gul said some of the revellers were shot in the chest, while survivors of the brief gunbattle were beheaded, including the two women, with the bodies dumped beside an irrigation canal.
Taleban spokesman Qari Yousuf denied the group was involved. “The boys must have been drunk, fighting one another,” he said on Monday.
Reclusive Afghan Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, in a message ahead of the Eid al-Fitr festival ending Ramadan fasting this month, urged fighters to “emphatically” avoid civilian deaths as a “religious obligation to observe”.
The message was in part aimed at presenting a gentler face as efforts continue to re-open peace talks, which could foster a power-sharing deal, with Mullah Omar calling for an “all-Afghan” process that appeared to move away from earlier opposition to dealing with the Afghan government.
But recent events like the July execution of a woman in central Afghanistan accused of adultery and now the killings in Helmand threaten to undo any advances in the face of a deeply suspicious, if not hostile, public.
Such incidents highlight the difficulty that Taleban leaders have in enforcing discipline across an estimated 20,000 fighters spread from Afghanistan to Pakistan.
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