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Afghan MPs predict 'very big war'

Civilian deaths, corruption, occupying troops will lead to “jihad” against foreigners, say leaders.

By Chris Sands

01/05/06 "The Dominion" -- - Kabul — As a former senior Taliban commander and associate of Osama bin Laden, Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketi was a shining example of the warlords who seemed to be rejecting violence and embracing Afghanistan's new democracy.

But the MP for the southern province of Zabul now typifies the anger and despair raging through this blood-soaked country.

In a series of interviews, a number of Afghan politicians said a mass uprising against NATO-led forces will soon begin, driving out the foreign troops and igniting a civil war.

“When the Taliban came along I gave everything to them because I wanted the country to improve and the people to be safe,” said Rocketi. “Then when the current government came along I gave everything to them because I thought they would make the country better. But I regret that.

“Everything is gone now, we have nothing. I regret it not because I am no longer with the Taliban, but because this government does not have the power to improve our country.

“It's getting worse and worse and worse. I don't have any hope. But whatever is happening now, the people can't complain. If they make a noise the local governor will say they are Taliban or Al-Qaeda and get them sent to Bagram.”

Rocketi — whose name derives from his famed ability with a Rocket- Propelled Grenade launcher — said pressure is building as his country slips backwards.

“I know, I am sure, that soon a very big war will start between the foreigners and the population,” he explained.

The parliamentary elections of September 18, 2005, were hailed as a key event in Afghanistan's transition from a war-torn nation ruled by Islamic extremists to a peaceful and moderate democracy.

However, the Taliban-led insurgency has grown rapidly during the last year and MPs believe the rebellion is an accurate reflection of public anger.

While all militants are usually portrayed as isolated radicals, the reality is not so simple. Fierce anti-American and anti-NATO rhetoric can be heard almost everywhere in this country now. Even moderates who support the presence of foreign troops are predicting catastrophe.

With his well-pressed suit and smart tie, Mohammad Hashem Watanwall, MP for the southern province of Uruzgan, would look perfectly at home in the House of Commons. But his vision of the future is bleak.

“There is a big fire under the earth. It's like a volcano and soon it will explode,” he warned. “It will explode if everything continues like now: the corruption, the bad security, the bombing of civilians by coalition forces. Soon it will explode and people will stand up in the name of jihad and martyrdom if there are no big changes.

“Now in Parliament the MPs are saying 'Forget about Pakistan and the Taliban, why are the foreigners here?'

“They are saying a thousand headed dragon is here and it's the foreign armies. Just imagine, if the MPs are saying that in an official place what will a simple person in a village be saying?”

He added: “Now in Parliament they say if you kill a foreigner, a non Muslim, and then you yourself are killed you will become a martyr and go straight to paradise. They see no difference between the military or civilians.”

The insurgency that overpowered Soviet troops and Kabul's puppet Communist regime began with small rebel movements. It developed into a nationwide struggle during which Mujahideen battled against the Russians, local government forces and each other.

That occupation ended in 1989, but peace remained elusive and between 1992 and 1996 a brutal civil war raged among Afghanistan's different ethnic groups and political factions.

Watanwall predicted any new full-scale jihad would have the same result. “Of course some tribes will fight each other,” he said. “They will say you are Pashtun, I am Tajik, I am Tajik you are Hazara, you are Shia I am Pashtun. The civil war will start because of differences of skin, differences of language, differences of religion.

“Hazaras say they don't have enough positions in the government, Uzbeks say that, Tajiks say that, even Pashtuns say that and they have Karzai as president. Now it's ideological and with words but soon it will turn to violence.

“I believe if the international forces and the government don't take any strong steps then soon it will start and it could get as bad as Iraq.”

Ahmad Shah Khan Achekzai is MP for Kandahar, where Canadian troops are based. He joined Rocketi in demanding that Pashtuns — the ethnic group from which the Taliban draw their core support — be given more positions in government. He also launched into a tirade against the foreign troops.

“The population hates the government, hates the Americans and hates their friends because they are all liars,” he said.

“Soon the jihad will start, that's right. The Americans and the coalition came to Afghanistan by way of the United Nations, but when they go into people's houses and search them it's unacceptable. They are acting against Islam and they are attacking innocent people.

“There will be jihad, I am 100 per cent sure. It's against our culture, it's against Islam — if they want to come to our houses they need permission.”

Then, almost as an afterthought, he added: “If the jihad starts, of course I will join it — it's natural.”

Chris Sands is a British freelance writer living out in the wilds of Afghanistan. He has been there for 16 months, travelling without the help of NATO soldiers or anyone else who carries a gun. This piece first appeared in The Dominion.

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