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AFGHANISTAN: Lack of development in Helmand revives Taliban

LASHKARGAH , 2 April 2007 (IRIN) - More than five years after the ousting of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, residents of the southern province of Helmand say their lives have become more insecure.

“We have more bloodshed, more poverty and more grievances than during the Taliban's time,” Haji Agha, a resident of Lashkargah, the provincial capital, told IRIN.

The Taliban were ousted from power in October 2001, but its fighters have maintained a hit-and-run guerrilla war against US-led coalition forces and Afghan forces.

Helmand is a no-go zone for aid and development agencies because of insecurity, say aid workers. More than half of the schools in Helmand have been closed for more than a year, depriving thousands of students of the right to education, according to UK-based NGO Oxfam and local NGOs.

According to analysts, the lack of development in Helmand is the key factor giving rise to new Taliban recruits and sympathizers. But the local population feel that their province has been largely neglected by central authorities.

“People are poor, unemployed and affected by drought. Instead of offering them assistance to survive, the government has eradicated their poppy fields and has installed corrupt and incompetent provincial officials,” Engineer Matin, an MP from Helmand, said.

According to the United Nations drug and crimes agency (UNODC), Afghanistan produces about 90 percent of the heroin sold in Western markets. Helmand tops Afghanistan's poppy-growing provinces, producing 40 percent of the war-ravaged country’s annual 6,000 metric tonnes of opium.

Opium profits reach up to 70 percent of the population in the underdeveloped province, where agriculture and trade are the two dominant employment sectors.

Government officials speak of a drug traffickers' and insurgents’ nexus that has turned Helmand into a breeding ground for insecurity in southern Afghanistan.

Backed by the US and Great Britain, the Ministry of Counter Narcotics in Kabul has tried to implement an extensive eradication programme in Helmand’s vast poppy fields.

Destitute farmers see poppy destruction operations by the authorities as a threat to their wellbeing as they say have no other means to survive. Specialists are concerned that poppy farmers - deeply disenchanted with the government’s eradication strategy - could find common ground with anti-government elements, including the Taliban.

Widespread corruption and the government’s failure to undertake tangible development work have also disappointed many, analysts say.

“Afghans increasingly believe that the international community is losing Afghanistan to the Taliban,” warned a report by the Senlis Council released on 19 March. The Senlis Council is an international think tank that works on development and counter-narcotics policies.

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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