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Hunger Looms For Residents Of Besieged Remote Kandahar District

FILE: A Afghan army convoy on a major road in Kandahar Province.
FILE: A Afghan army convoy on a major road in Kandahar Province.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- The weeks-long closure of roads leading to and from a rural district in southern Afghanistan has raised fears that its 120,000 residents might soon suffer a food shortage.

Residents of Khakrez, a rural district in the southern province of Kandahar, say the Taliban have closed the main road linking the region to the provincial capital, also called Kandahar, some 60 kilometers away.

They say the Afghan forces' closure of irregular routes and dirt tracks used by pedestrians and motorcyclists means the region has been completely cut off from the rest of Afghanistan for more than two weeks.

Jumma Gul, a resident of Khakrez, says he is stuck in Kandahar. He told Radio Free Afghanistan that residents of Khakrez are now facing hunger because of a chronic food shortage in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when all adult Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk.

“We just want the road to be opened so our families can have enough food,” he said. “Our people are suffering badly. In addition to the food shortage, we are facing great difficulties in bringing our sick to see the doctors here [in Kandahar].”

Mahmood, another resident who goes by one name only, says the situation is getting worse. “We are being besieged both by the Taliban and the government,” he said. “We just want them to open the roads.”

Officials in Kandahar, however, say they have launched a security operation to force the insurgents to open the road to Khakrez. Kandahar Deputy Governor Abdul Hanan Munib says that government forces are not responsible for closing access to Khakrez.

“The insurgents are the real problem because they have closed the road to pressure residents of Khakrez to vacate one area for establishing a hideout and possible minefield,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “They are tormenting people.”

When contacted, the Taliban claimed they had closed the road only to security forces and were allowing civilians to go through their check posts.

The agricultural district of Khakrez is home to the shrine of Shah Maqsud, which is one of the most important Islamic sites in southern Afghanistan. The region is surrounded by the districts of Arghandab, Ghorak, and Shah Wali Kot. Kandahar was the birthplace of the hard-line Taliban Islamist movement in the 1990s.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Mohammad Sadiq Rastinai’s reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.