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Afghan Civilians Protest Against Taliban, IS

FILE: A demonstration in Kunar's provicial capital Asadabad.
FILE: A demonstration in Kunar's provicial capital Asadabad.

ASADABAD, Afghanistan -- In a rare move, scores of civilians in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Kunar are protesting against the Taliban and Islamic State (IS) for fomenting insecurity in their mountainous homeland.

Yar Bacha, a protest leader, says residents of the Manogay district are tired of suffering amid growing clashes between the Taliban and IS in neighboring Chapa Dara district in recent weeks.

“We are facing a catastrophe,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan on April 3. “Every day more houses are ruined, forcing more people to flee. We have not seen this kind of devastation since the war against the Soviet occupation [in the 1980s].”

Since late March, dozens of civilians and militants have been killed after clashes erupted between the Taliban and IS in Chapa Dara.

“The fighting is concentrated some 50 kilometers away from the [administrative] center of Chapa Dara,” said Gul Muhammad Bedad, Kunar’s acting governor. “The fighting is happening in remote forested valleys where civilians are suffering the most.”

Manogay or Pech Dara is one of Kunar’s 14 districts. The geographical spread of Taliban and IS strongholds and hideouts means that clashes could soon morph into a large-scale battle engulfing mountainous Kunar.

Bacha said civilian losses and fears that the fighting will soon spread to other districts in Kunar and the neighboring province of Nuristan have prompted people to speak out.

“We are calling on all parties involved in the fighting to immediately cease hostilities,” he said. “Be they Daesh, the Taliban, or even the government, we want them all to end fighting.” Daesh is the Arabic acronym for IS.

Protester Habib Gul said they cannot simply stand by and watch the suffering of some 3,000 families displaced by fighting.

“We have witnessed a lot of suffering endured by the Muslims here because of the fighting in Chapa Dara,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Our sisters and mothers have suffered because of the inhuman actions by Daesh and the Islamic Emirate,” he added, calling the Taliban by its formal name.

The Afghan authorities are providing limited aid and health care to the displaced residents of Chapa Dara.

The recent fighting there has rung alarm bells across Kunar. On April 2, a protest in the provincial capital, Asadabad, called on the Taliban and IS to resolve their differences through a dialogue with the government.

Abdullah Sirat, a local leader, called on the government to confront the two groups. “Our women, children, lives, and property are not immune from the terrorist attacks Daesh and the Taliban are launching against one another,” he said.

It was not immediately possible to reach the Taliban and IS for comment in Kunar. While IS usually refrains from talking to the media, the Taliban often send statements to journalists. However, they are largely silent over the clashes in Kunar.

Mir Wais Safi oversees the Afghan military operation against militants in Manogay. He told Radio Free Afghanistan that their aim is to cleanse Chapa Dara of insurgents but that they first want to isolate the militants by allowing civilians to leave the region.

“We are determined to rid our people of these evil forces,” he said.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Rohullah Anwari’s reporting from Asadabad, Afghanistan.

Correction: The photo posted alongside this story has been changed. The earlier file photo wrongly identified the protest in Kunar while it actually depicted a protest in Khost. We regret this mistake.