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Civilians Displaced and Repressed In Volatile Afghan Province


Afghan forces are fighting against the Taliban in Kunduz.

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan -- Bibi Amina is one of tens of thousands of displaced civilians living in tents and crammed housing around the northeastern Afghan city of Kunduz.

Her family is among the 16,000 displaced families who have flocked to Kunduz Province's capital, also called Kunduz.

Amina, however, says they are disappointed. "We have been living here in the open for more than a month. Nobody seems to care about our suffering," she told Radio Free Afghanistan. "Our family has received no assistance. In fact, very few of those displaced have seen any help."

Last month, Zarmina, another displaced women who, like many Afghans, goes by one name only, says she and her family fled to Kunduz city after fighting flared up in their village, Gor Teppa, not far from the city.

"We left behind everything and fled just in the clothes we were wearing," she told Radio Free Afghanistan. "The officials know about our ordeal because they surveyed us, but we still have not received any assistance."

Since late April, hundreds of civilians, soldiers, and militants have died in skirmishes and pitched battles across Kunduz Province. Militants including the Afghan Taliban and their Central Asian allies from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic State are asserting control over parts of some Kunduz districts and pressing locals to accept their rule.

Kunduz residents strongly resent some of the anti-Taliban militias. Such armed bands have sprung up across the province and are now even forcing locals to pay extortion fees.

Residents of Chahar Dara district in particular complain of being oppressed both by the militants and the militias fighting them. Andullah Jan, a farmer, says they are threatened every day.

"The Taliban point guns at us and ask for money. They say, ‘We are in charge here and can kill you if you don't obey us,’ " he said. "The militia, on the other hand, oppresses our women and children."

Faqir Muhammad, another Chahar Dara resident, sees no difference between the insurgents and the militia members. "Both ask us for extortion money and justify it as the Islamic Ushr tax," he said. "We are poor people and really don't know how to cope with this. We have nowhere to run."

In Khan Abad, another Kunduz district, the situation is no different. Residents say the Taliban and the militia fighters are competing to collect Ushr -- an Islamic tax, which calls for a levy of up to 10 percent on agricultural produce.

Amir Jan, a farmer in Khan Abad, says they are sick of living in a war zone when their wheat harvest is being forcefully taken away by armed gangs. He says everyone with a gun thinks of himself as the government.

"We are really fed up. These militants spare no one. They demand money from the shopkeepers, farmers, and herders," he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Ahmed Javed, another Khan Abad resident, says those who refuse to pay money or share their agricultural produce often pay through violence. "They are either killed or beaten and banished from the region."

But Zahir Khan, a member of an Arbaki -- local slang for the anti-Taliban militia -- in Khan Abad, says they are forced to ask locals for money because the government is not helping them.

"We are forced to collect Ushr because we don't get paid by the government and are not receiving any arms or other supplies," he told Radio Free Afghanistan. "The government has so far failed to help us with anything."

Pir Mohammad Khan, another anti-Taliban militia member in Khan Abad, says the government needs to back them soon. "If we get salaries from the government, we will stop asking people to give us Ushr," he said.

Back in the provincial capital, officials still pretend to be in charge and capable of helping locals. Kunduz Police Chief Abdul Saboor Nasrati says that if he receives reports of civilians being forced to pay the Taliban or militia members, the law will take its course and they will be held accountable.

Abdul Wadud Wahidi, the spokesman for the Kunduz governor, says government forces are making gradual progress in pushing militants back from the regions they now control.

Syed Abdul Salam Hashmi is in charge of the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation in Kunduz. He says that despite limited resources they are doing their best to help displaced families.

Hashmi says his department has already provided assistance to hundreds of families and aims to reach all displaced families.

"People need to be patient," he said.

Written by Abubakar Siddique, based on reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Ajmal Aryan in Kunduz.

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