I doubt that this policy will win the minds and hearts of local villagers. I wonder what they think of the NATO claim that this is for their own safety! The article is from the Edmonton Sun.
February 13, 2007
Villagers fear expulsion Told they'll be expelled again if Canadian troops attacked
Driver Aghagul Asha – who lives in a village in Zhari district, outside of Panjwaii – talks about a new NATO policy that would require evacuees to leave their homes if Canadian troops are attacked again, during an interview in Panjwaii. (CP Photo)
PANJWAII, Afghanistan — NATO commanders and the governor of Kandahar have warned Afghan villagers returning to their shattered homes west of the city that they may be expelled again if Canadian troops face renewed attacks this spring.
The warning does not sit well with refugees, many of whom believe they’re being forced to account for the actions of insurgents they can’t control — or for accidents which may be of the military allies own making.
In being allowed to return to their villages throughout Panjwaii and Zhari districts, “the condition was the Canadians shouldn’t be shot again; they shouldn’t be attacked,” said Haji Abdul Rahim, a village elder from Talukan, about 50 kilometres from the provincial capital.
NATO has set up a one-kilometre buffer zone around its bases and convoys, Rahim said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press, conducted through a translator.
Incidents within those areas, he said, could be used as justification to eject civilians.
A forced evacuation could not, however, take place without the consent of Kandahar Gov. Assadullah Khalid.
A senior Canadian officer, who was present at a recent district meeting where resettlement was discussed, said the policy is not meant to be punitive, but is intended for public safety.
“The point I expressed to the elders and the governor backed me up on it: This is very much for the sake of people returning,” said Lt.-Col. Omer Lavoie, commander of the Canadian battle group.
“The last thing we would ever want to happen is to have them caught between insurgent forces and coalition —or Afghan national security forces.”
But for Rahim, the people of his village are already caught in the middle even before another shot is fired, and it will only get worse with the approach of spring, when fighting traditionally escalates.
“The Taliban are going to pressure the civilians to be with (them),” he said waving his arms excitedly.
“And from the other respect, the government is going to pressure the civilians to be (with them). Of the course the civilians are with the government, but how could the civilians take the responsibility of those things which they are not aware of?”
Regardless of the claimed benign intent of the warning, many of those being resettled were worried about whether the policy will be arbitrarily enforced. That is a legitimate fear in a land where many dealings still take place at the end of a gun barrel, rather than by the rule of law.
“Everyone does cruel things to us,” Aghagul Asha, a Zhari district resident, said with a weary shrug.
Rahim, 58, who is also a member of the provincial council, told of an incident about two weeks ago when an Afghan army unit swooped down on a farmer’s field after someone in the area reportedly took pot shots at a patrol.
Up to 25 farmhands were apparently arrested and some were allegedly beaten as troops looked for the source of the shooting, which had injured no one. The Afghan army would not confirm the incident, but Rahim said all but two of the suspects have now been released.
That kind of drumhead justice is what people have come to expect in this war-torn region.
But Lavoie tried to ease fears by saying there would be no “knee jerk” reaction from Canadian commanders.
In Zhari district, he said, some Taliban fighters have re-entered the village of Pasab and taken the occasional shots at them “and we certainly haven’t gone in and evicted” any locals.
Throughout much of last summer and fall, Canadian troops led NATO in a string of engagements throughout this bone-dry, rock-ribbed farmland.
Taliban guerrillas were dug into fortified positions, mingled with the fields of marijuana and mined pathways. It produced a conventional battle the likes of which the Canadian army hadn’t fought in nearly half a century. For weeks the countryside was churned with the grinding fire of heavy artillery and cratered by the burst of bombs.
Defeated by better trained and equipped western troops, the insurgents have since reverted to the guerrilla-style tactics of roadside bombings and mine-based booby traps.
Roughly 80,000 people were displaced by the fighting, many fleeing to either Kandahar city or squalid refugee camps. The process to repatriate them and deliver aid to the homeless began in early
January, but it’s been plagued with inaptitude and in some cases local corruption.
“The people of these villages have requested the governor that the areas be cleaned (of mines and other debris),” said Rahim.
While demining and explosive clearance has been underway for weeks, there is concern, particularly in Zhari district, that in the haste to get people back into their homes not all of unexploded munitions and leftover Taliban booby traps have been removed.
Those charges could still be out there waiting for a NATO soldier to step on, said Rahim.
“If they cannot clean it up, what could the civilian do?” asked Asha.