Fear of an annual Taliban resurgence has chased thousands of farmers from their homes. (Cartoon: Uzra Shamal)
Each spring, 56-year-old subsistence farmer “Sayeed Alem” abandons his home in Chahardara, near Nahr-e-Sufi village, and moves his 13-member family to a rented house near Kunduz city. For four years running, Sayeed Alem has undergone this annual migration to the provincial capital, sacrificing his harvest to protect himself and his loved ones from seasonal attacks by the Taliban.
In Kunduz and neighboring northeastern provinces, the mild weather and melting snows bring about the yearly spring offensive, as insurgents use trails blocked during winter months to regain their foothold in the region. This year, the decreasing presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan has left local security forces bracing for the worst offensive yet.
The number of civilians displaced by fighting in Kunduz province has already increased drastically. Around ten thousand families have fled their home and now reside in “unpleasant conditions,” said Abdul Salam Hashemi, Director of the Provincial Department of Refugees and Returnees.
In districts like Chahardara and Dasht-e-Archi, blossoming bushes turn into hideouts for Taliban ambushes. Sometimes, their clashes with government forces continue until harvest time, destroying the livelihoods of the farmers who live there.
“I heard that battles will take place and we decided to run away,” said Sayeed Alem. “We have no capacity for death and injuries. Four years ago, when we did not leave our home, I lost two grandchildren and one of my sons lost a left leg.”
The provincial government in Kunduz, in coordination with donors, has provided food, clothing and money to more than five hundred people. But a majority of the displaced have not received any provisions.
Kunduz police spokesman Sayeed Sarwar Husseini said the government would soon launch operations against Taliban strongholds.
“Every year, the government conducts operations to clear the area of the Taliban and other armed groups. However, in the spring, the Taliban and other armed groups reemerge,” added Muhammad Yousuf Ayoubi, chairman of Kunduz’s Elected Provincial Council.
According to Ayoubi, farmers in the afflicted areas are under pressure to pay taxes to both the local police and the insurgency. Nazir Ahmad, 31, moved to Kunduz city with his family to escape the start of the fighting season. He makes daily trips back to maintain the twelve acres of farmland he rents in Chahardara district because he cannot afford to lose his harvest.
Abdul Wasay Basel, spokesman for the Kunduz governor, said Afghan security forces are well prepared to fight the Taliban and reclaim occupied areas. But these promises ring hollow for locals who have listened to their government’s year-round pledges to stymie the insurgency while watching Taliban fighters overrun their villages.
“We don’t care who rules, the government or the Taliban,” said Sayeem Alem. “What is important for us is security and the ability to work our land.”