Afghanistan: Key road in the east reopens

ISLAMABAD, 4 March (IRIN) - A key road in the volatile eastern region of Afghanistan that was blocked for five days by gunmen loyal to a warlord has reopened following successful negotiations, government officials told IRIN on Tuesday.
"The road is open since Monday morning and people can move freely," Hakim Taniwal, the governor of eastern Khowst Province told IRIN from Khowst town. "We are happy that the issue was resolved through negotiations rather than force."

Zakamdad Sarmalim, a senior official in Khowst, told IRIN that the road had been closed last week by the Dari Khel subclan of the Zadran, who were allied to the renegade warlord, Badshah Khan Zadran. "They used to snatch vehicles and harass our people. But when we arrested them, they closed the road," he said.

An ethnic Pashtun commander, Badshah Khan Zadran, was appointed governor of the eastern Paktia Province after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. However, the tribes in the region refused to recognise his authority. He then moved to neighbouring Khowst Province and set up an administration parallel to that of Taniwal, the province's anthropologist-turned-politician administrator appointed by President Hamid Karzai.

In August, Badshah was forced to leave Khowst and retreated to his mountainous native village in Paktia Province. Since then, he and his men have been linked to the harassment and robbery of travellers and traders on the road between Khowst and Gardez, where his armed supporters had established many checkpoints.

According to Taniwal, officials from the provincial governments in Khowst and Gardez, with the help of local tribal leaders and elders, engaged in many days of intense negotiations, which finally led to the reopening of the highway. The closure had caused problems for the local people in the cold weather with its rains and snow.

He said he hoped that through dialogue and persuasion, they would finally resolve all their differences with Badshah. "He should recognise our authority and refrain from activities that harm people," Taniwal said.

However, Sarmalim maintained that they would take up the issue with the central government if Badshah continued to cause instability in the region. "We finally have a chance at peace and stability, and we cannot allow people to ruin that," he added.

Paul Barker, the head of the NGO CARE International, told IRIN from the capital, Kabul, that the closure of the road had hampered staff movements between the two towns. "It is symptomatic of how much normal life is disrupted by the ongoing warlord rule in parts of Afghanistan," he said. CARE is one of the major aid agencies in the region engaged in intensive community development programmes.

"In general, there has to be a lot more support by the donors for the creation of professional Afghan security forces to fill the security gap in the country," he asserted, adding that such a process had to be gradual and that there was no quick solution to the problem.


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