Keeping the peace in fragile Khost

Tribal leaders are key in securing the war-torn eastern Afghanistan province.


    Afghanistan's local Pashtun tribes are taking on the task of improving security in Khost

    Arsala Jamal, the governor of the Afghan province of Khost, has already survived five assassination attempts by the Taliban.

    He still faces a risk every time he leaves his well-guarded home.
    Jamal tells Al Jazeera that while taking extra security precautions, he has not cut down his travels.

    In Video

    Keeping peace in Khost
    Key role for Afghan elders
    Concern over madrassas
    Hardship for Pakistanis

    "I continue to move around because this is my job. I have to visit communities and the different districts," he says.
    Jamal personally inaugurates development projects in war-torn Khost, which lies a few kilometres from the border with Pakistan.

    "Today I announce we will start building a $1.5 million power grid to provide you with electricity," he says at a ceremony.

    "I promise you there will be more projects to improve your lives but we need your assistance ... you need to stand by the government in its fight against those who oppose it."
    Suicide attacks and bombings were common in Khost before Afghan troops and American soldiers started maintaining peace.

    Local support
    Local support has been vital in preventing the Taliban from returning to their former stronghold and most people in this province will tell you they are the ones keeping the peace.

    "We are happy with the security… but we want electricity, hospitals, schools and if the government doesn't deliver ... people may support the Taliban," Khan Bachewali, a local resident, says.
    Dawood Farhat, another Khost resident, was more blunt: "If the government doesn't win the hearts of the people, which they are not doing
    not doing now ... it will be dangerous. The US wouldn't be able to control this area without our backing."
    Border control

    This southeastern region of Afghanistan is strategiclly important because it is close to the Taliban strongholds of South and North Waziristan in Pakistan's tribal belt.

    The Taliban and al-Qaeda used to have training camps in this border region, which is difficult to monitor because of its vast and mountainous terrain.

    The tracks around Khost which lead to the border can easily be used by smugglers to transport fighters and weapons into Afghanistan.

    "We are concerned with the internals of Khost because keeping Khost strong is what we need to do," Commander David Adams of the US navy told Al Jazeera.

    "What the insurgents and smugglers are doing now is going around Khost because the people here will run them in."
    Government influence is weak in these border areas but tribal structures are strong, and it is the leaders of these tribes who decide on
    the rule of law and play a major role in keeping order.
    Tribal influence

    The powerful Pashtun tribes are the ones who are guaranteeing security.
    Haji Rasoul Mohammed Tanai, a tribal elder, said: "If foreigners and the government claim they brought about security here that is
    impossible. Security is because of the tribes ... like in my district we are near Waziristan and it is mountainous and easy for the enemy to move around but we are preventing them."
    For generations Afghanis have obeyed their tribal leaders and this is why local authorities and the multinational force is trying to enlist their

    "The elders are more powerful than the government because if the tribe doesn't agree to something, the government cannot do anything," Farid Allah Zazey, a villager, says.

    "The tribes are key I spend more time drinking tea with tribal elders, even more than government officials, because the tribal system has been around for a long time," John Keal Weston, a US political representative in Khost, says.
    Tribal support may prove part of the solution as improved security has bought in more investment, and more money means people can
    rebuild their lives.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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