Twenty minutes south of Kabul, along one of Afghanistan’s few newly
paved roads, lies Logar Province. In another country Logar’s desert
villages and accessible mountains might be a place city dwellers would
use for quick rustication. But in Logar the Taliban are back, coming out
at night to burn schools, assassinate liberal imams, launch rocket
attacks on government buildings and plant mines to kill NATO soldiers.
The drive from Kabul to Logar is a mind-bending lesson in political
geography, showing how badly deteriorated the occupation of Afghanistan
has become. It seems the infamously insurgency-torn “south” of this
country now extends very far north.
“The Italians call that the Valley of Death,” says my local guide
matter-of-factly as we pass a lush little cluster of villages wedged
between two desiccated slopes. We are still in Kabul Province, the
Musayi district: “Six of them were killed there a few months ago, and
they never went back in.” Then, after a pause: “The green is all
According to NATO only two Italians were killed, with four wounded. Nor
does NATO admit that any area of Afghanistan has been ceded to the
insurgents–let alone a valley right outside the capital. Whatever the
case, most Afghans are beginning to think that the Taliban are winning.
This raises several questions: Who are these insurgents? Why are they
fighting? What dynamics fuel their growth? And ultimately, how, when and
to whom will the United States and its allies finally leave Afghanistan?
When we arrive at Shaffad Sang, a cluster of villages just off the main
road, the tension grows palpably thicker. Our contact, a man named
Zibullah Pimon, who works for a foreign construction company, is visibly
nervous. Because of the Taliban activity here, Pimon spends all his time
in Kabul, returning to his village only once a week to visit his family
for a few hours before racing back. We slip into the privacy of his
qala, or mud-walled compound, and then into his neatly whitewashed and
carpeted guest room, away from the women in the family quarters.
“There were no police here and no Afghan army,” explains Pimon. “So the
Taliban saw their chance and came in.” He says Taliban actions in Logar
started about a year ago, when organizers infiltrated from
Pakistan, using money and arguments to reactivate networks of former
fighters and win over local imams. Opponents were killed or run off with
Though “Taliban” or “AGEs”–antigovernment elements–are the catchall
phrases used to describe Afghan insurgents, in provinces near Kabul like
Logar, Wardak and Nangarhar, most of the guerrillas are actually members
of Hezb-e-Islami, an old mujahedeen party led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. A
pathologically ruthless commander, Hekmatyar got his start throwing acid
at unveiled women when he was an engineering student in Kabul. In 1975
he formed Hezb-e-Islami with Pakistani support. First he fought the
nationalist President Daoud Khan; then, after the Communist coup in
1978, he received more than $600 million in American military aid to
fight the Russians.