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By Farzad Lameh
KABUL – The Afghan Taliban use intimidation to wage psychological warfare to achieve their political ends, observers say.
“Intimidation is usually used by extremist or terrorist groups after they fail to win people's hearts and support,” Dr Esmael Darman, an Afghan psychologist, told Central Asia Online.
The Taliban have killed or threatened those working for government and development projects, said Darman, who founded rawanonline.com, a psychology website for Afghans.
On March 10, the Taliban cut one ear off each of four men working on a development project in Zherai District, Kandahar Province.
During parliamentary elections last August, a man on his way to vote in Dai Kundi Provincehad his nose and ears mutilated by a group of militants when they found his voter registration card. Election workers also reported incidents of militants cutting off voters’ fingers that had been dipped in ink to prevent multiple voting.
“The survivors will have nightmares, re-experience the traumatic event, have difficulty sleeping, irritability, lack of concentration, and anger,” Darman said of victims. “They will lose their interest in activities … and distance themselves from people, etc., which may lead to severe depression. They may have a sense of a foreshortened future, which includes a lack of ability to think about the future or make plans.”
In the case of the four men whose ears were severed, the Taliban wanted to behead them for working for foreigners before deciding to amputate their ears, the victims said.
“Insurgents have always spent all their efforts to bring waves of intimidation and make people do what they (Taliban) want, but there is no more chance for them to get what they want,” Zalmai Ayobi, spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor, said.
The Taliban have lacked all support recently and are suffering defeats by civilians in most remote villages because they show such an ugly face to the public, Ayobi added.
In Kandahar, known as the Taliban’s birthplace, the Taliban get their way only through violence and intimidation, Ayobi said. “This is not a solution, and the people will reject them,” he said.
“A few months ago two insurgents murdered a man from Helmand in a local Kandahar mosque,” Ayobi said. “The local people captured the two insurgents, beat them and turned them over to the police.”
“The majority of the people want only a normal life, but the Taliban are jealous of this and want to control the people,” Ayobi said “They are intolerant of other views and political discourse.”
Wahid Monawar, an Afghan political analyst and former Afghan representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, agreed. “It was the local villagers who repelled and kicked out the Taliban and not the Northern Alliance militia,” he said.
“If you take the case of Trin Kot (capital of Uruzgan Province), those Pashtun elders who once welcomed the Taliban in 1996 now are rising up,” he said.
“No one can question that local politics in Afghanistan is messy, corrupt and complex,” Monawar conceded. “However, the Taliban, where they had a minimum of support, were unable to provide a clearer alternative.”
“Today, most PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) have built schools and mosques, paved roads and improved irrigation, while the Taliban have channelled most of their efforts to fight the coalition forces to secure territory, in which they have also miserably failed,” Monawar said.
The Taliban also force local farmers to grow opium poppies, Ayobi said.
“It’s not only the Taliban who are motivating the poor farmers to cultivate and grow poppies, but the mafia too, and the reason ... is they seek to have their needs met by making farmers grow poppies,” he told Central Asia Online.
Child suicide bombers
The Afghan government and human rights watchdogs accuse the Taliban of turning children into suicide bombers.
The National Directorate of Security February 9 arrested two boys, each 10, who said they had been sent to Kandahar to carry out suicide attacks.
“They have often intimidated the farmers and villagers, forcing their children to join the Taliban, robbing them from their harvest to support their movement, which in turn has aroused major dissent,” Monawar told Central Asia Online.
Psychology highlights the importance of childhood and how events then shape one's personality, Darman said. “The militants clearly know this technique, and these children are easily found in mosques and religious schools,” he added.
The idea of suicide bombing was alien to Afghan culture before 2003, he said.
“Suicide bombing did not even begin among religious communities, particularly among Muslims,” he said. “Most of these children are deprived of basic amenities as they come from very poor families.”
People need to feel stability so they can plan for the future, he said.
“Once your productivity is challenged, you are both financially and mentally at risk,” Darman said.