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Page last updated at 08:50 GMT, Thursday, 25 June 2009 09:50 UK

Voices from the 'danger zone'

Map of Pakistan and Afghanistan

The Afghan-Pakistan border region has been identified as the new frontline in the war against Islamic militants.

As the US bolsters its troop presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan continues its offensive against the Taliban in the north-west, people in some of the most unstable regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan talk about security and militancy.

AFGHANISTAN

Parviz Ebrahimi, a Kabul resident originally from southern Afghanistan, says he hasn't gone back home in the last three years because it's too dangerous.

The security situation is getting worse day by day. We have a weak and corrupt government that is not interested in improving security.


The only people serious about fighting the Taliban are the foreign troops. They are doing a great job.

The high number of civilians killed by air strikes is not their fault. It's the fault of the Taliban. They mix with innocent people, so when they get targeted, civilians die too.

I know many more people who were kidnapped for ransom. The kidnappers are not Taliban, they are criminal groups, connected with the police and the government.
Parviz Ebrahimi

But that's inevitable. Civilians always die during war. And not all of them are innocent. Many of those so called "innocent people", especially in southern Afghanistan, are members of the Taliban.

We know what the Taliban do and what they are capable of. And to be honest, they are not my biggest concern.

What worries many people, especially those who have businesses or work for foreign companies, is the problem if kidnapping. It is widespread not just in Kabul, but across the country.

My father was kidnapped nine months ago. They asked for US $100,000 (£61,163). Me and my brothers could only get US $60,000(£36,700). My father was released once they got the £60,000 (£36,000).

I know many more people who were kidnapped for ransom. The kidnappers are not Taliban, they are criminal groups, connected with the police and the government.

One thing the foreign troops should do is to to train our police, who are uneducated, corrupt and useless.



Kandahar resident, Khalid, says that the Taliban are active at night, so he doesn't go out after sunset.

The situation in Kandahar is not good these days. The Taliban are surrounding the city. The moment you leave Kandahar - you are in Taliban land.


They hide in the city too. They are active at night. A few days ago Taliban militants captured two policemen in the very heart of the city and hanged them there.

People in Kandahar are very upset because the security situation is getting worse day by day
Khalid

We stay indoors as soon as it gets dark. It's like living under constant curfew.

I go to Helmand once every two, three months, on business trips. I work for an international telecommunications company. I'll be going there this week.

The situation there is far worse than anywhere else in Afghanistan. There is constant fighting, the Taliban are everywhere and they are not hiding.

I don't have a beard in Kandahar, but I wear one when I go to Helmand, along with a turban. If you look acceptable and they don't have any incriminating information about you, they don't bother you.

People in Kandahar are very upset because the security situation is getting worse day by day.

The elections are giving many people a fresh hope that when this government goes, things will get better. I am hoping that this time next year, we'll have a different story to tell.



Mirwais Shinway from Nangarhar says that the lack of adequate security is exposing people to frequent attacks.

I live in Jalalabad, but I visit my home village in Nangarhar every week. The journey is always dangerous.


There's no police or security, so the Taliban can attack any time. If they don't do that
in person, they are very good at planting bombs at the road side, which they detonate remotely.

People are extremely unhappy. We need a positive change and I hope that the elections will bring it
Mirwais Shinway

I know of so many Taliban attacks happening in the area. Recently they attacked a police station at night and exchanged fire with the policemen there.

The rural areas next to the mountains are extremely vulnerable. The nearest police station is 20km away from my village. The Taliban come out at night and their presence is constantly felt.

There's a project to build roads in the area. But the Taliban are warning ordinary people not to take part in any of the construction work, not to support the authorities in any way, not to become teachers and so on.

To add to the misery, there's been a high number of civilian casualties from air strikes recently.

People are extremely unhappy. I sit down and talk to uneducated village people and they tell me that this government will not find a solution. We need a positive change and I hope that the elections will bring it.


PAKISTAN

Ahmed, a local government official in Noshki, Balochistan, says it's unfortunate to live right next to the border with Afghanistan.

The presence of the paramilitary forces along the border has been very visible in the last few months. They have started to dig trenches and to put barbed up wire to make sure they seal the border.

Over the last year a few Afghan and Pakistani citizens have been killed on the border by landmines. The identities of the people are well known as is their connection with militants.

Such reports create fear among Noshki residents. There is a tense atmosphere. People are expecting something to happen.

We have been unfortunate to live so close to the border. For decades we've seen all kinds of people coming here from Afghanistan - to deal drugs or arms.

And it's no secret that the Taliban are using Noshki as a sanctuary.

The government should have dealt with this problem 20 years ago.
Now it's difficult to get rid of them.

I would say 90% of the Noshki population are against the Taliban and very much support the government offensive against them. I think the government will defeat the Taliban, because the Taliban doesn't have leadership or a base, and they are weaker than the Pakistani army.

Whatever the outcome, I hope this war will finish soon. The country is in a deep crisis and will continue to fall deeper into it.



Akbar, who was forced to leave his village near Matta in Swat, describes how his family struggled to survive in a Taliban stronghold.

My family's occupation is farming. We've got lots of land and we produce quality apples, peaches and other seasonal fruits which gives us enough income to last us for a year.


We haven't had use of our land for the last two years - it was taken by the Taliban. We went through the toughest times trying to make ends meet.

We want to be freed from them. We want to progress and be a part of the world and not an isolated, left-behind people
Akbar
Members of our family have also been involved with politics and social work, which has put us directly in the limelight. We used to receive death threats on a frequent basis.


In January one of my uncles along with my two cousins were brutally murdered while they were at home and their house was blown up afterwards.

Since that incident, we moved out of our village and spent months living in hiding. Eventually we managed to escape from Swat.

We worry about the future of Swat.

We are peace-loving people living under the reign of criminals. We want to be freed from them. We want to progress and be a part of the world and not an isolated, left-behind people.

I want to appeal to the world - help us, support us, support our army, which is fighting these people, so that we can live freely once again.



Samad Khan, a lawyer from the city of Mardan, describes the impact of mass migration from Swat on his city.

We have taken on an extra million people and migration is still in progress.
Refugees from Swat valley
The number of refugees from Swat Valley have reached two million

There are big crowds of people and vehicles jamming the roads. There are tents everywhere. People stay at road sides and on railway lines.

They are a huge burden on the city's infrastructure, but there's much sympathy for them.

Local people share their homes with the refugees. Last week we gave shelter to three families. At one point we had seven children, four women and two men staying in our house.

They reached Mardan after a long journey full of danger and trouble. They were hungry and frightened.

There are no Taliban in Mardan, but people are fearful. They are mentally prepared that a bomb blast may happen any time.

Nobody supports the Taliban here. All sane Pakistanis support the army as it fights for a great cause.

One always hopes for the best - that the state will beat the rebellion, as it always does.



Saiqa Khan, a teacher from Lahore, says that the escalation of violence has spread fear in her city.

Life in Lahore is more tense and frightening now as we don't know what might happen at any given moment. But this is not just Lahore - the whole of Pakistan is a danger zone today.
A Pakistani policeman fires at gunmenat a police academy in Manawan, near Lahore
The security forces in Lahore have had to contend with major attacks

I worry about my husband and children, friends and family, when I think about what could happen next time. I also wonder why our security services are not able to take more preventive action to protect civilians from terrorist attacks.

I spent some time volunteering in the internally displaced people (IDP) camps in the Swabi area. My family comes from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and I wanted to help other mothers who were less fortunate than me.

The condition in the camps is somewhat better now, I was told, although there are still shortages of medicine, proper shelter and education facilities.

The present operations are very important for Pakistan. Our whole future depends on the success of the military and the destruction of the Taliban.

I would not like to see my country become like Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia or Iran, where a narrow and ignorant version of Islam prevails - and where my family would be totally at the mercy of a bunch of fanatics.

I wish my children could have a better future than this.




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