Page last updated at 16:11 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Q&A: Helmand's head of council for tribal elders

Village elders in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province
Nato forces consulted widely with tribal elders ahead of the offensive

As the biggest offensive in Afghanistan since 2001 continues in southern Helmand province, the head of council for Helmand's tribal elders, Haji Abdurahman Sabir, tells BBC Pashto's Emal Pasarly about the frustrations of local residents.

Do you support the military operations?

No doubt there were problems in Nad Ali and Marjah - these areas were a threat to the security of Lashkar Gah and the province as a whole.

Armed men would kill people and then retreat to Marjah, using it as a safe haven. The only solution was to start this operation.

What about drugs?

Aside from the presence of armed men, drug trafficking was also a problem. There were around 60 or 70 small heroin factories here, and terrorists from around the world flocked to the area.

Marjah and Nad Ali are geographically flat, there are no mountains where militants could hide. So why were such military operations not carried out in the past?

Two or three years ago when there was fighting in other parts of Helmand, local people looked after Marjah and Nad Ali.

But this changed because of an ignorant government and a negligent police force: after that about 20 members of the Taliban arrived in the region.

We elders mentioned this problem at the time and we warned the government that the Taliban would capture Marjah - but no-one listened to us.

What can tribal elders do to prevent armed men from taking control of their region?

Tribal elders are unarmed and the government is incompetent.

However, a solution could be reached if the government were to provide security for the elders, and if officials were to gain the support of the elders by respecting their demands and avoiding exploitation for personal gain.

That way I am sure everyone would be willing to support the government.

What do you mean by respecting your demands?

All I am saying is that I wish the government listened to us three years ago.

I wish they would act with our views in mind - officials just want to implement their own agenda without talking to the people.

If the Afghan police and army stay in the area, could they protect it from the Taliban?

I am not sure. The police and army are from other parts of the country, and without local people involved in the security, it is impossible to protect the area.

Right now 10 men are resisting and no-one is able to control the situation. If the police force was made up of local people I am sure Marjah would have fallen in two days.

But do you think local people would be willing to join the police force?

Yes for sure, as long as the government listened to their demands.

What do the people want?

They want to be counted, they want to be given some sort of a position.

If someone from Helmand travels to Kabul, officials treat them badly. No one takes any notice of Helmand's problems, or of the people of Helmand. They arrest everyone from Helmand on false allegations of drug trafficking.

Over the past five or six years the rest of Afghanistan has acted as though everyone in Helmand owns a bank full of money [as Helmand is full of drugs money].

So you are saying that the people of Helmand are ill-treated?

Definitely. The residents of Helmand have no contact with the president; their voice is not heard at all. Their rights are not protected.

Not one Helmand resident has been appointed in a position where he could look after his own people or guide them towards the government.

We don't have any government representation.

You cannot ask me to join the army - simply to be under the command of someone else and not in a leadership position.

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