Page last updated at 02:00 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Q&A: Afghan journalist in Helmand

Majid Dawari
Majid Darwari says locals complain they cannot move freely

Majid Dawari is one of the first Afghan journalists to see first-hand the effects of fighting in the southern province of Helmand, where the biggest offensive in Afghanistan since 2001 is continuing.

Unlike his Western counterparts, Mr Dawari was visiting the area without being embedded with foreign troops. Here he tells BBC Pashto's Emal Pasarly what he saw.

Have Nato succeeded in restoring a sense of order in Marjah?

On the front line, the Afghan army is based behind the US Marines, giving Afghans a supporting role. A large number of Afghan police are also now in Marjah. Wherever the army "clears" an area, the police stay put and build their security posts.

But ordinary people are yet to restart their normal lives. The main bazaar in Marjah remains closed and no-one is to be seen walking around the town.

Local people complain that they can't move freely because the clothes they wear are similar to the clothes worn by the Taliban. The army seems to be suspicious of everyone.

What are the military people doing to reassure people that they are safe?

Foreign elements along with hard-core Taliban militants are now in the western parts of Marjah
Majid Dawari

The Afghan army has been looking for shop owners to tell them that they will pay compensation to those whose businesses have been damaged. After that, some shops have reopened and I can see some local people beginning to come out their homes.

Are food and other essentials readily available?

Yes, but prices are very high here. For example potatoes are eightfold more expensive than in [the nearby town of] Lashkar Gah. Local people are very poor and they say they can't afford these prices.

How easy was it for you to get to Marjah?

Before the current military operations, Marjah was only 30 minutes drive from Lashkar Gah. But now it can take longer than three hours, because the Taliban has planted so many mines on the road. The best way for me was to accept Governor Gulab Mangal's invitation to visit Marjah in a military helicopter.

How reliable are communications with the town?

Meeting between the Afghan army and local people in marjah
The army is trying to encourage shop owners to reopen their stores

In the past few days the phone system has gone down in Marjah and the Afghan army has cut off the mobile phone system in the hope that this will interrupt Taliban communications. But it also made life for journalists very hard. You don't get much information unless you go to Marjah itself.

What is the latest on the fighting?

I have been reliably informed that foreign elements along with hard-core Taliban militants are now in the western parts of Marjah, close to the province of Nimruz, and are still resisting there. The "local Taliban" seemed to have returned to their homes, where they are hiding their light weapons.

What else is the Afghan army doing?

It is trying to win the hearts and minds of local people by handing over food, books and other help. They speak Pashto and can communicate with local people. But the Afghan police force who are now in Marjah are Dari-speaking and are not able to communicate with local people.

Is there any news from the Taliban side?

I was told by local people in Marjah that since the beginning of Operation Moshtarak, the Taliban have hanged six men alleged to be spying for Nato. That sort of action has made local people very scared to talk to me.

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