Taliban looks to reclaim control
ASSOCIATED PRESS - April 8, 2003
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Before executing the International Red Cross worker, the Taliban gunmen made a satellite telephone call to their superior for instructions: Kill him?
Kill him, the order came back, and Ricardo Munguia, whose body was found with 20 bullet wounds last month, became the first foreign aid worker to die in Afghanistan since the Taliban's ouster from power 18 months ago.
The manner of his death suggests the Taliban is not only determined to remain a force in this country but also is reorganizing and reviving its command structure.
There is little to stop it. The soldiers and police who were supposed to be the bedrock of a stable postwar Afghanistan have gone unpaid for months and are drifting away.
At a time when the United States is promising a reconstructed, democratic postwar Iraq, many Afghans are remembering hearing similar promises not long ago.
Instead, what they see are thieving warlords, killings on the roads and a resurgence of Taliban vigilantism.
"It's like I am seeing the same movie twice, and no one is trying to fix the problem," said Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghanistan's president and his representative in southern Kandahar. "What was promised to Afghans with the collapse of the Taliban was a new life of hope and change. But what was delivered? Nothing. Everyone is back in business."
Mr. Karzai said reconstruction has been painfully slow — a canal repaired, a piece of city road paved, a small school rebuilt.
"There have been no significant changes for people," he said. "People are tired of seeing small, small projects. I don't know what to say to people anymore."
When the Taliban ruled, it forcibly conscripted young men.
"Today I can say, 'We don't take your sons away by force to fight at the front line,' " Mr. Karzai said. "But that's about all I can say."
But progress also is a question of perspective. Capt. Trish Morris, spokeswoman for the Coalition Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force, said civil affairs teams have spent up to $13 million on projects affecting the daily lives of Afghans.
"That may not sound like a lot of money, but that's hundreds of schools and clinics and bridges and wells all over Afghanistan," Capt. Morris said in Kabul.
"Some might say not a lot is being done," but the U.S. government, the United Nations and private aid agencies "are all working very hard," she said. "It's just going to take some time, because 23 years of war has destroyed a lot of things."
From safe havens in neighboring Pakistan, aided by militant Muslim groups there, the Taliban began its revival to coincide with the war in Iraq and capitalize on Muslim anger about the U.S. invasion, Afghan officials have said.
Mr. Karzai said the Taliban is allied with rebel commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, supported by Pakistan and financed by militant Arabs.
The attacks have targeted foreigners, and the threats have been directed toward Afghans working for international organizations.
Abdul Salam is a military commander for the government. Last month he was stopped at a Taliban checkpoint in the Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar and became a witness to the killing of Mr. Munguia, a 39-year-old water engineer from El Salvador.
After stopping Mr. Munguia and his three-vehicle convoy, gunmen made a phone call to Mullah Dadullah, a powerful former Taliban commander who has an artificial leg provided by the Red Cross.
Mimicking a telephone receiver by cupping a hand on his ear, Mr. Salam recalled a gunman's side of the conversation.
"I heard him say Mullah Dadullah," he said. "I heard him ask for instructions."
When the conversation ended, the Taliban gunmen moved quickly, Mr. Salam said. They shoved Mr. Munguia behind one of the vehicles, siphoned gasoline from the tanks and used it to set the vehicles on fire.
Mr. Munguia was standing nearby. One Taliban fighter raised his assault rifle and fired at him.
The Red Cross, with 150 foreign workers in Afghanistan, has suspended operations indefinitely