Afghanistan: Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban and besieged city

It took Pashtana Durrani less than two hours to travel from Kandahar to Spin Boldak, a Pakistani border town in southern Afghanistan, a mundane trip the 23-year-old activist made almost every week to visit his family.

“It’s impossible now”, blows from Kandahar this young director of an educational NGO, chopping up the latest news, always confused and contradictory, on the wave of offensive launched by the Taliban more than a month ago.

The Taliban in the suburbs

Spin Boldak fell on July 14, in an assault that resulted, according to a report by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), in the massacre of at least 40 civilians by the Taliban. The latter have since continued to get closer to Kandahar and have placed this city, former imperial capital, ancestral land of the kings of Afghanistan and cradle of the Taliban, in a quasi-state of siege.

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140 kilometers to the west, heavy fighting is also raging for control of the city of Lashkar Gah, capital of the neighboring province of Helmand and another historic stronghold of the fundamentalist group. The Afghan army demanded, on August 3, the evacuation of civilians from the city in anticipation of a counter-offensive.

In Kandahar, it is not yet a frontal assault, but constant snacking has brought Taliban soldiers to the outskirts of the city, and according to the UN, at least five deaths this week among the civilian population. Still in possession of the crucial airport, the Afghan air force has increased strikes around the city in recent days. Objective: to relieve troops exhausted by the brutal clashes of recent months, and hold out until winter and the end of the “Fighting season”.

A place apart

Because if the Taliban have not ceased since the beginning of the withdrawal of Western troops to approach several provincial capitals, Kandahar occupies a special place in the Afghan imagination. “Kandahar is a bit of a combination of Lyon, a modern and commercially important city, and Avignon, a city with major historical weight, where the popes lived”, explains Mike Martin, a former British army officer, researcher at King’s College London and author of several books on the conflict in Afghanistan.

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For centuries, it was the most important in Afghanistan. Kandahar was also the starting point of the Taliban movement, the place where Mullah Omar, in 1994, brought together dozens of students from a Koranic school to settle local conflicts. The group will make Kandahar the capital of its Emirate as soon as the city is captured the same year.

Kandahar, symbolic city

“Kandahar is the most important city for them”, assures Mike Martin. “Kabul is too far away, it’s not in a Pashtun area… The Taliban have no chance to take Kabul, but they have a chance to take Kandahar, and its fall would be an absolutely huge, seismic event. This is why the government must absolutely, absolutely hold this city ”. Pashtana Durrani puts it another way: “The minute Kandahar falls, Afghanistan will fall too”.

Aware of the strategic stake, the United States has provided support to the Afghan army by carrying out air strikes in the region in recent days. For Kabul, the effect is both military and psychological in the face of the increasingly significant story of a “Abandonment” American.

For residents, the routine in recent days is made of intermittent Internet and electricity cuts, as well as a curfew, decreed by the government throughout the country, from 10 p.m. It is also the routine of the departure of those who can, most often to Kabul, and the arrival of those who have no choice: several tens of thousands of people from the surrounding countryside, but also from seven districts of the city under Taliban fire.

The terrorized population

They took refuge there, and now live in two makeshift camps. “The Taliban sows terror among the population” says one of them over the phone. It evokes the explosives littering the roads and bridges blown up by the fundamentalist group. And also talks about the imprecise air strikes and mortar fire of the Afghan army, which regularly hit civilian areas.

After the evening, it is in the streaming service Netflix and the cult series “Friends” that Pashtana Durrani finds a rare escape from the extreme tension of recent weeks. “Kandahar is not the city that some people talk about, who only see it as the place of origin of the Taliban, she insists. It is a city where it is possible to receive an education, on Thursdays and Fridays people go to have picnics, dance and drink tea… The Taliban know nothing but war. “


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