The Taliban are beginning to regain influence in the south of Afghanistan, according to an independent group actively engaged in local work in the region. They are also increasingly confronting government and coalition troops inside Afghanistan, says the report by the Senlis Council, which is working closely with people, particularly farmers, across the country.

“What we are witnessing for the past few months is a rise in the level of attacks of the insurgents and the Taliban and a sophistication in the terror techniques used,” Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of The Senlis Council said.

“What is sure is that the Taliban and other groups are regrouping on the borders, in Pakistan where they find safe haven and where they can organise attacks on the Kabul government forces in Helmand and Kandahar,” Reinert said. In this situation British troops being sent into the south of Afghanistan to replace US troops in Helmand district have a tough task ahead of them, Reinert said.

The aggressive military intervention so far by US troops and their supporters has meant that the coalition forces have lost the support of the local people. And people have gained little from the occupation. A report released by The Senlis Council Tuesday says that attacks on people’s livelihoods through poppy eradication, the killing of civilians including women and children in military operations, and a sense of abandonment and exclusion have led to a complete breakdown of trust and support for the international military. The large-scale aggressively forced eradication of poppy crops in Helmand, led by the US, has contributed in a significant way to the discontent of the local populations, the Senlis report says.

Despite the eradication campaigns which have been carried out in the past months, the opium harvest is expected to be even higher this year than in the past, with many farmers who had stopped growing poppy in past years returning to it, the Senlis report says. They had stopped either in respect of the ban decreed by President Hamid Karzai or because they were promised they would receive help from alternative livelihood schemes financed by the international community.

Helmand has the largest area under cultivation in Afghanistan — accounting for 25 per cent of the country’s total poppy cultivation in 2005. The research also indicated a predicted increase in 2006 of 50 per cent in opium cultivation reaching 40,000 hectares. The Council said that there is a direct connection between the neglect of the farmers’ interests and the failure to address their extreme poverty, and the state of war in Helmand now.

The report notes that there are many factors, which have led to the disintegration of confidence in the international community and the central government. One of these is the way in which foreign troops are perceived of as uncaring towards the value of the lives of Afghan citizens, with an increasing number of cases of civilian deaths or injuries at the hands of the coalition military.

The US bombing of Kandahar undermined the civilian population’s support for the Karzai government, the Council says in its report. It said the recent riots in Kabul were also an example of the increasing hostility of the Afghan people towards the international community. — IPS