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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Eyewitness: Guarding Gardez
Guards outside the compound of the Gardez governor
Only a handful of men protect the new governor
The BBC's Andrew Harding

Taj Mohammad Wardak lifts up the edge of a curtain and peers outside - past his bodyguards, across the terrace, and towards the distant brown mountains to the south of Gardez.

It's always the same here - the bandits fight and the civilians die

Resident Khyal Mohammed

"All quiet," he says, settling back into his armchair to contemplate the vicious power struggle which has engulfed this region, Paktia Province, nominally governed by Mr Wardak himself.

It is a conflict which the world should be watching closely as a litmus test for Afghanistan and its hopes of future stability.

On Saturday, more than 100 shells and rockets rained down on the provincial capital, Gardez, some two hours drive south of Kabul.

The bombardment lasted all day, tearing chunks out of concrete walls, ripping holes in roofs, shops and markets, and killing at least 18 people.

When we arrived on Sunday, the dusty streets were almost deserted.

A boy in Gardez help his father clean out his bombed shop
Homes and shops were destroyed in the latest rocket attacks
Sitting in a doorway, a young man with an automatic rifle said people had been warned to expect another rocket attack and were staying indoors.

Large brown bloodstains marked the spots where two men had been killed outside their shops.

A friend of one of them, called Khyal Mohammed, pointed towards a mountain range of that same brown colour, to the south of town.

"That's where the rockets came from, fired by a man called Padshah Khan," he said.

"It's always the same here. The bandits fight and the civilians die."

Padshah Khan used to be the governor of the province.

Map of Afghanistan showing Gardez
But he was unpopular, and earlier this year the local population drove him out of town and towards the mountains.

Afghanistan's new interim government then appointed a new governor, Taj Mohammed Wardak.

But Padshah Khan and his supporters have continued to defy the authorities.

Mr Wardak accepts: "There are rebels in every country."

But in most countries there are police and soldiers to deal with them.

Paktia's new governor admits that the handful of men, lounging in the shade outside with their Kalashnikovs, are not up to the job.

"Fighting such stupid people [like Padshah Khan] without a proper army or police force is a big problem," he said.

Outside the local hospital in Gardez, Dr Nakibula Urfan points towards a pile of rubble and broken glass.

"Seven rockets hit the building," he said.

"We treated 50 people. Five died here, and two more on the way to Kabul."

International help

On Saturday, while the rockets were falling on Gardez, the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced plans to help fund and train just such a force for Afghanistan.

The news was welcomed by the interim government, and by Governor Wardak.

"A proper national army might well bring peace and stability here," Mr Wardak said.

"But it takes time, perhaps three to five years."

Guards outside the compound of the Gardez governor
Gardez wants foreign peackeepers to boost security
He gestured out the window towards the mountains. "And in the meantime these problems will be like an incurable cancer."

The solution, according both to Mr Wardak and everyone else that I spoke to in Gardez, is to bring in foreign peacekeepers.

"I used to be against an expansion of ISAF," Mr Wardak said, referring to the international security force patrolling the streets of Kabul.

"But when I saw the situation on the ground here, how vulnerable the civilians are, and how strong the troublemakers are, I realised that there is a need for peacekeepers here."

But Donald Rumsfeld appeared to rule out that option this weekend.

The international community is reluctant to commit itself to a broader, expensive peacekeeping operation which could tie up thousands of troops in Afghanistan for many years.


Political uncertainty






See also:

27 Apr 02 | South Asia
13 Mar 02 | South Asia
13 Mar 02 | South Asia
12 Mar 02 | South Asia
11 Mar 02 | South Asia
03 Feb 02 | South Asia
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