Pomegranate harvesting is life here. The Taliban crushed it.

Arghandab, Afghanistan — When you divide a pomegranate in half, a room filled with blood-red seeds looks like a broken heart. In the Arghandab district, which is almost synonymous with fruit in Afghanistan, the Taliban attack has captivated farmers from the harvest season and desperately farmers.

The attack here in southern Afghanistan took place at the end of October, the peak of pomegranate harvest from September to November. On the last day of the month, Gulalay Amiri and his 10 workers gathered whatever was feared. Some farmers in a nearby orchard were recently killed by a buried Taliban explosive.

“We couldn’t come here when the fight began,” Amiri knelt among the workers in pink earmuffs edging a tanned, aged face. He and his men were disappointed with the small number of bags and boxes they could fill. “Most of the pomegranates have been destroyed.”

Arghandab was at the center of the most fierce battle during the height of the war when Americans came to Kandahar ten years ago to expel the Taliban during the surge of President Barack Obama’s army. But in recent years, locals have said things have remained relatively quiet and Argandab has experienced a series of good harvests.

However, during peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, residents have seen recent battles, the worst battle they have seen since the Soviet Union came in the 1980s, covering their fields with bulldozers. Said that he burned the earth.

In the broader plan of a 40-year war, the failure of the pomegranate season is inferior to the increasing violence nationwide. But for the Arghandab people, who are all trying to make a living, from farmers to shopkeepers, the battle highlights the uncertain fate faced by so many Afghans, despite the story of peace. Just do it.

“I’m facing loss,” Amiri said, with his gloved hand spinning the pomegranate looking for rot and cracks. He had to dismiss 40 workers for combat — this trend affected approximately 1,000 day laborers in Arghandab.

An important part of Afghanistan’s agricultural economy belongs to the pomegranate, which is traded domestically and cultivated in other states, but its fruits are the pride of Kandahar. According to the fruit exporters interviewed for this article, the state is a major exporter to Pakistan and India, but shipments were delayed this year, less than usual. One said he made only one-third of his usual income this year.

“It wasn’t good because Arghandab’s crops didn’t arrive on time,” said Jan Mohammed, 34, another pomegranate exporter based in Kandahar. “This year was not a good year.”

Financial losses, like other countries, lower economies already flagged by the epidemic of the coronavirus.

These economic implications were sharply felt by the people of Argandab.

Wearing a white scarf and turban, Lewanai Aga, 76, stared from the edge of the orchard while Amiri was boxing the pomegranate. Both Aga and Amiri, like many people here, have cultivated and sold pomegranates for the rest of their lives. The fruit has been a way of life for generations.

Each pomegranate box here is proudly marked with a green stencil that marks its origin: Argandab.

When the battle began, Aga, a commander who rebelled during the war with the Soviet Union in the 1980s, said his 32 while he and other men were staying to protect his land. We sent women and children from a strong family to the city of Kandahar. livestock.

“We were in dire straits,” Aga said. He squinted as he talked about the battle. Unable to market his fruit, exacerbated by the storm, most of his pomegranates were destroyed. In 2019, Mr Aga earned about $ 9,300, he said. This year: about $ 620.

“Orchards were our only source of income,” Aga said. “I don’t know what else to do.”

Mr Aga said that his entire family depends on his income. “This is the only time we have suffered this way since the Soviet invasion.” It was then that the Soviet army covered his orchard with a bulldozer.

As long as Mr Aga can choose a pomegranate to feed his family, it doesn’t matter whether the government or Taliban flag flies over him, he said. Mr. Aga, like many farmers involved in the endless round-trip struggle of the war, showed some opposition to both sides of the conflict.

Aga’s orchard is a strategically important bridge built over a decade ago, a few yards from the banks of the Arghandab River, with people and cars traveling to and from the city of Kandahar. Can be crossed.

The land soon became the forefront of the Taliban, with machine gun and rocket fires reflected in the river’s waters every night from October to November.

It is unknown why the Taliban attacked during the peak of the harvest. Taliban officials who spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly about tactics explained that the insurgents had never intended to push into Argandab and wanted to focus on other areas. But for some reason, the fighters went deeper into the orchard than planned, prompting protests from local elders, he said. The fighters then withdrew — in honor, not because of US airstrikes or government counterattacks, officials said.

Hidden explosives left in the fields continue to pose a threat to thousands of families who rely on pomegranate harvests, as fighting to other parts of the south is now retreating. Roadside bombs have always been a staple of the Taliban, but their use in orchards during the heyday of harvest, which is likely to slow the government’s progress, was considered particularly cruel.

Abdullah Khan, 30, the commander of the Afghan National Police, who overlooked Amiri’s packing work and the strategic Arghandab Bridge, recalled how American jets were heard overhead during the battle. It was.

According to security officials, it was only the American bombardment that prevented the Taliban from completely controlling the area.

“They have come a lot,” Khan said of the advancing Taliban. What highlighted the recent attacks was that the worst he had seen in the area for 20 years was that the rebels did not fight hit-and-run attacks and stood up on the waves.

At one of Mr. Khan’s concrete outposts at the checkpoint, there were clear traces of rockets. It is a shallow crater surrounded by gouache like rays from a spiral shrapnel. “No one was able to save us,” he said.

Mr Kahn claimed that police stayed and fought for the outpost. Nearby farmers have accused them of abandoning their posts, as allegedly happened at several other police checkpoints. Mr. Khan’s subordinate, dressed in civilian clothes, drinking tea and smoking hashish at 10 am, didn’t say either.

Now that the pocket of government control has calmed down, Mr. Khan and his fellow police officers have filed relentless complaints. Farmers in Argandab are free of Taliban explosives and just want to return to orchards and fields in the hope of some government help when winter begins.

That includes Mr. Aga and his large family.

Sharif Ahmad Rasri, district governor of Arghandab, added that only 200 families had received any food aid by mid-November, and said about 3,500 families were affected by the fighting. The attack killed 15 civilians, he added. At least five farmers were later killed by explosives hidden in their fields.

“If we don’t get any help, our lives will be destroyed,” Aga said. “We will not be able to eat or fill the stomachs of our children.”

Najim Rahim contributed to the report.

Pomegranate harvesting is life here. The Taliban crushed it.

Source link Pomegranate harvesting is life here. The Taliban crushed it.

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