Tagab: the Afghan district known for its pomegranates and fighting

For some residents, the Taliban takeover means one thing: an end to bloody war

Afghanistan’s Tagab district is known for two things – its mouthwatering pomegranates and the constant fighting between Taliban militants and the Afghan government and foreign forces over the past 20 years.

The district, bordering the Kabul province to the south-east, is home to green valleys full of trees and walled gardens. Those gardens make it almost impossible to fight the Taliban.

That is one of the reasons it has been a stronghold for the militant group for many years.

An older villager from one of the valleys, a 10-minute drive from the centre of the district, told The National that whichever side took an area first, the other would not be able to retake it.

“If the Taliban took an army check post first, it was impossible for the security forces to recapture it,” he said. “It works the same way for the Taliban.”

The Taliban, however, have the privilege of knowing the villages well and has the support of local households.

Between Taliban and Afghan government forces and foreign troops fighting for territory, the people in the villages paid the price.

Haji Yosuf, a 43-year-old resident of Bar Sinzai, said his family and other villagers felt at peace only after Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, as fighting had stopped.

“For the past 15 years, we were not able to sleep on the roof of our house for fear that bullets would hit us,” he said.

People in the country's rural areas often sleep on the top of the house during spring and summer to escape the hot weather.

“The past two months have been peaceful,” said Mr Yosuf with a relaxed sigh.

For people like him, the Taliban's complete takeover of Afghanistan on August 15 means one thing: an end to the bloody war.

Mama Shafi, an elder from the district, in his 50s, remembers an incident when his neighbourhood was hit by a mortar.

“Three years ago, I was having green tea in the yard on a summer afternoon when I heard a loud noise followed by men and women screaming,” he said.

Later, he found out that a mortar had hit his neighbour’s house, killing at least one young girl and injuring two others from one family.

“I took one of the injured girls in my arms to the clinic,” Mr Shafi said. All the three girls were aged under 10.

The mortar was fired by the Afghan Army from the nearby military base.

Mr Shafi’s eldest son Hamid fought in the Taliban. In 2014, a drone attack killed a group of 12 Taliban militants. Hamid, 35, was among them.

Drone attacks in rural areas often resulted in civilian casualties and destruction of people’s houses and other properties during the 20 years of the US war on terror.

“They [drones] would attack the target wherever the target was. They didn’t care if the target was at home, a place of worship or another public place,” one elder villager said.

One of Mr Shafi’s younger sons, Jamshid, 8, was killed along with two cousins, aged 4 and 6, when Afghan Army members opened fire as they tried to enter their village.

“Mama Shafi’s family were invited to another village but his wife stayed at home. When Jamshid and two of his cousins were on the way to bring food for his mother, the soldiers shot them,” one of Mr Shafi’s relatives said.

Khalid, 31, a young gardener who works on the pomegranate fields, said raids by foreign troops were regular.

“We were all disturbed by night raids,” he said. “The troops would explode the door in the middle of night to enter a house for a search. There wasn’t any month that the French soldiers didn’t enter our house at least once.”

Since 2009, the French Army, along with the Afghan National Army and the Afghan Local Police, have been responsible for fighting the Taliban in the area.

Afghan-American national security analyst Arash Yaqin believes many people in rural Afghanistan have been victims of insurgency groups, night raids and air strikes.

"The success or failure of military raids and air strikes firmly depend on the local circumstances," he said. "While they have succeeded in other parts of the world, it didn't achieve its objectives in Afghanistan."

He said the two military tools have had adverse effects on the people in rural areas and even helped the Taliban gain more support.

"The Afghan government and the international community have lost more hearts and minds among the local population as a result of night raids and air strikes, particularly those that hit civilians," Mr Yaqin said.

"They even helped the Taliban find safe havens in the Afghan villages."

A villager in the district called Ibrahim said Afghan soldiers from the army and militia “were crueller than the foreign troops”.

He said one army commander would shoot mortars towards the villages solely to scare people – and caused casualties in some cases.

Although in peace since the Taliban took control of Kabul, the district is facing drought and a broader worsening economic crisis – there has been less snow than last winter and no rain so far.

“We had a lot of water in previous years. This year, the river has had no water throughout the year,” Mr Yosuf said.

Mr Shafi blames the US for the economic crisis because no major infrastructure projects have been introduced in the past 20 years.

“The US has frozen our money and tried to collapse our system of government,” he said.

The fast-approaching winter will affect people in the district as prices of food have already risen by more than 30 per cent. The UN Development Programme predicts more than 97 per cent of the country’s population will face a food crisis by the middle of next year.

But Mr Shafi and other members of his village are hopeful that Taliban rule will improve the situation for them.

“The Taliban are making progress, as we see it,” he said.

Updated: November 25th 2021, 5:51 AM