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Town near Kabul shows Afghan conflict's grim reality

SHINWARI, Afghanistan — "We come under Taliban attack every night," said an Afghan police officer in the Shinwari district of Parwan province, 60 kilometers north of Kabul.

The picturesque valley of lush green hills and rushing mountain rivers is infamous these days.

A video surfaced last month of a woman being publicly executed there by a Taliban gunman. The killing was the 11th public execution of a woman in the district since March, a provincial Women's Affairs Ministry representative said.

It is but one example of Taliban prowess in the district.

When Deutsche Presse-Agentur correspondents visited the district headquarters of Shinwari, a small highway town, late last month, only one shop was open.

Proprietor Abdul Khawas, 58, said the town often experiences "rains of bullets and RPGs," or rocket-propelled grenades.

"We live in fear day and night," he said. "The Taliban often come and attack the government compound."

The compound in the town centre is surrounded with barb-wired walls, rubble-and-stone-filled containers and sandbags.

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A dozen bombed-out police vehicles are inside the perimeter. The walls of the governor's building is full of bullet holes and burn scars from rocket-propelled grenades.

"We have replaced the window glass of the governor's building more than 20 times in one month," a police officer said on the condition of anonymity.

The presence of the government is limited to the town. The governor himself lives in relatively peaceful Bagram, a neighboring army town with a US airbase.

"We control only seven villages that are near the district headquarters," the policeman said as he sat with a colleague in a guard tower. "The rest of villages are under the control of the Taliban, and we can't even think about going there."

He said not a single civilian has entered the governor's building to ask for anything in the past three years.

"No one comes to us to solve his or her problem," he said. "They all go to the Taliban."

In villages, the Taliban operate parallel administrative, judicial and educational systems, local officials conceded.

"They even started their own schools and syllabus," the officer said. "The girls schools are shut down."

"For some reason, their teachers are paid well and on time," he said.

The officer had a video of the woman being executed by the Taliban on his mobile phone.

"Look at how brutally they killed the woman," he said. "We all know where these murderers and perpetrators are, but we can't go there to arrest them."

In fact, in the past 18 months, they have captured only four Taliban fighters in the area, he said.

The rebels in Shinwari are indigenous and largely based in the mountainous area of Qala-e-Hiyar, which residents and officials described as the "insurgent's central command."

Roshana Khalid, spokeswoman for the Parwan governor, said local villagers support the Taliban there.

"Unfortunately, the villagers have been uneducated for the past 40 years," she said. "They are deceived and told Islam is in danger."

Khalid said a major military operation was conducted by Afghan and foreign troops in June. The militants escaped but returned soon thereafter.

"We don't have enough forces to keep a unit there to stop the Taliban from returning," she said. "We have asked the central government twice already. We have been promised it, but it hasn't been delivered."

NATO-led foreign forces have started handing security responsibility for major cities and many districts over to Afghan national security forces, which include the 160,000-strong police force and 190,000 soldiers.

But Shinwari town has fewer than 30 policemen. Soldiers were at highway outposts but hardly ventured out.

The Shinwari police officer said he earns 8,000 Afghanis (160 dollars) a month and gets no days off for months.

"I am so tired," he said. "My life is horrible. I constantly think about my death."

"If the situation continues, we might think about defecting to the Taliban one day soon," he said.

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