Tajikistan: Border villagers victims of Afghan raiders
DUSHANBE, 15 June (IRIN) - As conditions deteriorate in Afghanistan, communities living along Tajikistan's southern border are increasingly being exposed to violent attacks by Afghan cattle raiders and drug smugglers.
Local residents in Shurabad District of the Khatlon region, 350 km south of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, told IRIN that Afghan drug dealers had taken 17 people hostage, killed three residents and stolen 163 head of cattle - all in the last month.
"Guests from Afghanistan have been dropping into Yol," said Amrokhon Nazarov, chairman of the 10 settlements in the Yol area. Whereas previously the Afghans were stealing cattle and taking hostages to pay off drug-related debts, now indiscriminate raids into the district had become more frequent, he said. Nazarov linked this to increasing desperation, as starvation and Taliban attacks reached the Afghan border areas.
"We are hardly able to make ends meet. Many residents regularly leave the settlements seeking better employment opportunities," he complained. As a result of constant attacks, many local residents had abandoned their work in the fields, unable to defend their crops against the Afghan raiders, he said.
Davlat Zaripov, 36, told IRIN of his experience as one of 17 hostages kidnapped and later released. On 1 May, he said, Afghan drug smugglers attacked the village, stole 67 head of cattle and took his group, which included elderly people and children, hostage. After releasing the others, the Afghans fled with Zaripov, using him as a "cover" for crossing the border. He was detained in Afghan territory for 10 days before being released to Russian border guards.
A high-ranking Russian officer remained sceptical. He told IRIN that much of the blame had to be put on the residents, as many were involved in drug trafficking themselves.
The Afghan raiders appear to be able to cross over un-patrolled highland areas with impunity. Russian and Tajik border guards seem unable to prevent the forays, while the local security forces in Shurabad claim the border zones are outside their jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, residents of Yol and Porvor are caught in the crossfire. Nazarov said the villagers felt "unprotected and defenceless" against the night-time raiders. They have become increasingly vocal about their own safety. "If the border guards or other enforcement agencies cannot offer protection, then the residents may take up arms themselves," he said.
In Porvor, villagers have started doing just this. Local men patrol the village at night, armed with sticks. The deputy chairman and leader of the self-defence detachments, Safar Davlatov, acknowledged that such measures were not particularly effective, but they "stiffened the spirit of the countrymen".
He did not deny the existence of drug smugglers among his village residents, but questioned why innocent civilians were forced to suffer because of these criminal elements. With Afghan raids set to continue, authorities in Dushanbe are concerned that community vigilante groups may contribute to greater instability in the area.
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