KUNDUZ -- The Taliban's declaration of war against Salaam Telecommunication Co. is stirring the ire of the Afghan people.
The Taliban announced in a statement August 26 that it would target the sites, employees and subscribers of the company, including anyone who possesses a Salaam Telecom subscriber identity module (SIM) card.
"The fiber-optic internet cable that the company [Salaam Telecom] has laid underground will be cut, and the personnel and vehicles of the company will be treated like those of intelligence agencies," the Taliban said.
"If anyone is caught with the company's SIM card, he will be treated according to the law [Taliban law]," the insurgent group said.
The militants say that government forces are tracking them via network towers, a claim that telecom companies have rejected.
There already are unconfirmed reports that Taliban militants forced Baghlan Province residents to swallow their Salaam Telecom SIM cards.
The Taliban August 26 searched passengers inside a Toyota in the Gardab area of Baghlan Province and forced those who had Salaam SIM cards to swallow the cards, said Muhammad Ali Khurshid, 26-year-old student at Kunduz University, citing information from relatives and friends.
"The Taliban first broke the Salaam SIM cards and then forced the passengers to swallow them," he said.
"The Taliban harass civilians who have Salaam SIM cards in the Asqalan neighbourhood of Kunduz city," said Abdul Mateen Muhammadi, 29, a resident of Kunduz Province.
The Taliban in the area announced that anyone found with a Salaam SIM card would be imprisoned for three months and would have to pay a fine of 60,000 AFN ($766), he said.
The Taliban have locked civilians in shipping containers and demanded that their families pay the fine, he added.
Incurring the public's hatred
Over the past two years, Taliban threats have already shut down the services of private telecom carriers in Kunduz from 6pm to 6am.
"The Taliban's threat to attack the Salaam Telecom network is a big crime against the public," said Safiullah Amiri, deputy chair of the Kunduz provincial council. "I have no idea why the Taliban always want to keep the public in the dark. They are the enemies of the Afghan people."
"Afghans or Muslims won't do such a thing," he added. "If the Taliban were Afghans in reality, they wouldn't fight with their brothers."
Salaam Telecom is the only carrier that provides 24-hour service in Kunduz, he said.
"If Salaam Telecom service is cut, our hands and legs will be tied," he said. "We're unfortunately going back to a primitive life."
The disruption of telecom services in a number of Afghan cities has negatively impacted the economy and security.
"As soon as the services of other telecom companies disconnect, I switch to Salaam," said Muhammad Omer Khaliqi, 59, a businessman in Sher Khan Port of Kunduz Province.
"Even though Salaam provides very low-quality voice and internet services, we have to use its SIM card [because it is the only one active]."
"If the Taliban continue such cowardly acts, they will cultivate even more hatred for them in the public's heart," he said. "If this happens [if Salaam stops], our business will drop to zero and businesspeople will see financial losses."
"Isn't it enough that they victimise us every day, destroy our roads and culverts, ruin our public institutions and set fire to our schools and health centres?" asked Hamedullah Sahil, 25, a resident of Kunduz Province. "They now even want to shut down the only remaining telecom network as well."
"We hate this atrocious act of the Taliban," he said. "If they want to win hearts, they have to create facilities -- not problems."
Bashir Ahmad Zakir, 34, a civil society activist in Kunduz Province, criticised the Taliban's announcement and called on the government to put even more effort into protecting telecom companies.
"The government has to focus greatly on securing telecom towers, [their relevant] equipment and the fiber-optic cable," said Zakir.
"Giving security to the telecom towers can lower the Taliban's pressure on these companies to some extent, and they will be able to deliver their services without any interruption," he said.
Kunduz security authorities have vowed to protect and secure the Salaam Telecom network and company workers.
"The police department has assigned all the relevant security units to ensure the safety of Salaam Telecom's personnel, its towers and the fiber-optic cable," said Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, a spokesperson for the Kunduz police, who was killed August 31.
"Police will provide security not only to the state-run network [Salaam] but also to all the private telecom networks," said Hussaini.
"The Taliban think if they shut down Salaam Telecom services, the security forces won't be able to track them -- it's just a dream," said Ahmad Jawed Basharat, a spokesman for the Baghlan police.
"Security and defence forces won't allow them to reach their evil goals," he said. "Anywhere they hide, we'll be able to uproot them."
"Yesterday, the provincial Private Sector Department held a special meeting to ensure security for Salaam Telecom," Esmatullah Muradi, a spokesman for the Kunduz governor, told Salaam Times on August 28.
"At this meeting, decisions were taken with regards to the safety of Salaam Telecom workers and their installations and equipment," he said.