HERAT -- More than 200 residents of Badghis Province took to the streets in Qala-e-Naw city on Sunday (February 9) to condemn efforts by the Taliban to disrupt electricity and telecommunication services in the area.
The militants cut electricity imported from Turkmenistan to Qala-e-Naw city starting February 6, four days after interrupting the services of private telecom carriers in the province, protesters said.
Only state-run telecom carrier Salaam Telecommunication Co. is operational in Badghis Province.
"Taliban fighters have disrupted telecom and electricity networks in Badghis Province, which inflicts damage only on ordinary residents," said Naser Amani, a resident of Qala-e-Naw city who attended the rally. "Government authorities have [other] options to rely on [for power and connectivity], but when electricity and telecom services are cut, it takes a toll on civilians."
Disconnecting electricity and telecom services is a form of harassment, and by doing so the Taliban are making themselves more isolated, he added.
"The Taliban have created serious problems for the residents of Badghis as they disconnected electricity in this cold weather," he said. "They are used to electricity, and their life is dependent on it. Ever since the electricity was cut, their lives have been troubled."
The move by the Taliban is taking a toll on civilians in the area, agreed Jalil Ahmad Adeeb, another Qala-e-Naw resident at the protest.
"This act by the Taliban hurts the public, and I hope the issue is resolved," he said.
"The Taliban several times in the past disconnected electricity to Badghis Province, leaving residents with no power for several days," he added. "The cold of winter and the lack of electricity have created a multitude of issues ... and most of the residents, especially children, have become sick due to the cold weather."
The Taliban are indeed harming the public, agreed Ziaulhaq Akazai, a Badghis representative in the Wolesi Jirga.
"The residents of Badghis call on the Taliban not to target social services like electricity and telecom services as they have nothing to do with the government, and their [the services'] lone beneficiaries are civilians," said Akazai. "The Taliban have issues with the government. They should not be harming the public."
The Taliban cut off the utilities because outsiders ordered them to do so, said Abdul Aziz Baik, chairman of the Badghis provincial council.
When the Taliban suffer setbacks on the battlefield, "they resort to disconnecting electricity and telecom services and planting mines on public roads," he said. "Civilians suffer the damage."
The Taliban have disrupted civilians' comfort and peace in Badghis, said Najibullah Dadfar, a civil society activist in Qala-e-Naw city.
"As they cut electricity and telecom services, the Taliban have proved they are the enemies of prosperity and peace," he said. "Electricity lights homes, but the Taliban are unhappy when civilians use electricity to light their homes and keep themselves warm in the winter."
Signs of weakness
The Taliban have been under pressure from security forces in recent months and have suffered numerous defeats on the battlefield, said Gen. Shiraqa Alkozai, acting police chief for the province.
The militants no longer have the ability to fight troop face to face, so they have turned to disconnecting electricity and telecom networks, he added.
"The Taliban have suffered heavy casualties in Badghis Province as a result of ground and air operations," said Alkozai. "The Taliban do not have the ability to fight the security forces in Badghis Province, and they have been defeated. This is why they cut electricity and telecom networks and inflict damage only on civilians."
The Taliban have proved that they are the enemies of humanity and Afghanistan, and they have animosity toward the prosperity of the Afghan people, he added.
"The Taliban have been weakened in Badghis Province and were suppressed by the security forces anywhere they rose up," added Alkozai. "The security forces are launching operations in areas where the Taliban have cut electricity, and they won't allow the terrorist group to cause any trouble."
The Taliban have always threatened the telecom networks to put pressure on the government and the Afghan public, said Azizullah Saberi, the acting director of the Badghis Department of Communications and Information Technology.
"The Taliban are afraid that the security forces track them with the help of telecom networks," he said. "This is one of the main reasons why the Taliban threaten the telecom carriers with shutting their services."
Saberi said he has shared the telecom issues in Badghis Province with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and that it is addressing the problem.