Fragile life for nomadic Afghan tribe 

SHA JOY, Afghanistan -- As winter approaches, Bibiasha travels the same route as Taliban insurgents heading to Kandahar to fight coalition soldiers. She sees the insurgents passing through the villages late at night.

"Yes, I see them often," said the grandmother from her weather-worn, patched tent. She is a Kuchie tribeswoman, part of a nomadic group of people, similar to Gypsies, whose migratory patterns have been greatly disrupted by years of conflict.

In an interview with The Washington Examiner, Bibiasha provided a rare look into the competing pressures being brought to bear on an already fragile lifestyle.

That talk took place in a tent where Bibiasha lives with 2-year-old granddaughter Khali, daughter-in-law Zarbat and daughter Sada.

U.S. soldiers and male interpreters were not allowed to approach the tents of the nomadic women. A large Afghan dog, similar to a mastiff, was kept on a long chain outside the tent to protect them.

"We travel the same route to Kandahar every year," she said. "We sell our sheep in Qa'Lat and then go to Kandahar because of the cold winter."

The Taliban, along with foreign fighters from Pakistan's unguarded eastern border, use the dark nights to move freely, Kuchie tribal leaders say. Zabul province is where they pick up supplies, train, recruit and make their way into Kandahar.

"If you ask anyone, the problem is coming from Pakistan," said Shah Baran, one of the eldest tribal leaders in the area. "When the tribes or families in our area have disputes, they do not go to the Afghan government -- they travel to Quetta. They meet with the Quetta Shura, the Taliban leaders, to resolve their problems. That is were the leaders are -- they do not trust the Afghan government."

Another tribal elder, who asked not to be named, said members of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency are aiding the Taliban.

Several weeks earlier, Taliban insurgents shot Atta Khan Kajran, a provincial director of border and travel affairs in the district. According to villagers, his wife was begging for his life, holding the Quran, and she was killed as well.

"The problem is Pakistan," the elder said. "They continue to help the Taliban and there is no way to stop the fighters from crossing into our province."

"We see Chechens, Arabs, Uzbeks and others pass through here," said another elder. "They threaten the villagers. Still, the villagers don't know where to turn. They don't trust the government."

Zabul province is a vital area in the fight against the Taliban and foreign fighters. U.S. military and civilian aid presence is minimal, other than Special Forces operations and small coalition bases scattered in the province.

With Pakistan's border to the east, Sha Joy is the main transit route between the two nations across the Tarnak River. Insurgent fighters moving to and from Pakistan use a makeshift dirt bridge, known as the Pasani crossing, just east of the Sha Joy bazaar.

"It is the connection to Pakistan that makes this province so vital in the war," said a U.S. official who asked not to be named. "The insurgency has their safe haven there, and they move with impunity through the district."

Bibiasha, who still had work to do before heading out with her tribe from Sha Joy, went outside to gather more wood. "As long as we get to Kandahar alive and well -- that's all that I care about."

scarter@washingtonexaminer.com

Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner's national security correspondent. She can be reached at scarter@washingtonexaminer.com.

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