Pomegranate Harvest is life here. The Taliban broke it.

ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan – Crush a pomegranate in half and its red-red seed-filled chamber looks almost like a broken heart. In the Argandab district in Afghanistan, which is almost synonymous with fruit, a Taliban aggressor cut hearts from the harvest season, leaving farmer families desperate.

The offensive here in southern Afghanistan came at the end of October, the major month for a pomegranate crop that goes from September to November. On a recent day this month, Gulalai Amiri and his 10 activists gathered whatever was left in fear. Many farmers in a nearby garden were killed by recently buried Taliban explosives.

“We couldn’t come here when the fight started,” Mr. Amiri knelt among his pink-beaded activists, facing his bending and old age. Snow and his men were disappointed at how many bags and boxes they were filling. “Most of the pomegranates were destroyed.”

Argandab was at the center of some of the most intense fighting at the height of the war 10 years ago, when US President Barack Obama came to Kandahar province to take out the Taliban during a military escalation. But in recent years, locals said, things remained relatively calm, and Aragandab experienced a streak of good harvest.

But even amid peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, residents described the recent fighting as the worst they had seen since the arrival of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, by bulldozing their fields and the earth. By scorching.

In the 40 years of comprehensive planning of the war, a pomegranate season flourishes in comparison to the increasing violence across the country. But for the people of Argandab – from the farmer to the shopkeeper, all trying to take out the livery – the fight only exposes the battle indefinitely, which many Afghans face, despite talking peace.

“I am facing loss,” Mr. Amiri said, his folded hands twisting pomegranates, rotting or cracks. The fighting caused him to shoot 40 of his workers – a trend that has affected about 1,000 laborers in Argandab.

Pomegranate is an important part of Afghanistan’s agricultural economy, and while it is traded and grown domestically in other provinces, the fruit is the pride of Kandahar. According to the fruit exporters given in this article, the province is a major exporter of Pakistan and India, but this year shipments were significantly lower than normal and above normal. One said that he made only a third this year as usual.

“Mohammad’s crop was not good because we did not get it on time,” said 34-year-old Jan Mohammad, another pomegranate exporter based in Kandahar city. “It hasn’t been a good year.”

With the spread of the monetary deficit coronovirus, like other countries is already dragging down an economy.

Those financial effects were strongly felt by the people of Argandab.

The 76-year-old Lunai Aga in a white dupatta and turban watched from the edge of her orchard, as if Mr. Amiri had boxed his pomegranate. Both Mr. Aga and Mr. Amiri have cultivated and sold pomegranates their entire lives, like many, and the fruit has been a way of life for generations.

Each box of pomegranates is proudly marked with a green stencil indicating its origin: Argandab.

When the fighting began, Mr. Aga, himself a rebel commander during the war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, sent the women and children of his 32-strong family to the city of Kandahar, while he and other men took their land. Paused to protect. Livestock.

“We were in the crossfire,” Mr. Aga said, his eyes shrinking as he resumed the fight. Unable to carry its fruit to the market and complicated by a thunderstorm, most of its pomegranates are destroyed. In 2019, Mr. Aga earned around $ 9,300, he said. This year: about $ 620.

“The arena was our only source of income,” Mr. Aga said. “We don’t know what else to do.”

His entire family depends on that revenue, Mr. Aga said. “This is the only time since the Soviet invasion that we have encountered such.” This was when Soviet soldiers bulldozed her garden.

As long as Mr. Aga can choose pomegranate and feed his family, it does not matter which flag – flies over the head of the government or the Taliban. Mr. Agha, such as many peasants caught in the back-and-forth conflict of war, showed a level of disagreement towards both sides of the conflict.

Shri Agha’s Bagh is located on the banks of the Argandab River more than a decade ago and yards away from the strategically important bridge, which allows people and vehicles to cross to and from the city of Kandahar.

That strip of land quickly became the Taliban’s frontline, where machine gun and rocket fire had turned into the flowing waters of the river in the night as October into November.

Why the Taliban attacked at the height of the harvest is unclear. A Taliban official, who spoke to The New York Times on condition of anonymity because he was not cleared to speak publicly about the strategy, said the rebels did not mean to push into Argundab yet Was and they wanted to focus on other districts. But for some reason, he said, the fighters moved to the gardens earlier than planned, leading to resentment from local elders. The fighters then retreated – with respect, the official said, not because of the US air strike or the government’s retaliation.

Now, with fighting taking place in other districts in the south, explosives hiding behind fields remain a threat to thousands of families dependent on the pomegranate crop. Roadside bombs have always been a staple of the Taliban, but their use in orchards at harvest height, the possibility of delaying the government’s progress, was seen as particularly cruel.

Abdullah Khan, 30, an Afghan national police commander in charge of Mr. Amiri’s packaging efforts and the strategic checkpoint overlooking the Argandab bridge, recalled how they could hear the roar of American jets during the fighting.

Security officials said the US bombing was the only thing that completely isolated the Taliban from the district.

“They came in large numbers,” Mr. Khan said of advancing the Taliban. The worst he had seen in the district in his 20 years recently, was that the rebels did not fight with hit-and-run attacks, they came in waves and occupied the ground.

The outpost clearly has traces of a rocket strike in one of Mr. Khan’s concrete outposts: a shallow crater, surrounded by spiraling shrapnel with raiile geshes. “Nobody could save us,” he said.

Mr. Khan insisted that the police stayed for the outpost and fought. The surrounding farmers accused him of stepping down – as happened at several other police posts. Mr Khan, dressed in civilian clothes, drinking tea and smoking at 10 am, would not say a single way.

Now quietly out of his pocket of government control, Mr. Khan and his fellow police officers are constantly facing complaints. The farmers of Argandab just want to return to their gardens and fields, free of Taliban explosives and expect some kind of assistance from the government in winter.

Which includes Mr. Agha and his large family.

About 3,500 families have been affected in the fighting, with District Governor Sharif Ahmad Rasuli in Argandab saying only 200 had received food assistance by mid-November. He said fifteen civilians were killed in the attacks, including at least five farmers who later died in their fields from hidden explosives.

“If we don’t get any help then our lives will be destroyed,” Mr. Aga said. “We will not be able to feed our children nor will we be able to feed.”

Nazim Rahim contributed reporting.

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