Shootout and 1,000 turncoats the price for not paying a bill : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Shootout and 1,000 turncoats the price for not paying a bill

Refusing to pay for a meal hurt the Taliban, Ian Traynor writes from Jabal Saraj, Afghanistan.

It was around four in the afternoon one sunny day last month when a brawl in a bazaar escalated out of control in a small town in central Afghanistan.

When the dust settled and the Kalashnikovs fell silent two hours later, two Taliban corpses lay on the street, as well as the bodies of two local fighters. Two more charred Taliban bodies sat incinerated inside their Japanese pick-up vans.

But the cost of the gun battle to the Taliban extended well beyond their four dead. The impact of the two-hour shootout is still resonating across Afghanistan. The Taleh-Barfak tea house brawl may have changed the course of the seven-year civil war.

The Taliban loyalists were driven out of town, and 30 regional field commanders defected, lowering the white flag of the Taliban and hoisting the green, white and black of the opposition Northern Alliance forces.

The commanders brought with them 1,000 ex-Taliban fighters and ultimately delivered to the opposition control of the town of Taleh-Barfak in central Afghanistan, a small but strategically vital settlement since it straddles the Taliban's main north-south supply route between Kabul and the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Last week the defectors delivered an even bigger prize to the opposition - 160 kilometres of the key road - in what was the most significant development in the war on the ground since the US started bombing. And all this apparently because of a row over a restaurant bill - a "free" lunch which proved to be the most costly the Taliban men ever consumed.

They could not have picked a worse time or place to decide they were lunching on the house. The ethnic Pashtun Taliban controlled the region, but were deeply unpopular among the majority Tajik population. The atrocities in New York and Washington had just turned the international spotlight on the Taliban regime and local leaders smelled an opportunity for rebellion.

Ranjbar, the tea shop owner who served the Taliban men their meal and green tea, was furious when the Taliban squad, around 40-strong, finished their food and made to leave without settling the bill.

"Ranjbar is a nice guy. He's one of us," explained Abdul Hakim, 28, one of the turncoats who arrived in Jabal Saraj, an opposition stronghold north of Kabul, to negotiate the terms of the switchover.

"They were asked for money. They didn't want to pay. The shooting started and the Taliban killed two of our men. That was the beginning of the conflict," he says. "Up until that point we were all Taliban."

Zulmai, a fellow defector, continues: "There were around 200 people in the bazaar. The Taliban started shooting into the bazaar. People were running everywhere, taking cover.

"They killed two of our commanders. The Taliban made for their cars. We were all shooting. I don't know who hit what. We blocked the road. We got two of the cars, shot them up. They went on fire."

-- Martin Thompson (, October 16, 2001


Sounds like the old Gulf War rhetoric. Everyone's defecting but Saddam is still in power.

-- David Williams (, October 18, 2001.

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