Taliban's Ghorband valley stronghold two hours from Kabul
The Ghorband valley in Afghanistan's Parwan province hit the headlines last month when amateur video emerged of a young woman's public execution by militants. Parwan is not far from Kabul and the killing highlighted worsening security in the province, which Nato handed to Afghan responsibility last summer. The BBC's Bilal Sarwary reports.
It takes about two hours to reach the Ghorband river valley from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
The valley has strategic significance as it offers passage to the central provinces, the capital and the Kabul-Mazaar highway - a key Nato supply route.
Bagram air base, one of the largest US military bases in the country, is also close by.
As we approach the foothills of the Hindu Kush, driving along the Ghorband river, the valley looks serene. The tranquillity, however, is broken by an Afghan police check post.
This is the last stop, the police commander informs me. Why, I ask?
The Taliban are active beyond this point.
End Quote Haji Ahmad Truck driver, Shinwari
There is no security on the road - armed robbers stop us, beat us and snatch our money and goods”
At the checkpoint a thorough search of vehicles ensues.
Ten minutes later, vehicles are allowed to proceed but only after the officer manning the post is convinced of their credentials.
At the check post, an officer working for the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the country's spy agency, gives me a snapshot of the situation in the valley we have just entered.
"In the past three years, the government has not been able to arrest even one criminal or a suspect in the valley," he says.
"During operations, we have found bomb-making factories, huge caches of weapons and ammunition. But the government told people 'everything is fine'. They lied."
In the valley, we are greeted by a group of tribal elders.
I ask them about the execution of 22-year-old Najiba, who was shot several times by a suspected Taliban insurgent in front of a cheering crowd of men. She had been accused of adultery.
"It is not an isolated incident," one elder says.
"Last week, an American engineer was shot dead by Taliban along with two of his Afghan colleagues and their driver in Siagird."
Siagird along with Shinwari, Surkh Parsa and Sheikh Ali are the four districts that make up the Ghorband river valley.
Another elder reminds us of the murder of the Bamiyan provincial council head eight months ago.
Jawad Zahak, he says, was dragged out of his car and taken to the mountains encircling Ghorband.
His headless body was found a few days later, the elder says.
In early August elite NDS forces were ambushed on the border between Bamiyan and Ghorband. Four were killed, as were two New Zealand soldiers sent to their rescue. Elsewhere in the district the bodies of three local police were discovered - they were presumed killed by insurgents.'Caught between two sides'
In the local market, we meet some taxi drivers, who commute daily from Ghorband.
"We are happy and thankful to the foreigners for asphalting the 100km Ghorband-Kabul road," says Haji Ahmad, a truck driver from Shinwari. "The valley can now supply the entire city of Kabul with apricots, apples and almonds."
"But we do this risking our lives every day," another taxi driver says, asking us not to identify him.
"There is no security on the road. Armed robbers stop us, beat us and snatch our money and goods. Local police are harassing people. They demand money and food."
An elderly looking trader, who supplies apples and apricots to these truckers, says people travelling on the Ghorband-Parwan road are caught between the Taliban and the government.
"The Taliban suspects them to be government spies. The government thinks they are Taliban," he says. "Both sides are harassing them."
Villagers say the government exists only in the district headquarters. Beyond that, it is only the Taliban.
This is corroborated by a government-appointed judge.
"The government is too weak in the villages," he says. "I have to carry out my duties from within the district headquarters. Although I am a judge, I feel like a prisoner."
Police, however, say securing Ghorband is a tough challenge.
"I have the task of protecting 60,000 lives in my district with just 100 policemen. The Taliban have better weapons and resources than I do! How do you expect me to do that?" asks a police commander in one of the districts.
But Parwan Governor Abdul Basir Salangi says victory, though difficult, is not impossible.
"We are talking about the Haqqani network; we are talking about suicide attackers. These people are properly trained," says Mr Salangi, who has himself been the target of three assassination attempts.
"Last time, six suicide attackers in police uniforms attacked my office. The fighting got so intense that I had to intervene," Mr Salangi says. "I personally shot down one of the attackers."
Mr Salangi admits that security is a problem in Ghorband.
"I went to the valley myself and commanded operations against Taliban for 20 days. We opened the road, deployed police on either side of the road and pushed the Taliban into the mountains.
"I have written to the government in Kabul several times about the need to carry out operations against the Taliban in Ghorband. What else can we do?'' he asks, before answering his own question.
"We are doing whatever possible."