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How the battle for Ghazni could impact upcoming polls in Afghanistan

Hundreds have been killed in the battle for Ghazni between the Afghan troops and the Taliban over the last three days. Taking back the city, which lies on the highway connecting Kabul and Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city, would give the Taliban a strategic advantage ahead of the Eid holiday later this month and the presidential polls in October. Rod Nordland of The New York Times joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    In Afghanistan, government security forces are battling the Taliban for the third day in the city of Ghazni — a key point on the highway connecting the capital Kabul and the country's second largest city of Kandahar. Fighting and bombings have increased recently as the Taliban try to take control of more territories in advance of next year's presidential election. Joining us now from Kabul via Skype is the New York Times Afghanistan bureau chief, Rod Nordland. Thanks for being with us. Why is Ghazni so crucial?

  • ROD NORDLAND:

    Ghazni is, has always, been a really important strategic point kind of marks the border between the Tajik and Hazara [in the] north of Afghanistan's capital and the Pashtun lands in the south and east and taking Ghazni would basically cut off the Taliban heartland from the rest of the country and give them maybe a kind of quazi state.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Just the other day the Afghan government was saying that they had control of this city. But your reporting showed otherwise.

  • ROD NORDLAND:

    Well they're still saying they they have control. But our reporter was walking around the streets and the only thing he saw were Taliban. The government does still hold the police station, the prison, a couple places, an army base and there is a big base right outside of town that is filling up with reinforcements. But so far, the government has not mounted any kind of concerted counterattack to chase the Taliban out. They say because they're worried about hurting civilians in the process.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And there are also multiple forces in here. You've also been reporting recently about the Islamic State and what their role is. Are they prisoners, in some cases or [are] they honored guests in others?

  • ROD NORDLAND:

    Well, in the case of one large ISIS group in the north of Afghanistan, they surrendered to the government rather than be defeated by the Taliban. They were about to be overrun because enemies of the Taliban as well and the government rather than treat them as prisoners, treat them as guests, which caused quite a scandal. I think, angered American leaders as well.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Because there are still citizens who have had to deal with the atrocities that the Islamic State inflicted upon them, right?

  • ROD NORDLAND:

    That's for sure. Yeah and you know, their leaders said, you know, if anyone has any charges against they should come forward and by that morning 50 people had come forward to complain about beheading and random arbitrary murders.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Let's talk a little bit about how this political landscape ends up shaping up before the upcoming elections. You have these different factions here — the Taliban is taking some military action but they're also trying to win hearts and minds.

  • ROD NORDLAND:

    Yes and a lot of people say the Ghazni offensive and also by the way, there are three other major offensives going on now by the Taliban that have killed about as many people as have been killed in Ghazni in just the last couple days. But a lot of people see all that as the Taliban trying to gather credit and lay down a marker before that any kind of peace talks start.

    There's a lot of hope here that in a couple weeks they'll be, less than a couple of weeks, with Eid holiday, there'll be another cease fire. There was one in June that was very successful and people are hopeful that will happen. Some analysts see this series of attacks in Ghazni especially as an attempt by the Taliban to strengthen their position before any talks.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right Afghanistan bureau chief for The New York Times, Rod Nordland joining us via Skype tonight. Thanks so much.

  • ROD NORDLAND:

    Sure thing.

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