Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
September 30, 2001
Some Afghans support idea of careful strikes on Taliban
"Why didn't you help us before?" one refugee asked. 

At War With Terror

FEYZABAD, Afghanistan - Like many residents of this dusty capital of opposition-controlled Afghanistan, Ghafar Haqbin would welcome a U.S. strike against the Taliban, the rigid Islamic movement that has ruled much of Afghanistan since 1996.

"People are happy if the United States attacks the Taliban, if they hit military targets," said Haqbin, 34, a money changer in the city market who lost his right leg fighting the Taliban five years ago. "We're just worried about civilian casualties."

But he and other residents of Feyzabad are skeptical about the United States' sudden interest in punishing the Taliban for providing a safe haven to Osama bin Laden, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. They wonder how long they can count on U.S. support.

"Why didn't you help us before?" asked Nisar Ahmad Quraishi, 43, a refugee from Kabul, the capital, which, like 90 percent of Afghanistan, is under the Taliban's control.

Officials with the Northern Alliance, the coalition of ethnic and political factions opposed to the Taliban, are waiting with great anticipation for the United States' expected response against Kabul. The opposition hopes its fragile movement will pick up strength if the Taliban weakens under a U.S. attack.

"I think it's the end of the Taliban, if the United States or NATO attacks," said Saleh Mohammed Registani, the alliance's military attache in Moscow, speaking from the opposition's embassy in neighboring Tajikistan.

"If it doesn't happen, we continue the struggle."

There is no evidence as yet of any U.S. military presence in Feyzabad.

On its own, the Northern Alliance has not fared well against the Taliban.

Headed by the former Afghan government that the Taliban drove from power in 1996, the alliance is still recognized by the United Nations as Afghanistan's legitimate rulers. But it is effectively a government in exile, its back pushed to the wall in this remote and desolate corner of Afghanistan.

About 100,000 people live in Feyzabad, surrounded by a bleak, unforgiving landscape of dun-colored mountains practically devoid of vegetation after three years of drought. The small valleys that cut through the harsh terrain provide a small source of agriculture: plots of wheat, sunflowers and corn.

The primary cash crop here is poppies, the source of opium and heroin.

Several signs in English declare the government's opposition to the production of narcotics, but the announcements appear to be mostly to benefit outsiders. Inhabitants openly acknowledge that poppy cultivation is a major source of income.

Feyzabad is a beige city of crooked mud-brick buildings perched along the dramatic rapids of the Daryayi Kokca river. It has a hospital and a university, but it appears lost in time - women appear in public wearing white and blue veiled dresses. Donkeys and bicycles are the most common modes of transportation.

After 23 years of civil war, first against a Soviet-installed communist regime and then among various factions that squabbled to control this fractious country, the people here seem weary of conflict.

"This war has gone on so long," Haqbin said. "We just want peace."

Since Sept. 11, most international aid agencies pulled foreign workers out of Feyzabad, fearing turmoil that has sent millions of Afghanis to Pakistan's borders. But the refugee crisis has not materialized in opposition territory.

The humanitarian workers who remain say there is enough food and medicine to stave off an immediate crisis.

"If supplies don't get in, we will be affected in the coming weeks," said Olivier Moeckli, the local representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross. "It has always been difficult to predict the outcome of this conflict, and now it's more difficult than ever."

The Northern Alliance does not appear to be poised to rush into Kabul. Its air force is limited to a handful of aging Russian helicopters and a few bellowing Soviet transports. Its vehicle fleet is an odd assortment of dented jeeps and pickup trucks.

In neighboring Tajikistan, where the opposition receives much of its meager support from Russian sponsors who regard the alliance as a buffer against Islamic fundamentalism, the alliance operates out of an embassy where a rusting Mercedes-Benz has sat so long that a bush is growing where its rear window used to be.

Registani, the alliance's spokesman in Dushanbe, is filled with confidence that the world will recognize the alliance's virtues and give it support.

Though it has received no official contact from the U.S. government, Registani says it would be a natural partnership with the United States.

"The Americans, they should talk to us," Registani said. "We'll show them the targets."

He hopes a U.S. attack would initially destroy the Taliban's air force, "then maybe the two sides would be even."

The alliance suffered a serious setback on Sept. 9 when its revered military leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, was slain by suicide bombers posing as a camera crew. Alliance leaders suspect the assassination was coordinated by bin Laden to coincide with the attacks in the United States.

Massoud's portrait is posted on shops, vehicles and government buildings under opposition control.

"Nobody can be him," Registani said, "but we continue." home page   
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