The Philadelphia Inquirer
October 21, 2001
Afghan rebels ambivalent
about U.S. effort
Afghanistan - Gen. Baba Jan smiled acerbically as a clutch of foreign
journalists crowded around him last week, demanding to know when his
Northern Alliance forces would attack the Taliban, now that the American
bombing campaign was under way.
simplicity of the Americans, that they should ask when we will start our
attack," mused Baba Jan, whose troops are squared off against radical
Islamic Taliban forces at this front line about 25 miles north of the
capital, Kabul. "The Taliban is America's enemy. Then you should
impudence of Northern Alliance commanders like Baba Jan is striking to
some Americans, who believe the beleaguered rebel forces should be
grateful for the sudden U.S. interest in pounding the Taliban after the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in America.
in this small corner of Afghanistan, where dedicated holy warriors -
mujaheddin - have been struggling with little success against the Taliban
for years, there is a pronounced ambivalence about the rapid American
buildup against the Taliban for harboring terrorism suspect Osama bin
asked about the American bombing, most people here respond automatically
that they are happy the United States wants to attack their common enemy.
But many remember that the last time America took an interest in
Afghanistan, when it supported mujaheddin warriors fighting the Soviet
occupation in the 1980s, that attention lasted only as long as the Cold
United States reached its goal and the Soviet Union collapsed, it forgot
about the Afghan people," said Yonus Qanooni, a member of the central
committee of the Supreme Council of State, the body that governs the 10
percent of Afghanistan under rebel control.
say the American abandonment of Afghanistan in the early 1990s created a
vacuum that allowed America's ally, Pakistan, to nurture the development
of radical Islamic forces in Afghanistan. Some say the United States
enabled the ascendance of the Taliban by standing silently behind Pakistan
while the Islamic extremists rose to power.
few believe the Americans even secretly supported the Taliban as a
counterweight to Iranian and Russian support for the Northern Alliance -
the United States, after all, had done practically the same thing with
Afghan proxies against the Soviets the previous decade.
say the United States sacrificed Afghanistan because of its relations with
Pakistan," said Qanooni.
a result, America's newfound interest in attacking the Taliban and Osama
bin Laden is regarded with some skepticism. The initial euphoric
assumption that U.S. involvement would prompt a quick end to Afghanistan's
23 years of civil war has given way to a more measured, realistic
response: Don't expect miracles from a fair-weather friend like America.
have been here six years fighting for our freedom from the Pakistani, the
Arab, and the Chechen troops who prop up the Taliban forces," said
Baba Jan, a celebrated general. "If the United States wants to throw
the Taliban out now, fine. That's American business. But we have our own
U.S. government's reluctance to publicly embrace the Northern Alliance is
only further evidence to people here that America is a mercurial partner.
The United States has even held back from bombing Taliban front-line
positions around the capital at the behest of Pakistan, which fears the
anti-Pakistan Northern Alliance will seize control of Kabul if the Taliban
Afghan view of the world is a perspective alien to the West. Like many
Islamic radicals who joined the fight against the Soviet Union in the
1980s, the mujaheddin say they were given insufficient credit for causing
the collapse of the Soviet Union. In local lore, the Islamic warriors were
the sole force that defeated the superpower.
Northern Alliance leaders believe they have struggled without recognition
for years against the Taliban and international terrorists, while the rest
of the world ignored a problem they said was as serious as communism.
people of our country, by sacrificing their own lives and standing firm
against communism, saved the lives of millions of people in the
neighboring countries and the rest of the world," Ahmed Shah Massoud,
the Northern Alliance's martyred military leader, is quoted as saying in
banners posted throughout rebel territory. "Indeed, our people
defended their liberty and welfare. But, with much regret, Pakistan
stabbed our people in the back, the United States was all ears to
Pakistan's words, and Europe adopted indifference."
sense of victimization is strong here. "Before the attacks of bin
Laden, nobody came here and asked us about ourselves," said Mohammed
Ajan, 25, a nine-year veteran in Baba Jan's battalion.
portraying themselves as victims, Northern Alliance officials often
downplay their own role in failing to inspire the world's confidence.
There is little acknowledgment that quarrels among mujaheddin commanders
after they ousted the communist government from Kabul in 1992 killed
thousands of Afghan civilians, leveled neighborhoods in the capital, and
led to such disorder that the Taliban was regarded as a stabilizing force
when it captured Kabul in 1996.
Afghans in the north believe they are destined to fight their divine
struggle alone, without help from an uncaring world, said Abdul Malik, the
president of Albiruni University, a school created two years ago in the
Panjshir Valley city of Gandahar because all the other institutions of
higher education had been captured by the Taliban.
the world was just looking at Afghanistan as theater, as a movie,"
said Malik. "The Voice of America and the BBC carried news from
Afghanistan, but the rest of the world just watched us without
listen now to news from the rest of the world, assurances from President
Bush and (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair that the West will not forget
Afghanistan this time, that there will be an effort to rebuild the country
after American bombers complete their destruction.
think it is the duty of the United States and allied countries to rebuild
our country," said Malik. "It's not possible for Afghan people
to do it alone. Now the world tells us they are interested in the future
of Afghanistan, and we will see. But if Afghanistan is allowed to go as it
went before, perhaps some other extremist elements will come and thrive