The Philadelphia Inquirer
November 25, 2001
Afghanistan faces a
Six million have been displaced in
War With Terror
Afghanistan - After nearly three years living with about 20,000 other
refugees in the squalid former Soviet Union Embassy compound, Dastagir
Khan would like to move home.
Taliban evicted Khan and thousands of his neighbors from their villages
and vineyards on the Shamali Plain to create a free-fire zone along the
front line north of the capital. With the rapid advance of the Northern
Alliance in recent weeks, the battlefield north of Kabul disappeared as
quickly as the Taliban retreated to Afghanistan's south.
there is nothing left for Khan to move to. The Taliban systematically
looted, destroyed and mined the houses along the front lines. The Shamali
Plain behind the old Taliban lines is a wasteland of shriveled vineyards,
wrecked houses, and broken military equipment.
are free to leave, but we can't afford to go," said Khan, 45.
is there much appeal to remain in the old Soviet complex, a sprawling
compound of open manholes, smoky fires, pungent latrines and crowded
rooms. Residents live crammed into 24 four-story apartment buildings,
constructed during the Soviet occupation. In three years, refugees say,
more than 760 have died in the crowded conditions, including three of
Khan's seven children.
Afghanistan's winter fast approaching, a humanitarian crisis is looming.
More than six million Afghans - a quarter of the population - are
displaced. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says that if peace
prevails, Afghanistan is facing one of the largest resettlements of modern
a resettlement would require a stable government and substantial
international investment. Talks begin tomorrow in Bonn between various
Afghan groups opposed to the Taliban about creating a new government.
Meanwhile, Sadako Ogata, the Japanese government's representative on
Afghan issues, estimated it would cost $10 billion over 10 years to
residents occupying the filthy old Soviet embassy complex say the
international community, especially the United States, is obligated to
help the country rebuild after it bombed so many sites.
are hoping they don't forget us," said Hamidullah, 58, head of the
residents' association. "If they do, we'll just cross them off our
lists and hate them from now on."
Taliban moved the residents out of the Shamali Plain in 1998 just before
the Northern Alliance recaptured much of the farming region. The Taliban
hired thousands of workers from Kabul to destroy the houses and rip up the
fields to deprive the opposition of shelter and food.
refugees were first relocated to Jalalabad and then moved to the embassy
complex, a double-walled compound of drab, uniform buildings battered by
years of machine-gun fire and grenade explosions.
complex contains one school and one clinic with one doctor, but other
services are limited. Care International provides several tanker trucks of
drinking water and cleans the latrines monthly. A French humanitarian
organization distributes food.
are not living in good conditions," said Mohammed Daoud, the only
physician at the health clinic next to the embassy. "There isn't
proper food. There isn't proper sanitation. If people were just allowed to
live in the open, it would be better than cooped up like this."
or more families are assigned to each room, which are darkened by the
smoke of wood fires and furnished with rudimentary belongings - a kettle,
a basin, a few cushions.
Taliban forced us to stay here," said Khan. "We are like people
who have been kidnapped."
the Northern Alliance recaptured the Shamali Plain, some residents have
returned to their old houses to assess the damage.
visited my home recently," said Abdul Wahid, who is about 40 years
old and has eight children. "There is no house. There is no timber.
There is no wood." He once grew wheat, mulberries, cows and sheep.
"All killed, all destroyed."
the head of the residents' association, says Afghanistan is a victim of
the Cold War: After being occupied by the Soviet Union, Afghanistan
suffered at the hands of a war prolonged by U.S. aid to the mujaheddin
main problem of this country was the Russians," said Hamidullah.
"The second problem was the Americans for supporting the mujaheddin.
These two powers caused all this misery."