Staying away from the
Taliban - or trying to
War With Terror
Afghanistan - Dr. Mohammed Nasser Foushanji and his family have been
through a few close scrapes with the Taliban over the years - he has been
shot in the leg and four times he has had to flee the advancing Taliban
the peril he fears now may be the most unnerving.
and his wife recently sent two of their children to the capital, Kabul, to
study with relatives. They have not heard from them since Afghanistan
became the target of America's wrath for sheltering Osama bin Laden, the
alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. Now they
fear their family might become casualties if U.S. bombs are aimed at
worried about the danger of attack in Kabul," said Foushanji, 41, an
orthopedic surgeon who earned the Taliban's wrath by treating soldiers of
the opposition Northern Alliance. "There is no way to contact them.
This is a big problem for us. Every night we are thinking about
not the only Afghans fretting about an expected American attack. Even in
this opposition stronghold, where Afghans initially were thrilled at the
prospect of a U.S. assault against the despised Taliban regime, the
reality has sunk in that most families here have some relative who might
be in harm's way.
every family here has relatives living in Kabul," said Christophe
Dubied, administrator of the Doctors Without Borders office here.
"People here are resentful of the Taliban, but if there are civilian
casualties, then all Afghans are brothers."
sentiment here in Feyzabad, the capital of the opposition Northern
Alliance, might be useful to American military planners evaluating
potential targets in Afghanistan: If U.S. bombs go astray and kill
civilians, it may do as much to unify the fractious Afghans as the Soviet
Union's invasion two decades ago. That turned into a 10-year war before
the Soviets pulled out.
don't like to see a person from another country kill an Afghan," said
Foushanji, sitting in the living room of a house where he is staying as a
guest. "It's not easy to accept."
most circumstances, Foushanji and his wife would be natural allies of any
enemy of the Taliban.
a nation with one of the world's largest refugee populations after 23
years of civil war, Foushanji is a modern nomad, moving constantly to
avoid the Taliban's rigid rule. His story is a case study of life in a
nation unhinged by the crosswinds of a fierce ethnic and religious storm.
in the western city of Herat, Foushanji was no supporter of the Soviet
occupation. His father, the former security chief for ousted King Mohammad
Zahir Shah, was blackballed by communist authorities because he had an
American education. A brother was killed fighting Soviet troops. Foushanji
himself was jailed for two months, suspected of being disloyal to the
Taliban. In medical school, he specialized in war surgery, and in one of
his first assignments, he took a bullet in the leg from the mujaheddin
Islamic warriors fighting a jihad against the Soviet-installed government.
the Soviets left in 1989 and Afghanistan descended into a war among rival
mujaheddin factions, Foushanji contacted Ahmed Shah Massoud, a powerful
military commander whose faction came to power in the Islamic revolution
of 1992. Massoud, a charismatic leader who later was the chief of the
Northern Alliance military forces, was assassinated last month, two days
before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Massoud, Foushanji got a job in Herat, in western Afghanistan. He worked
there for six months until the town was overrun by the Taliban, fanatical
Islamic students who wanted to purge Afghanistan of all infidel influence.
I knew Massoud, I had a big problem with the Taliban," Foushanji
said. He told the Taliban he was going to visit his home district, but
instead escaped on foot through the battle lines to Kabul. It was the
first time he left everything behind to the Taliban.
again by his family in Kabul, Foushanji worked at the capital's largest
hospital until 1996, when the Taliban captured Kabul and outlawed
everything except the strictest form of Islam. Kabul, once an open city
with nightclubs and theaters and European influences, overnight became a
place where men were forced to wear long beards, women were forbidden to
work, and girls were banned from schools.
went to the market and spent $100 for four tent-like burqas for his wife,
his mother and his sisters, who had never before worn the veiled garments.
hate the burqa," said Foushanji's wife, Roqia Nasser, dressed
elegantly in a green dress as she sat in the privacy of her house.
"If I were king for one day, I would collect all the burqas and burn
them. Yet I am obligated to wear it."
worked with the Taliban for two months after the takeover of Kabul.
"Once again I had a problem," he said. "The Taliban wanted
me to point out the houses of former generals. I told them I am not a spy,
I'm a doctor." So he left again, this time for the northern city of
Taloqan, held by his old friend, the opposition commander Massoud.
where Foushanji worked in a military hospital repairing war casualties,
was attacked in 1998. Foushanji and others insist the attack was so well
regimented the battle was surely organized by the Taliban's sponsors,
Pakistan. The devastation was horrendous.
only had four people in the hospital," he said. "We received
hundreds of casualties from shelling and aerial bombings. I remember one
family lost seven people killed in one day. I saw the people fighting the
Taloqan fell, Foushanji escaped once again with his family. But less than
a year later, Massoud retook Taloqan and invited the surgeon to return. He
did, but eventually he was forced to leave the city again last year when
the Taliban recaptured the city after a two-month battle.
again, he fled without most of his possessions, taking only some clothing
and two medical books - one on war surgery, the other on orthopedic
surgery. "To move to so many places without things is very
difficult," he said.
Foushanji and his family live in Feyzabad, one of the last cities buried
so deeply in the mountainous northeast corner of Afghanistan that is is
considered safe from Taliban attack.
is the last city," he said. "If the Taliban comes, I will have
to dive in the river to escape."
he has taken on an administrative job at Mercy Corps International, an
American humanitarian organization that distributes clothing and other
non-food aid to people displaced by the war. He is also working at
Feyzabad Hospital and has a private practice on the side. He and his wife
live in a borrowed room, decorated with posters from the movie Titanic,
which is inexplicably popular in this landlocked country.
few months ago they sent their two older sons, Ansar, 12, and Esar, 11, to
Kabul to study at the home of their grandfather. (Children and women can
cross Taliban lines without rousing much suspicion.) The boys were
scheduled to come home early last month, before the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks raised alarms of an imminent American attack and the Taliban cut
off all communications from Kabul and expelled humanitarian organizations.
now they are left with their 5-year-old son Safar and plenty of worries.
"Sometimes I hear the door," said Roqia Nasser. "I think
they will walk in. It's very nervous for me."