Afghanistan: Stumbling from the land without a soul : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Stumbling from the land without a soul

One in four of the world's refugees comes from Afghanistan. In the first part of a Herald series investigating the tortuous route they take to get here, Paul McGeough reports from the source of this human flood.

It's early evening in the Cockha Valley and a silvery, slivery crescent moon hangs in a rosewater sky. Teenagers play volleyball; a family threshes grain in the fields; and alone on a rock in the river, a wizened old man kneels and faces Mecca for his evening prayers.

These are the rare snatches of time when you forget that Afghanistan is one of the worst places to live on God's earth; these are the glimpses of a rural idyll that has been engulfed by a tumultuous combination of war and drought that began more than 20 years ago.

But reality strikes back.

This country is wrecked and withered. Everywhere there are signs of the tyranny of the Taliban - the ruthless orphans of war, the fundamentalist graduates of the madrassa schools of Islam who have built a society that has no soul, no joy.

In the warm land of the pistachio and the pomegranate, Afghans are confronted daily by a brutalising regime that dangles the bodies of its opponents from lamp-posts as a lesson to others; and which forbids children to fly kites because they are not supposed to have fun.

Listen. A mean wind whips through the mud-brick emptiness of the ghost villages of the north. Entire communities - from ancient Herat in the far west, to Asadabad, tucked into the creases of the mighty Hindu Kush in the east - have vanished as first fighting, and now famine, stalk the land.

Driving the tracks that pass for roads, family groups merge in and out of the incessant clouds of dust, turbans wrapped tightly against the grit. A few are on camels and some are on donkeys and horses. Many walk, but they are united in their poverty and misery.

In the first year of the drought, they sold their sheep and cattle; last year they bartered their tools and donkeys; finally, as this year's rains failed, they ate the seed that was to ripen as the next crops.

Only then did they take to the roads. They are still walking.

But there is worse, much worse, and it is enough to make any parent desperate to find a new life for themselves and their children.

When the tales from the battlefields are pieced together, it becomes clear that the Taliban regime is acting out its own version of Slobodan Milosovic's ethnic cleansing.

Religious bigotry is the fire in the belly of many of its fighters as they clear out minority Hazara, Uzbek and Tajik communities in a campaign of fear and terror.

Civilians are burnt alive, whipped with electric cable and mutilated with knives and bayonets. They are massacred by the hundred, occasionally by the thousand.

Mountain farmers are strafed from hand-me-down Soviet helicopter gunships. Tanks lob endless shells among civilian farmers in the hope of making them abandon their pastures.

Some Taliban victims are skinned and their bodies put on public display as a warning. Taliban fighters are said to sometimes daub themselves in their victims' blood before praying.

A foreign observer who has spent much time here said: "They want all Afghans to know that when they walk down the street any Talib they pass is capable of turning on them and inflicting severe pain. Unfortunately, the shock of what is happening here is being masked by a sense of 'this is all that Afghans are good for ...', and 'aren't they just a bunch of warring factions'.

"No-one has seriously confronted the Taliban on what they are doing."

-- Martin Thompson (, September 09, 2001


who cares?

-- the little bastard (, September 11, 2001.

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