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Afghans Look Forward To Peace - 2001-12-07

With the Taleban in virtual collapse and a political agreement signed among Afghanistan's opposition parties, peace for the coutnry may finally be in sight. Peace will be a welcome development for all Afghans, but in particular for the men who have been doing the fighting.

The face of Haji Sheeraz Khan is weather-beaten and war-weary from having seen much suffering and pain. For 23 years, the tribal leader and commander has been fighting, first against the Soviets, then against the Taleban.

But he is tired. He is ready for peace, both for his country and himself.

We want peace, says the veteran commander. We are waiting for peace, we are ready to do anything for peace.

There are thousands of Afghan veterans like Mr. Khan, men whose memories of a peaceful life must seem dim indeed.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Peace was tantalizingly close in 1992, when the mujahedin finally ousted the communist government. But factional fighting shattered that fragile moment, and paved the way for the advent of Taleban rule four years later. Now a new agreement has been signed that Afghans hope will finally bring a semblance of stability to their land.

If peace comes, he says, people will return to their old lives, Mr. Khan says. Farmers will cultivate the land, civil servants will again attend to the task of governing.

Mr. Khan is a tribal leader, the chief of the Shinwari tribe. He welcomes the interim administration that will be installed later this month and is glad there will be a traditional Loya Jirga, or grand tribal council, to choose a government.

"I am happy there will be a Loya Jirga in keeping with our Islamic tradition," he says, "and a government chosen by the elders and learned people to bring stability and harmony."

He sits on a rickety bed frame by a crumbling wall on the Afghan side of border with Pakistan at Torkham, surrounded by his troops over whom he exudes an easy authority. Under his shawl is a worn leather bandolier filled with bullets.

At Torkham, Mr. Khan has responsibility to keep the road between the border and the city of Jalalabad safe. And he also must exercise control over the thousands of Afghans who want to try to get into Pakistan but to whom Pakistan refuses entry.

The Taleban who were guarding the border disappeared when the Northern Alliance took Kabul and Jalalabad, with some heading back to their homes and others fleeing to the last mountain redoubt of Tora Bora.

The foreign fighters the Pakistanis, Arabs, and Chechens who are fighting with the Taleban have to leave Afghanistan, Mr. Khan says. Only then, he says, can his country's problems be solved.

In a farewell thought, he pleads for aid from the international community for his war-scarred, drought-stricken country. He then gets up, and bids his visitor goodbye, heading off down the road to what he hopes will be peace, and a long overdue rest.