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Afghans in Kabul Reflect on Presence of Arab-Afghans - 2001-11-27

For the past two weeks, residents of Kabul have been adjusting to life without the Taleban and their foreign allies, who are known as Arab-Afghans. Thousands of so-called Arab-Afghans used to live in Kabul, serving as fighters in the Taleban army. Many in the capital say the Arab-Afghans were not good neighbors and they are glad they are gone.

Herat Restaurant is regarded by many as the best restaurant in Kabul. Herat's kebab's and traditional Afghan dishes such as ashok and mantu dumplings make it a first stop for many a traveler to Kabul. For the past five years many of Herat's regular customers were the so-called Arab-Afghans - Islamic militants, not all actually Arabs, from all corners of the Muslim world who found a safe haven in Afghanistan.

The so-called Arab-Afghans served as the Taleban's shock troops. Others belonged to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. Many lived in Wazir Akbar Khan, a once exclusive neighborhood near the Herat restaurant. Every day many would eat at Heart restaurant. Ghulam Sakhir, Herat's cashier says they were not good customers - especially when they returned from the front lines north of Kabul, after fighting for the Taleban.

"When they came from the front lines they looked very angry. They used to say to us 'give me my number.' When we told them 'wait your turn,' they would say, 'no this is my turn, you should take my number.' When we did not they would punish us," he said.

Ghulam Sakhir says the Arab-Afghans would verbally abuse the Herat staff if they were not seated immediately. He says no one talked back because the Arab-Afghans were heavily armed. He says among his customers were Pakistanis, Saudis, Egyptians and Chechens. He says many were well educated.

"They are educated men, because if they were not they could only speak Arabic. But most of them could speak English," he said. Ghulam Sakhir says he used to practice his English with some of the Arab-Afghans. He says one of his customers used to complain that two of his brothers were imprisoned in the United States.

When the Taleban abandoned Kabul the Arab-Afghans left with them. The few who stayed behind were either killed or captured by residents of the capital or by Northern Alliance troops. Many of the Arab-Afghans were used by the Taleban as fighters. When they were wounded they were treated at Kabul's military hospital.

Dr. Jan Mohammed, the hospital director, says he treated more than 100 foreigners who were injured recently in U.S. air strikes. He says the Arab-Afghan patients were often to badly wounded to say or demand much, but their commanders continually caused problems.

Dr. Mohammed says Arab-Afghan commanders would often storm into his hospital demanding their fighters be given priority over others - a demand he says that was impossible to refuse. He says he is glad the Arab-Afghans are gone and now no one enters the hospital without official permission. While Arab-Afghan fighters were being treated by Dr. Mohammed some of their families were being treated by Dr. Nafisa Farhard, a doctor in the women's wing of the hospital. Dr. Farhard says she delivered babies of women from Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, and other foreign countries.

Dr. Farhard says the wives and daughters of the Arab-Afghans never received special treatment, but they were not popular. Dr. Farhard says her patients were arrogant - telling Afghans that they were better Muslims than the doctors and other hospital staff members treating them. Dr. Farhard too says she is glad the Arab-Afghans are gone.

Like many others in Kabul she says the Arab-Afghans and their Taleban allies were responsible for turning their once lively and cosmopolitan city into one of the dreariest and isolated places on earth.