Accessibility links

Breaking News

Afghanistan Focuses on Peace

The focus of war in Afghanistan is switching to peace as leaders in Kabul prepare for the installation of a new interim government and the arrival of international peacekeepers. But away from the capital the situation in Afghanistan is uncertain.

36-year-old Shah Mamood Pupal is now a famous figure in Logar province. Last month, the military commander and 1,000 of his men successfully chased out the Taleban and secured the area for the Northern Alliance.

As an ethnic Pashtun, Mr. Pupal is an unlikely Northern Alliance hero. The Northern Alliance is an anti-Taleban coalition, mostly composed of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara ethnic groups. The Taleban is Pashtun-dominated.

But the commander says he does not regret fighting the Taleban, who threw him in prison for a short while for opposing them. He says he simply wanted to bring peace to the province where he grew up.

He says the Afghan people are sick and tired of war. They have been fighting for more than 20 years - first the Soviets and then each other. Mr. Pupal says the people in Logar need peace.

But even if peace is all Logar residents long for, there is scant evidence that the province faces a prosperous, stable future.

Alongside the road - next to newly planted vegetable fields - there are freshly dug trenches. Sahel - a former Northern Alliance soldier who had been in Logar in previous days - says alliance soldiers have been making the trenches in anticipation of a fight between them and Pashtun fighters loyal to former Afghan Mujahidin leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyer.

Sahel says last week, a group of Mr. Hekmatyer's fighters raised the flag of their leader in one of the districts, vowing revenge against those who support the United States. "That [Logar] is the center where Hekmatyer was before six or seven years ago," he said. "All the people of that province were Hekmatyer's soldiers."

After his forces helped defeat the Soviets and forced their withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Gulbuddin Hekmatyer launched an attack against his former comrade-in-arms, Ahmed Shah Massoud. The ensuing civil war destroyed much of Kabul and Mr. Hekmatyer was ultimately forced to live in exile in Iran.

Commander Pupal insists the flag-raising incident has not heightened ethnic tension and he says the trenches are purely to prevent the Taleban from trying to re-capture the area. But many local villagers are not convinced the fighting is over.

One Pashtun shopkeeper, Abdul Wahid Wahdatyer, pleaded for international peacekeepers - set to be deployed in Kabul in the next few days - to be sent to Logar immediately as well.

He says he is 100 percent certain that peacekeeping troops are needed in Logar and elsewhere in Afghanistan. Without them, he says, there will be trouble again.

An owner of a bicycle shop next door, an ethnic Tajik named Ghulam Nabi, agrees. But he says he is more afraid of trouble from Northern Alliance soldiers than from Mr. Hekmatyer's Pashtun followers.

He says that soldiers in the area have been coming around and watching everything they do. They force the shopkeepers to give them things for free. Mr. Nabi says recently, some of the soldiers have been stopping cars on the road and stealing them at gunpoint.

The breakdown in discipline among Northern Alliance troops and escalating ethnic tension are just two of numerous problems plaguing Logar. Like many parts of war ravaged Afghanistan, most of the people in Logar are unemployed, uneducated, and desperately poor.

Very few in Logar have hope that a new interim government will have the power and continued international support to break their cycle of misery.