Little faith in Taliban's holy war

SUN JOURNAL

Perspective: Neither God nor the Afghan people side with the ruling militia, says a veteran of the jihad against the Soviet Union.

September 25, 2001|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - When Bahain Jan defended his country against Soviet invaders, he was armed with an AK-47 rifle, the zeal of a holy warrior and the conviction that God was on Afghanistan's side, making victory possible.

Now he fears Afghanistan's leaders might call for a holy war against the American superpower, but this time Jan does not expect divine intervention. God, he says, will not help the Taliban.

"They are mad," says Jan, who lives in a sun-baked mud hut in the Afghan slums outside Pakistan's capital city, Islamabad. "They are not holy warriors now. No one will take part in that."

Jan, 45, tugs at his long beard and shakes his head in disgust when he considers threats by Islamic hard-liners to unleash a new generation of holy warriors against the United States if its forces attack Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden, the suspected terrorist.

"God will not help Afghanistan now because it is not the same," he says during an interview at his home. "The whole world was with us when we were fighting the Russians, but now there is no country that is with the Taliban."

No doubt, numerous young Islamic militants in Afghanistan and in Pakistan disagree. But many Afghans, inside and outside the country, have lost faith in the Taliban. Many who lived through Afghanistan's deadly 10-year jihad - holy war - with the former Soviet Union do not see any religious motivation to protect bin Laden when their country faces so many other hardships.

"Osama is our enemy. He is not a friend," Jan says. "The jihad is gone now. Our only concern is getting bread."

Jan fought the Soviet army with high skill and deep conviction. He was so good with his rifle, he says, that he could "shoot a kite out of the sky." He killed two Russian soldiers: "One was hit in the belly, the other in the neck." He saw his homeland bombed and dozens of friends and neighbors die, but in the end he and other scrappy mountain fighters helped bring a superpower to its knees.

These days, with a shortwave radio that he clutches by his side like a purse, Jan tunes in to reports from the Voice of America and British Broadcasting Corp. They tell of poverty and unrest and Afghanistan's further isolation from the world. The United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties Saturday, leaving just two nations in the world that recognize the militant Taliban regime: Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Jan remembers very different times. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, groups of poorly armed and untrained men put their trust in God, rose up against the intruders and promised to expel them. The guerrilla fighters won with weapons and training from the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other powers.

Jan was working as a truck driver in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, when he joined the rebel forces in the early 1980s and fled to the countryside to fight.

Sitting on the bed of his mud hut, with a dozen neighbors listening wide-eyed to his tales, Jan recalled making long, difficult hikes across the Khyber Pass from Afghanistan to Pakistan to pick up fresh military supplies from Peshawar, the base for U.S. military aid funneling into Afghanistan.

Tenacious and resilient, Jan and other holy warriors, called mujahadeen, made the well-equipped, highly trained Soviet forces pay a high price for setting foot into Afghanistan's forbidding mountains and rough deserts. By some estimates, at least 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed in the conflict. Afghans paid an even greater price for their victory. About one million were killed between 1979 and 1989, when the Soviets finally withdrew.

At the end of the war, there was no peace for victorious fighters like Jan. With their common enemy defeated, the mujahadeen splintered into factions to fight over the leadership of their country, touching off a civil war that continues today.

The Islamic Taliban movement controls more than 90 percent of the country and established its government in 1996. Rebels are still fighting in the north.

Frustrated by the poverty and chaos of Taliban-led Afghanistan, Jan abandoned his truck-driving business in Kabul and moved across the border to Pakistan with his wife and six children, two years ago. Many more Afghans would flee their homes and the repressive Taliban government if they could afford to go, he says.

"Eighty to 90 percent of Afghans are not happy with the Taliban," he says.

Jan and his family's crudely fashioned mud-brick home sits in an Afghan refugee slum across the street from the capital city's wholesale vegetable market, where Afghan children sift through piles of rotten vegetables and rubbish looking for food.

The neighborhood, named Kacha Abadi, or "mud houses," is home to more than 5,000 refugees who live in similar rough huts separated by open sewers.

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