Afghan families reunite as fighting winds down

Brothers who fought on opposing sides welcomed back into fold

War On Terrorism

November 30, 2001|By SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan - When Ghulam Sarvar and his brother Hanon met at their parents' house for the first time in three years, they hugged, they wept, they laughed and made up.

"We cried so much, we were so happy to see each other," said Hanon.

On almost every day of those three years, Hanon, a Northern Alliance commander, would stare off into the distance, knowing that one day one of his own troops might kill his younger brother.

Ghulam Sarvar had been ordered by the Taliban to serve on nearby front lines, below the peak of the 12,000-foot Mount Siabuz along the Tajikistan border, as a punishment for being related to Hanon.

Then, as the alliance swept across northern Afghanistan this month, Hanon found himself among the thousands of opposition fighters chasing Ghulam Sarvar and other Taliban troops westward toward the brothers' home city of Kunduz.

Sunday, it was all over. Kunduz had fallen and the brothers had returned home.

"In wars, people die and get wounded. We didn't know if we would see each other again," said Hanon, a battle veteran in his mid-30s, as he talked yesterday at their parents' home, with more than 40 relatives crowded into the family living room.

The brothers' story is not unusual for northern Afghanistan; during the five-year civil war the Taliban regime often forced brothers to take up arms against each other.

But it was a tactic that contributed to the mass defections from the Taliban ranks that ultimately led to the regime's collapse.

Family relations and close friendships mean more in Afghanistan than political affiliation.

That is why alliance troops weeded out and arrested about 6,000 foreign fighters but did not even consider disarming their Afghan counterparts after Kunduz fell.

Now, in this bustling city swarming with gun-toting men, it has become difficult to distinguish between Taliban and alliance fighters.

Near a tank that guarded a checkpoint at the city gate, several dozen armed men waited to speak to a local alliance commander.

All wore gray or brown clothes, wool blankets and hats typical in northern regions populated by Tajiks.

Some were alliance fighters who had just entered the city, but most were former Taliban militia.

"The Taliban made us go to the front," said Mahmud Anvar, who stood among his former foes with a Kalashnikov rifle slung across his shoulder. "In return, they didn't touch my family."

Dlagha, a soldier who fought under Hanon's command, was skeptical: "He said they forced him, but he was a volunteer. A lot of those guys are former Taliban."

Mahmud Anvar replied that those differences were no longer important: "We are all the same. We are Afghans, we are brothers."

At the Sarvar family reunion, the two brothers huddled as Hanon posed for a photo with his 7-year-old son, Abdul Kayur - an unsmiling, taciturn child whom Hanon hasn't seen since he left to fight the Taliban six years ago.

In a somewhat agitated state, Ghulam Sarvar told his relatives about his life as a Taliban soldier.

The Taliban drafted him in 1998 after capturing Kunduz and discovering that Hanon was fighting for the alliance.

"They demanded that our family either pay a $400 fine or give another son to fight," said Ghulam, now in his mid-20s. His eyes glittering with a fighter's enthusiasm so common in this war-torn country, he added, "I was a terrorist."

As a B-52 roared overhead and dropped a bomb that rattled the desert, young Abdul Kayur, who hardly knows his father, pulled away from his grasp in fright and disappeared into a crowd of children who clogged the entryway to the living room.

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