Learning good English & History together 2
Learning English and History together … 2
October 27, 1996
An Afghan Village, Destroyed at the Hands of Men Who Vowed Peace
SAR CHESHMA, Afghanistan, Oct. 24— In a country where at least 10,000 villages have been bombed, shelled and burned into rubble, the razing of one more hamlet can pass almost unnoticed. For hundreds of thousands of Afghan families who have lost their homes, the anonymity of the loss only adds to the pain.
So when a battered Kabul taxi arrived here this morning, smoke still rising and the smell of torched ruins heavy in the air, villagers clamored to tell outsiders how Sar Cheshma had died.
Hastening down narrow lanes between fire-blackened houses, the handful of people remaining in the village abandoned for a moment their rush to board trucks waiting to carry them away as refugees.
The villagers’ story has been a familiar one in the 18 years that Afghanistan has been at war. The twist this time was that the men who destroyed Sar Cheshma were the turbaned warriors of the Taliban, the ultra-conservative Muslims who have imposed a medieval social order across much of Afghanistan.
Two years ago, the Taliban sprang from religious schools with a promise to suppress the carnage that has killed an estimated 1.5 million Afghans and driven millions from their homes.
The villagers of Sar Cheshma say 30 Taliban fighters swept in at dawn on Tuesday, then spent several hours pouring canisters of gasoline into the 120 courtyard houses and setting them on fire.
Sar Cheshma lies barely five miles from the northern outskirts of Kabul, the capital, where the Taliban forces are fighting a village-by-village battle with the forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud, a less conservative Muslim leader whose troops used Sar Cheshma briefly on Monday as a base to fire on the Taliban.
A Bloody Robe, A Koran in Ashes
A young mother and her three sons were killed by a Taliban rocket fired when the Massoud forces were in the village.
There were no further deaths in the torching, which nearly obliterated the village. But in one mud-walled courtyard after another where hundreds of people lived, little remains but buckled bed frames, melted kitchen utensils and charred piles of grain.
”Are we not humans?” sobbed a 45-year-old woman named Narwaz, rushing forward with others to greet visitors who had slipped past Taliban checkpoints posted to keep outsiders away.
Beside her, a villager named Khairuddin, 55, waved a bloodied burqa, the head-to-toe shroud that the Taliban force all women to wear outside their homes.
The garment was all that remained of his daughter, the woman killed with her sons in the Taliban rocket attack.
In a home up one of the village’s dusty pathways, another man, Najmuddin, 30, broke away from sifting through his blackened grain supply, hoping to find enough uncharred bits to carry away.
Suddenly, the grain forgotten, his face contorted, he rushed to fetch a metal bowl piled high with ashes that had been balanced on a section of broken wall. It was all that remained of a copy of the Koran that he said had been in his family for generations.
”Tyrants! Tyrants!” he shouted, referring to the Taliban. ”This is the book of God. Kill us if you must, but don’t burn our holy book!”
Their attention attracted by his cries, several neighbors rushed forward, one with a large metal plate sitting among the utensils that Najmuddin had saved from the fire. Reverentially, Najmuddin placed the bowl with the ashes onto the plate and carried it away.
”We honor these ashes,” he said, weeping. ”The Koran is the book of God.”
The shock of what happened here appeared to be all the greater among the villagers because the perpetrators were the Taliban.
When they emerged as a fighting force in 1994, the Taliban presented themselves as the harbingers of a new Afghanistan, modeled on the teachings of the Koran and inspired by a burning zeal to reunify the country.
From their original base in the southern city of Kandahar, they swept east and west, suppressing local militias that had reduced much of the country to anarchy. The Muslim clerics who led the Taliban promised that their forces would set new standards of decency in the fighting, and indeed Taliban units appear to have avoided the raping and pillaging of most of the other Afghan forces that have fought in the civil war.
But they have become widely hated for the draconian social order laid down by the Taliban leaders, which bans women from working outside the home and girls from going to school, requires men to grow beards and forbids children to fly kites or play soccer.
Since Kabul fell to the Taliban four weeks ago, there has been a series of uprisings against them in towns and villages north of the capital.
Now the Taliban have gone a step further, using tactics indistinguishable from those of other forces that have contributed to the country’s destruction.
Today, two days after the attack on Sar Cheshma, Taliban jets bombed Kalakan, a village under the control of the Massoud forces about 10 miles further north.
A reporter for the BBC who visited the village said the bombing had killed 20 civilians.
Scene of Fighting Against Russians
In the case of Sar Cheshma, the Taliban attack was the latest in a series of disasters. The residents have repeatedly found themselves in the middle of the fighting because of the village’s strategic position, hard up against the Ghoza mountain range, which runs like a shield across the northwestern flank of Kabul.
In the decade that Soviet forces were here, Sar Cheshma became a stronghold for the Muslim guerrillas who ultimately drove out the Soviet troops.
Soviet bombers pounded the village more than once, leaving jagged ruins where mudwalled homes once stood and forcing many villagers to flee to Pakistan and Iran as refugees. Some returned after the Russians left, but barely a third of the village’s 300 homes were occupied when they were attacked this week.
In the atmosphere of panic that gripped Sar Cheshma today, many villagers said the Taliban were worse than the Russians.
”We killed more than 40 Russian soldiers in this village, but they never burned our houses,” said Nizamuddin, 35, who like most others here had supported his family by raising livestock and working a small plot of land.
Again and again the villagers voiced special loathing for the Taliban because of the religious movement’s claim to be the true upholders of the Koran.
”Didn’t they do a wonderful job here, these Muslims?” said Nizamuddin, leading the visitors on a house-by-house tour. ”Wasn’t this burning of our village a true act of faith? We should applaud them — they are surely the best Muslims in the world.”
If razing the village showed how none of the armies fighting for control of Afghanistan has much mercy for civilians, it also demonstrated that the war has gone beyond a competition between faiths and ideologies and has become little more than an ethnic struggle.
One reason the Taliban have been driven back so quickly from the northward advances they made after overrunning Kabul is that many villages dotting the dusty plain between Kabul and the Hindu Kush mountains, 60 miles to the north, are inhabited by ethnic Tajiks, the second-largest population group in Afghanistan.
All but a tiny minority of Taliban fighters are Pathans, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, accounting for about half the country’s 16 million people.
As a Tajik village, Sar Cheshma was a natural attraction for Mr. Massoud’s forces, and a natural target for Taliban suspicion.
The villagers say Taliban fighters arrived last weekend, summoned them and ordered them to surrender all of their weapons. This done, the Taliban departed with a warning that any attempt by Massoud forces to enter the village should be reported immediately to a nearby Taliban post.
”We gave them our Kalashnikovs, and they said they would protect us,” said the villager named Khairuddin.
Most in Village Destined for Exile
On Monday, the villagers said, they awoke to find that a group of Massoud fighters under the command of a Muslim cleric from the village, Mullah Taj Mohammed, had slipped into Sar Cheshma overnight.
The Massoud fighters ordered the villagers to stay in their homes, making any warning to the Taliban impossible, the villagers said. A brief battle followed, they said, in which Khairuddin’s family members were killed, then the Massoud fighters slipped away to the mountains, leaving the villagers to face the Taliban’s wrath at first light on Tuesday.
For most of the villagers, the immediate future appears to lie in joining hundreds of thousands of refugees in Kabul, many of them so destitute that they wander the streets begging.
But one Sar Cheshma resident said she was finished with fleeing. Sajida, 40, a widow, clutched her son, Abdullah, 12, and said she would stay amid the ruins of her home.
Six years ago her husband, an officer in the Communist army that disintegrated in 1992, was killed by a guerrilla rocket in Kabul.
”I left Kabul to escape from the fighting,” she said, ”but the fighting has followed me wherever I have gone. Now, if I must, I will stay and die here.”