New Alliance Opens Old Wounds in Afghan Capital
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Abdul Haidi stoops to pull weeds from his garden, a gentle breeze rustling neatly planted rows of peas. The sweet smells of his bright red and yellow roses fill the air.
The garden offers escape, however brief, from the horrors of Afghanistan’s civil war. The small patch of beauty in a landscape of devastation gives him hope.
``Right now I just want peace,″ Haidi says.
President Burhanuddin Rabbani says he has started the country in that direction by reaching a political accommodation with his old foe, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
The people of Haidi’s neighborhood and other parts of ravaged Kabul hope so, but they are leery. Soot blackens the outside of Haidi’s apartment building and giant holes gape in the walls _ damage from relentless attacks on Kabul by the Hezb-e-Islami fighters led by Hekmatyar.
Forces loyal to Rabbani and Hekmatyar began fighting over Kabul soon after loosely allied Islamic movements ousted a Marxist government in April 1992 and then turned on each other in a struggle for power.
But today, Hekmatyar is no longer the enemy. He and Rabbani reached an agreement in mid-May to make Hekmatyar prime minister and keep the presidency for Rabbani’s faction, the Jamiat-e-Islami. Hekmatyar was sworn in June 26.
The government says it hopes the accord will be an example to other factions to find a solution through negotiations rather than fighting.
The main threat to Kabul now is the Taliban, a movement started by Islamic religious students whose troops are arrayed in the hills south of the city. Taliban fighters greeted Hekmatyar’s swearing-in day by raining rockets on Kabul, killing more than 30 people and wounding dozens in the bloodiest shelling of the year.
And despite the peace accord, many people in Kabul are troubled by the sight of newly arrived Hezb-e-Islami soldiers wandering the streets. The government says about 1,200 Hezb-e-Islami men are in the capital.
At restaurants people step aside when they walk in, always heavily armed. On the roads they rule in their four-wheel-drive vehicles.
``The weapons are a problem that we would like to deal with,″ said Amrullah, a government spokesman who like many Afghans uses only one name.
The new Hezb-e-Islami headquarters is right in the middle of the city. Dozens of soldiers with grenade launchers and machine guns sit on the sidewalk outside the 10-foot steel gate. It’s not clear whether they are guards or simply waiting until they are called upon to fight at the front.
On street corners, often in areas heavily damaged by Hezb-e-Islami shelling, Hekmatyar’s men now sit alongside government soldiers sipping green tea and laughing.
Sitting cross-legged on a straw mat, Abdul Mohammed, a Hezb-e-Islami soldier, gestures toward the devastated buildings in Kabul’s old money market, known as Jeday Maiwan.
``Hezb-e-Islami did all this,″ he concedes, and then adds: ``It is the leaders who are responsible. Now they are talking and that is good.″
Healing the wounds will not be easy.
In Macroyan, where Haidi’s tiny garden is in full bloom, many people are fearful about the presence of Hezb-e-Islami fighters. They have terrible memories of the fighting between Hekmatyar and Rabbani, when their homes were on the front line.
From the hills behind Macroyan, Hezb-e-Islami rockets rained down on the dozens of apartment buildings that make up the suburb.
Twisted metal balconies still hang down the sides of the buildings. Inside the ravaged structures, three and four families live in one room. Apartments are missing walls.
During 1994 and 1995 _ the peak of the battle between Hekmatyar and the government _ 25,000 people died in Kabul, most of them civilians and many of those children, humanitarian workers estimate. In Macroyan alone, hundreds of people were killed.
At least 750,000 people have fled the city and most who have stayed behind are either government personnel or do not have the money to leave.
Angela, a pretty 11-year-old in a silky purple shirt and pants, limps toward Haidi’s garden, her left foot dragging behind.
Shyly she lifts her pant leg to reveal an ankle barely two inches around and a foot that is a swollen, scarred stump.
``A rocket landed on my house,″ she says. ``My brother died and my foot was hurt.″
For Angela, like many people in Macroyan, the fear of renewed fighting is always near.
``I don’t know why, but I am very afraid of more fighting,″ she says.