Too Tired of War to Fear It, People Wait for Attack on Kabul
KABUL, Afghanistan, (AP) _ As trucks packed with bearded Taliban fighters roar off to the front line to confront advancing soldiers of the ousted government, Kabul’s residents _ most of them too poor to flee _ can do little but resign themselves to another battle for their already shattered city.
``So much war, so much destruction and so many people dead. What’s left?″ asks Noor Ahmed, a 16-year-old waiter at a grimy roadside teahouse. ``It’s going to start over again.″
Already, entire neighborhoods lie in ruins _ the legacy of a bitter four-year civil war among Islamic factions that threw out the communists in 1992 and turned their guns on each other. Street after street has been blasted to rubble. The university is littered with landmines. Hospitals are filled with wounded people.
When Taliban soldiers rolled in to Kabul on Sept. 27, residents hoped they brought peace. But just three weeks later, Taliban leaders, like their predecessors, are vowing to fight to the death to hold the capital.
Former government troops led by deposed military chief Ahmed Shah Massood are barely 12 miles from the city limits, and the thud of rockets reverberates in the streets.
The sound has become so familiar that residents have learned to ``read″ the thuds, to know where the rockets land, which side is firing and _ most important _ whether they should stay put or run.
It’s sport for some. They listen, point and guess. ``Outgoing, incoming.″ ``Near the airport.″ Or ``from the old highway.″
Shops are open, so residents can go about their business. Eight rockets hit the military and civilian airport on the city’s northeastern edge Monday, but the barrage hardly moved people to comment.
The residents of Kabul have seen war for years.
Almost immediately after they worked together to oust the communists, minority Shiites and Sunni Muslims of the Harakat-e-Islami group started fighting each other. Nearly daily battles during 1994 left Kabul in ruins.
In September of that year, the previously unheard of Taliban entered the fray, a movement of former seminary students that believes in installing Islamic rule by force.
The Taliban’s religious warriors spent the next two years marching across southern, western and eastern Afghanistan, seizing huge tracts of land. When they captured Kabul three weeks ago, they ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani and _ in a show of their violent style _ publicly executed the former communist president.
The Taliban set about imposing its strict version of Islam, banning women from the workforce and forcing them to wear a billowing garment called a ``burqua″ that covers the whole body. The wearer can see only through a mesh veil.
The Taliban beat women who didn’t cover up enough, and forced men at gunpoint into mosques for prayers. Men also were ordered to grow beards and wear skullcaps or turbans.
For many in Kabul, this was too heavy a price to pay for the Taliban’s peace.
``During 17 years of war Afghans have lost everything. But this is worse _ this is a war against our minds,″ said Khalileh Forooz, a poet and Radio Kabul employee who lost her job.
Dozens of young Afghani men and some ethnic Tajiks have disappeared, taken from their homes by Taliban soldiers. A taxi driver, who gave his name only as Abdullah, said he sent his brothers to Pakistan for fear the Taliban would draft them.
Today, Taliban soldiers rule the streets, roaring through Kabul in pickup trucks, brandishing Kalashnikov rifles and rocket launchers. They look ready to fight to the last man to hold the capital from the approaching soldiers of the former government.
And the people of Kabul wait for more war.
``You can only run away if you have money,″ said Ahmed, the teashop waiter. ``Those who have money have already fled to Pakistan or to other places. We are stuck.″
Syed Wali, who forages through garbage to feed his family, said he burns old rags to keep warm. He moved his family from their bombed-out home to an abandoned warehouse in the ruins of south Kabul.
``My baby girl cries all night because she is bothered by fleas,″ he said. ``But for now we are happy here because people leave us alone. I have no energy to run any more.″