AT dawn, Faqir Mohamad stands outside Pulikheshti Mosque and hopes for a day's work. Waiting at the blue-domed Kabul landmark is a regular ritual for Faqir and dozens of other Afghans uprooted by more than a decade of war.
Some days the construction worker, who fled his bombed village with his family four years ago, earns $3. Often, he does not.
"If I only had the money, I would go to Pakistan," says the wage laborer, pulling down his tattered fur cap. "Now I just wait for peace so I can go back to my village."
A tide of neglected, often invisible refugees is adrift inside Afghanistan.
Exiled in their own country, these displaced Afghans fall outside the massive international relief umbrella sheltering almost 6 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran.
In Kabul and other cities, where they have been driven by war and hunger, the refugees often fall through the cracks of the Soviet-backed welfare program that helps keep President Najibullah in power.
Experts estimate their numbers at 2 million, a group second in size only to Sudan's internal refugees. Yet international aid workers say that there are few facts about who, where, and how many they are.
"Theirs is the story of a rural population on the move all the time," says Michael von Schulenberg, a United Nations official in Kabul. "The internally displaced person ... has a much tougher life inside than the refugee."
"Displaced people within a country are regarded as an internal problem and have not gotten international attention," says Ross Mountain, an official of the United Nations Development Program.
Afghanistan's cycle of revolution, rebellion, and resistance to foreign occupation has shattered the traditional family-based rural society, observers say. Before the war, about 85 percent of the 17 million Afghans lived in self-sufficient villages and valleys tucked among the country's stark mountains.
But when the Communists took over in 1978, a Muslim uprising was triggered, Soviet troops invaded, and the population was set in motion. Some Afghans, when war strikes, leave for the next valley, the other side of the mountain, or the nearest town, and wait for the first chance to return. Others are on the move constantly, first from their village, then to another province, and finally to the city.
Suddenly, urban Afghanistan has exploded with growth. Kabul has more than doubled in size to almost 2 million people as migrants fleeing violence flood in.
Millions of Afghans, including many educated and well-to-do people, fled to Pakistan, Iran, India, and elsewhere. Those who stayed behind were marooned by poverty or the danger of war. Some refugees preferred exile at home to living abroad.
Now, despite the Soviet troop pullout a year and a half ago, the United States and the Soviet Union continue to pump aid into a war that revolves increasingly out of their control, analysts say.
The war has become a mosaic of localized conflicts. Traditional clan rivalries, violent politics, and corruption plague all sides. Najib, as the Afghan president is known, holds the cities, despite dissent within his ruling People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan. The rebels hold the countryside. But their political parties based in Pakistan and Iran bicker and are despised by many mujahideen commanders in the field and Afghan civilians.
Caught in between are hundreds of thousands of internal refugees like Fari Gul, a young woman with a shiny nose ornament and tiny tattoos on her face and hands who walked 30 miles from her village to Kabul in March.
This was only one of her many flights to the capital, and like before, she plans to return and rebuild. "We are only farmers, and it's too hard for us to find a job here," she says. "We do not get anything from these communists."
Before the Soviet pullout, many …