Sofiulah Amira couldn't believe his eyes when he returned home
this week, five years after being forced out by Taliban gunmen - a
victim of past Afghan-style ethnic cleansing that today is
complicating peace efforts.
Taliban bulldozers smashed the mud-brick walls around Mr. Amira's
once-shady courtyard. A tree now grows out of his well, while nearly
every other tree in the district has been chopped down. Piles of
rubble from homes Amira once knew spread toward the horizon.
"I didn't even think this was my village when I first came," he
says, hoisting up his infant daughter Hassina for a better look
across the parched wasteland. "When I finally found my house, I
sobbed. How can we rebuild this?"
"They said this was a military area, but of course they did it
because we are Tajiks," says Amira's former neighbor, Munawar
Sabdari. His four-story house is flattened, too, posing a formidable
task for the one man gamely shoveling at its base.
"Those Pashtun villages were not touched," he adds, waving his
hand up the Shomali plain toward some foothill settlements. "But all
the Tajik ones are flattened."
Such painful revelations are spreading across Afghanistan, as the
rebel Northern Alliance - made up of a loose group of ethnic
minorities including Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras - tightens its grip
on power in Kabul, advances against the Pashtun-dominated Taliban in
the south, and talks about creating a broad-based coalition
The ethnic-based cruelties that deepened divisions during the
past decade of Afghanistan's civil war have been perpetrated by all
parties here. It is ethnic cleansing as surely as that committed by
Serbs in the former Yugoslavia and Hutus in Rwanda in the 1990s.
Overcoming that legacy is now the top challenge for the alliance.
But Afghans say their case is different from those in the Balkans
and Africa, because most people here attribute the atrocities of war
to outside powers acting through proxies in Afghanistan - giving
some hope that differences can be overcome.
United Nations special envoy Francesc Vendrell held fresh talks
in Kabul yesterday aimed at organizing a meeting - preferably
outside the country - of all Afghan political groups. "When we get
an agreement with the Northern Alliance, it could happen in a matter
of days," said UN spokesman Eric Falt.
Alliance President Burhanuddin Rabbani vows that his group will
not impose power, and promises to include all Afghan groups,
including non-Taliban Pashtun leaders, in a coalition.
But it is the dynamic of ethnic cleansing evident on the Shomali
plain, 15 miles north of Kabul, where Tajik villages are lifeless
and Pashtun ones pristine, that could determine whether any
leadership deal stands or falls.
Bad memories are easy to find. Amira remembers a man shot dead in
front of his shop, when he refused to go when summoned by Taliban
soldiers. Amira himself was locked up for two days and beaten with a
"Many people were injured and killed. They said: 'Give us your
guns. You are Masood's people," Amira says, referring to the
assassinated alliance leader Ahmad Shah Masood, a Tajik. …