In Rubble, Afghans Look for Peace ; the UN Tried to Organize Talks on Coalition Rule Yesterday, in a Land Deeply Divided along Ethnic Lines

Article excerpt

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 government.

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 cable.

"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. …


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