ALONG THE AMU DARYA RIVER, Uzbekistan – The fall of a key
northern Afghan city to U.S.-backed rebels offered a military and
humanitarian breakthrough in America’s campaign against terrorism.
Northern Aliance rebels captured Mazar-e-Sharif, about 35
miles south of this river that forms the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan
border, after several days of attacks from the south supported by
Taliban officials said their forces withdrew. But it wasn’t
immediately clear how far, for how long, or whether Taliban forces
north of Mazar-e-Sharif (population 200,000) may still threaten
the supply route.
Mazar-e-Sharif is considered strategic because of its link
to Uzbekistan – a relatively good road south from the river, with
access to Kabul that is not as vulnerable to weather as the many
mountain passes in Afghanistan. The city also has an aiport that
the Northern Alliance reportedly controls.
Anti-Taliban troops who were massed at the front about 30
miles north of Kabul cheered at reports of Mazar-e-Sharif’s fall,
with villagers crowding around radios to hear the news.
“This is the beginning of the collapse of the Taliban,” said
Nur Agha, a 22-year-old fighter.
Alim Khan, a Northern Alliance commander, said anti-Taliban
forces would launch a major attack on the capital within three
He said that 1,000 opposition troops would assemble today at
Bagram, site of an opposition-controlled air base near the front
Mohammad Afzal Amon, the commander of the opposition’s elite
Zarbati troops north of Kabul, said 600 fighters had been sent to
his area since the victory in Mazar-e-Sharif.
But the opposition will likely face a much tougher battle for
Kabul, a city of about 1 million people, than it did at
Mazar-e-Sharif. Taliban forces are more numerous and the terrain
more mountainous. And the United States – whose warplanes would be
vital to any advance – has expressed reservations about the
alliance taking the capital.
Speaking at the United Nations, President Bush said he wants
the Northern Alliance forces to steer clear of Kabul, part of an
effort to assure that power is eventually shared among the various
tribes of the country.
“We will encourage our friends to head south but not into the
city of Kabul itself,” Bush said.
While Northern Alliance commanders relished their success at
Mazar-e-Sharif, signs of division are emerging in the group’s
Alliance officials say two factions have emerged in the two
months since the assassination of the alliance’s leader, Ahmed
Shah Massood: the younger, pro-Western, religious moderates and
the older, religious conservatives, who are more skeptical of the
A senior alliance official said the power struggle had
emerged because officials and commanders feared they would lose
the power, wealth and status they enjoyed if a new government was
The more conservative wing includes the alliance’s president,
Burhanuddin Rabbani, and one of its more senior Pashtun leaders,
Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the official said.
The more moderate wing, he said, includes the foreign
minister, Dr. Abdullah Adbullah; the interior minister, Yunos
Qanooni; and Anwari, leader of ethnic Hazara forces fighting in
the alliance, who has only one name.
The capture of Mazar-e-Sharif and the planned Kabul offensive
increase urgency for forming a post-Taliban government. But so
far, government-building has moved slowly, in part because of the
struggle within the alliance.
The prospect of humanitarian aid getting through may be the
most immediate impact of the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif.
United Nations officials in countries around Afghanistan
warned again of a humanitarian crisis with more than 100,000
children and women in Afghanistan dying if more humanitarian aid
doesn’t move soon. The Taliban has seized aid and made it
difficult to deliver, aid workers say.
Along this river at the port town Termiz, U.N. relief
agencies have amassed more than 1,000 tons of food. Crates of
biscuits and milk for babies sit in storage, as do rudimentary
health kits. A long runway at Termiz allows direct delivery of aid
But security concerns about terrain immediately across the
Amu Darya – sand dunes and scrub land recently controlled by
Taliban forces and possibly mined – blocked aid efforts Saturday.
Government officials from Uzbekistan said they planned to
visit the border today to assess the situation.
The U.N. also is taking stock, said Rupa Joshi, a UNICEF
“Our mission is to get as much aid across as possible as soon
as possible,” Joshi said.
A senior U.S. aid official is scheduled to arrive today in
the Uzbekistan capital, Tashkent.
U.S. officials said Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S.
Agency for International Development, will meet with U.N. and
other aid agency officials at Termiz this week. The visit is part
of a multicountry swing planned before the latest military action.
The Friendship Bridge at Termiz spans the mile-wide, muddy
Uzbek tribal leader Rashid Dostum first captured
Mazar-e-Sharif, where ethnic Uzbeks live, in the mid-1990s after a
siege. Taliban forces recaptured the city in 1998 after another
deadly battle. Each side committed atrocities, according to a UN
Uzbeks agreed last month to let barges loaded with
humanitarian aid cross the river at Termiz to Afghanistan. From
there, Afghan employees of international aid groups could move
supplies to Mazar-e-Sharif and points along the way, UNICEF
spokeswoman Joshi said.
Rather than military maneuvers, aid officials focused on
moving a first barge on Wednesday if possible, said Mohammaed
Kumbakumba, UNICEF’s logistics chief at Termiz. It doesn’t matter
who controls what, he said, as long as the supplies reach the
The New York Times and The Associated Press contributed to this
GARAM CHASHMA, Pakistan – If ever an Afghan was likely to
help America’s war against the Taliban, it’s Abdul Qahar.
Taliban authorities kidnapped and ransomed his cousin. They
chased Qahar from Kabul. And fighting for warlords runs deep in
Yet Qahar and fellow Afghans holed up here in the Hindu Kush
mountains that cover much of Afghanistan are ambivalent,
reluctant, skeptical about the future.
The fall of one Taliban-held city, Mazar-e-Sharif, can be
seen as significant for the military campaign against
Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, and as a crucial step in efforts to
bring aid for some of the nation’s poor.
But it does little to resolve the concerns of some Afghans.
Veteran U.S. diplomats such as Richard Holbrooke, former U.S.
ambassador to the United Nations, say defeating terrorism depends
on creative nation-building rather than simply bombing.
“Things like who controls Mazar-e-Sharif and even Kabul are
important, but they do not directly affect the chances for more
terrorist attacks,” Holbrooke said in a recent interview.
Poverty, political and ethnic fragmentation, and mistrust of
outsiders are among challenges faced by the U.S. in coping with
war-weary Afghanistan. Governing, interviews with Qahar and others
indicate, may be challenging for whoever ends up in charge.
“This is actually an attack against Afghanistan,” Abdul said
recently, as American warplanes bombed Taliban positions around
Mazar-e-Sharif, Kabul and other areas.
“Our airports, the roads, all the development work is being
destroyed. Afghanistan is already a very poor country,” he said,
as others nodded around him in a teahouse while wet snow and dry
gold leaves fell. “Now it’s going to be even harder for us. What
is happening now in Afghanistan, it tells me our children will be
nothing in the future.”
This sense among fighting-age men from rebel Northern
Alliance territory that they have little to gain from taking on
the Taliban – despite the Afghan government’s support for
suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden – is one of many challenges
facing the U.S. campaign.
Poverty across the Hindu Kush is so extreme that the
predominantly rural people, tapped for decades to supply fighters,
don’t dwell much on politics or war.
They try to just survive.
Herders cross 15,000-foot passes in plastic shoes without
socks to try to earn money for tea and rice. Farmers migrate from
pro-Taliban turf to toil as sharecroppers on Pakistani farms.
Afghan infrastructure – roads or railroad or air links or
telephones – barely existed outside major cities even before the
past month of bombing.
Knots of mountain peaks 20,000 feet and higher ensure
In the Birir valley south of here, Kalash tribal people just
over the mountains from Afghanistan weren’t even aware of the war.
“We can’t understand the radio,” said RabiJaan, a mother of
And even the unifying influence of Islam hasn’t broken the
fierce, self-reliant parochialism that divides Afghanistan, a
nation in name yet with no agreed-on flag.
Aid workers point out that Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara factions
all have vied for years to control the strategic city of
U.S. leaders appear to be eyeing Afghanistan’s future even
as they make plans to continue bombing through winter and Ramadan.
President Bush, addressing the United Nations on Saturday,
sympathized with the Afghan people and pledged to help rebuild
Afghanistan once the Taliban are ousted.
“The Afghan people do not deserve their present rulers,” Bush
said. “The Taliban’s days of harboring terrorists, and dealing in
heroin, and brutalizing women are drawing to a close.”
Holbrooke, a player in peace talks from Vietnam to the
Balkans, said in a recent interview: “The events of Sept. 11 were
not micro-managed by someone with a cellphone from a cave in
Afghanistan. It is important to remember that there were no
Afghans involved in the events of Sept. 11.”
“Now we just want peace’
The U.S. goal in Afghanistan must be “simply to stabilize it,
give it a chance to be back on its feet and slowly pull itself
together,” he said.
As Holbrooke and others who have visited the Hindu Kush know,
this is a beautiful place, a storybook land of snow leopards,
towering crooked peaks, and spiral-horned Markhuur goats.
“Now we just want peace, as soon as possible,” said Mohamad
Ibrahim, driving goats and sheep from the Badakshan region of
northern Afghanistan through a sheer granite canyon cut by the
whooshing, muddy Lotkoh River.
“We want the kind of government that can keep peace, not
cause all this trouble. We are hoping the Americans can help us in
making Northern Alliance territory independent and give it to us.”
Traders Ali Ahmad and Islam ud-Din left their families in
Krone, Afghanistan, hauling 1,400 kilos of blue lapis lazuli rocks
they hacked out of cliffs. They rested their donkeys for a few
days while negotiating with Pakistani border police, then entered
Garam Chashma and sold the lapis to shopkeepers.
“It would be better for us if there was no bombing,” Ahmad
said, though they’d had no trouble crossing. “We pray to God, if
possible, stop the war.”
Many worked this high country when the passes served as
supply routes for U.S.-backed mujahedeen fighters during Soviet
occupation of Afghanistan. The passes remain supply routes today
for both Taliban and rebel forces. Loads of blankets and emergency
food also move through on donkeys.
Afghans here identify themselves in relation to warlords –
you might be from Massood’s territory or one of Rabbani’s men. And
they hang together in tribal groups whose loyalty or enmity can
span political boundaries. Those north of Lowarai Pass are mostly
Tajiks, speaking Farsi. Uzbeks inhabit Mazar-e-Sharif.
On pro-Taliban turf south of Lowarai Pass live Pashtun people
who make up an estimated 40 percent of Afghanistan’s 25 million
Over the years, alliances have shifted, warlords have changed
sides. Rashid Dostum, the ethnic Uzbek whose fighters helped take
Mazar-e-Sharif, often has switched loyalties and has clashed with
many Northern Alliance commanders.
And the tribes themselves aren’t always unified. Pashtun men
from Pakistan and Afghanistan dominate the Taliban regime. Yet
Pashtun leaders such as the Wali Khan family bristle at Taliban
fundamentalist rule. “We are losing our identity in our religion,”
Sangeen Wali Khan lamented recently on the family estate down at
East of Charsadda last week, the family of Mir Rahim settled
into a peanut field for share-cropping work after crossing through
heavily-bombed terrain near Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
Civilians are suffering
Poverty, not war, drove them out, said Rahim, who set up a
grass-and-canvas hovel for his daughter and wife.
“The Taliban has not been affected at all,” he said. “It is
the civilians who are suffering.”
Afghan men in the borderlands described a system in which
every family must supply one soldier to fight for the local
warlord in return for protection and money.
“My brother has gone while I stay here,” Abdul Nasir
explained in Garam Chashma. A former mujahideen, he wore a U.S.
Army-style camouflage jacket against the cold.
Now if Northern Alliance warlords request it, and his brother
returns “to stay with my family, I will go,” Nasir said. “Afghans
were made for fighting. We will never get tired.”
But he said he doubted that Americans really would roust
Taliban and al-Qaeda forces from caves, as Bush has promised.
“When we were fighting the Russians, that’s exactly what the
Russians told us: “We will get you out of your caves.’ But they
never bothered us.”
Nasir and others here say they mainly oppose the Taliban
because of the death of alliance warlord Ahmed Shah Massood. Two
days before Sept. 11, men posing as journalists killed him.
Rather than a drawn-out military campaign, they suggest a
swifter solution through a loya jirga, a tribal council.
“I want a government that can bring peace. I don’t care which
side rules,” Abdul Qahar said as Afghan boys peered through a
doorway of the teahouse.
“For us, the Americans and the Russians are the same. The
only way Afghanistan can be governed is by representatives from
each tribe, the loya jirga system. But we don’t know if America
will like that. We don’t know if America really wants to help us
Some people in this isolated realm, such as the black-robed
Kalash people in canyons southwest of Chitral, remain only dimly
aware of the war. The women weave belts. Centuries of Islam have
failed to convert them from an ancient polytheism that includes
In the hillside village of Guru, Kalash-speaking men in a
wooden house squatted around a fire recently trying to keep warm.
Families stockpile barley and wheat for the winter in their
“We heard America is killing women and children,” said Jamil,
a villager who left to work in Pakistani cities and now has
returned. “We are not happy about this. Some people say it’s
Osama’s fault. Some people say it’s America’s fault. We’re not
sure what to believe.”
In the area led by Burhannuddin Rabbani, a Northern Alliance
chief, Jan Mohamad was herding nine mules on a 16-day journey from
Haran toward Chitral, where he hoped to buy tea and shoes for his
“We don’t know who these Americans are,” he said. “We don’t
know much about the Taliban either.”
PESHAWAR, Pakistan – In the private Beacon House School, second-grade teacher Zermina Khan, who conducts class in English, recently led studies of the Sept. 11 attacks with an emphasis on American suffering.
At a public school nearby, Ghuam Mohammad and other black-uniformed boys crowded 80 to a classroom where Urdu-speaking teachers focused more on Pakistan than world affairs.
And in one of Pakistan’s proliferating religious “madrassa” schools, Hameed Jan’s students memorize the Koran word for word along with concepts such as “jihad” struggles against enemies. “America is doing terrorism against us,” says Jan.
The three schools show different forces shaping Pakistan – and much of the Muslim world from Morocco to Malaysia.
For Americans, the schools offer a glimpse into divergent versions of the future their own children will enter.
Pakistani educators say the approach to schooling will, along with economic conditions, help determine whether a new generation sees the next Osama bin Laden as Robin Hood or menace.
Currently, the future looks shaky, said Nasreen Kasuri, founder of Pakistan’s 90-school Beacon House System and leading advocate for increased spending on public schools.
“I wish we were headed toward Turkey. I am afraid we are headed more toward Iran,” said Kasuri, who knows a bit about U.S. schools from visiting friends in Colorado. “It is important for the West, by whatever means, to support liberal education in this country.”
Less than 10 percent of Pakistani families can afford private schools, which are generally Western-oriented and often comparable with the best U.S. schools. Instead most Pakistani children attend crowded government-funded public schools.
Pakistan, with 144 million people, does not invest heavily in public education. The country is poor and heavily populated, with as much as a quarter of its government revenue coming from foreign loans and grants, and about half its expenditures going to pay off debts. The government spends heavily to support the military’s costly confrontation with India.
The lack of school spending creates a vacuum met in part by the madrassas, which over the past decade have increased in number to about 7,000, educators say.
Today, all three types of schools in Pakistan convey a critical perspective on the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan that isn’t widely heard in the United States.
Yet some schools are more pro-American than others.
Consider the $500-a-year Beacon House school in Peshawar. Students here aim to attend British and U.S. universities. Second-graders recently clipped out photos and stories from newspapers – images of Sept. 11 attack victims such as a woman caked with dust in World Trade Center wreckage – and pasted them into collages.
“Hell on earth, yes, this was New York,” Faiza Shams wrote on hers.
Students “should know right from wrong exactly. They have to know what is fanaticism,” teacher Khan contends in the hall outside her room.
Principal Humaira Mustafa agrees that students “must know what’s happening.”
“We haven’t been able to recover after the Sept. 11 attacks,” Mustafa said, adding that civil disturbances here closed their school for several days. Children “are scared, they feel insecure. Mothers will call in during street protests asking: “Are you going to close?”
For the majority of Pakistani children, a school with materials for collages and teachers who encourage children with notes saying “wonderful work” isn’t possible.
They attend the more than 150,000 public schools that are financially strained to the point that many teachers work without paper or books. Fifty-seven percent of the population over the age of 15 can’t read and write, and among women the illiteracy rate is about 71 percent. Adding to the problem: education statistics are iffy.
At the government high school in the northwestern town of Chitral recently, principal Amir Zada lamented that he receives only $6,660 a month to run his 15-classroom, 688-student school. Teachers receive $53 a month.
“Not nearly enough,” he said.
And while the practice of teaching in Urdu instead of English is no problem, the difference is “big as that between earth and sky” in how students think of the world, said Mahmood ul-Hasan, a gym teacher waving a short “Soti” switch recently as students enter by 8 a.m. for the morning assembly at the all-boys school.
“The students who study here can only aspire to be clerks,” ul-Hasan continued. Yet commitment is high. Some of the 28 staffers work without pay. Patriots, ul-Hasan calls them.
In the assembly, boys around a concrete courtyard listened to a reading from the Koran, sang the national anthem and recited a prayer “that my life will be a beacon for the rest of the world.”
Then class began. Sitting for his Arabic exam, seventh-grader Sajjad Ahmad pulled a pencil out of a metal case with pictures of fighter jets on the cover. “I want to be a pilot,” Ahmad said. “To spread the name of Pakistan.”
Public schools are free. Teachers say the uniforms help minimize social and economic distinctions.
Yet in many public schools, officials say, teachers don’t show up. Even in the efficient Chitral schools, books are scarce, and students cram three and four to a bench behind rickety desks.
Today more and more parents are inclined to send their children to madrassas funded by Mosque communities. These schools also are free and offer the benefit of meals and dorm rooms for students.
A security chief at one of Pakistan’s largest madrassas at Akora Khattak recently refused to allow a complete visit. This was the madrassa where many of Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers studied, including Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Teacher Hameed Jan explained how most of the 4,000 students were gone, preparing for the Ramadan period of fasting. Beyond memorizing the Koran as he has done, Jan said, students learn a little math and English. No military training is conducted here.
Anyone who joins the “jihad against America” goes to holy war on his own, Jan said.
But as a teacher he feels “happy to know they have gone for jihad.”
Last week, Pakistani pro-Taliban forces amassed northwest of Peshawar, preparing to cross into Afghanistan. Jan said students who go there can receive weapons.
“Mohammad has said you must do jihad until doomsday,” he added. “When the land war starts, I will go, too.”
PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Jamshed fiddled with a black plastic bag
that held his most treasured possession – a prosthetic eyeball.
“I had this artificial eye once, but now it does not work,”
Six years ago, half of Jamshed’s life, he saw something
sticking up alongside a dusty road in central Afghanistan.
“I thought it was a pen,” he recalled. “I pulled it out.”
It was a land mine. The explosion ripped off his right hand
and wrist. Shards shot into his forehead and left eye.
Now, Jamshed wanders with other Afghan invalids – all missing
limbs – scuffing through the orange dust in an adobe Afghan
As the United States continues to bomb Afghanistan, with
prospects of a ground war ahead, the issue of civilian casualties
has become one of the most volatile in the debate over President
Bush’s war on terrorism. “Collateral damage” in the language of
the military means, in Afghanistan, lost lives and limbs to people
too poor to get adequate care.
In Afghanistan, civilians continue to be maimed by the legacy
of fighting long ended.
Afghans for a decade battled troops of the Soviet Union,
which invaded their country in 1979. The Soviets and their
supporters scattered between 5 million and 10 million land mines
throughout the country, few of which have been cleared out.
Areas bordering Pakistan, and the Kabul region where Jamshed
was injured, are among the most heavily mined, according to the
group Physicians Against Land Mines.
When the Soviets left, internal factions battled. The Taliban
took power in 1996 and still is fighting the Northern Alliance,
which the U.S. supports.
In 1998, Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar
supported a world ban on land mines, condemning them as
“un-Islamic and anti-human.” Recently, however, organizations
working to get rid of mines criticized Omar’s ruling Taliban for
obstructing their work.
Internationally funded efforts cleared 2,791 anti-person and
anti-tank land mines from Afghanistan last year and, according to
several anti-land-mine groups, casualties dropped by about half
since 1999 to fewer than three a day earlier this year.
But Physicians Against Land Mines notes, “Recent unconfirmed
reports indicate that the flow of refugees through mine-affected
areas has substantially increased this number.”
Another result of the U.S. bombing campaign is that efforts
to remove mines are on hold. On Oct. 9, the second night of U.S.
bombing, four Afghan mine clearance workers were killed when a
bomb hit the building they were in east of Kabul.
Learning to improvise
All of which brings customers to Shamsul Haq, a leading
Afghan prosthetics dealer with clinics in the Afghan cities of
Kabul and Jalalabad, and in Peshawar. He said many can’t afford to
replace lost limbs with artificial ones.
“For one arm, the price is 15,000 rupees,” or about $250,
said Haq, 48. “This is too difficult for Afghan people. Most have
been living with no home or land for 23 years.”
Throughout the Soviet occupation and the civil war, he
supplied hundreds of people with arms, legs, hands, feet, hips,
corsets that support broken backs – “87 different devices for the
human body,” he says.
International Red Cross workers helped train Haq, whose
customers have ranged from a 1-year-old boy whose leg was blown
off by a Russian bomb to a man from Kandahar, Afghanistan, who
lost both legs and an arm last year.
The man’s brother wheeled him in, Haq said, and presented a
note from Taliban leader Omar: “Please make him feet and a hand.”
“If American ground troops come, American people will need
amputations, and more Afghan people will need amputations,” Haq
figured. “They will lose their feet and hands.”
With so many impoverished people in need of his services, Haq
sometimes supplies arms and legs at reduced rates. Instead of
offering only imported products from Germany and Britain that cost
up to $1,000, he designed a hinged lower leg using cheap steel
piping that costs only $83.
Bombing sand, not people
Haq’s cousin Abdul Ghafoor, 36, a factory owner in Kabul who
had just entered Pakistan over a mountain pass last week with his
5-year-old son, Taher, said the U.S. bombing is not inflicting
widespread casualties. Many bombs dropped by Americans appear to
be hitting hilltops and deserts, he said, not people.
Ghafoor added that Taliban forces set lanterns and campfires
on some out-of-the-way ridges as decoys. U.S. warplanes “bomb and
bomb and bomb,” Ghafoor said, “but they only get one or two
If the war moves to the ground, many civilian casualties
likely would have to be treated within Afghanistan. Pakistan
continues to block official border crossings. The only way out is
over mountain passes that require climbing or riding on donkeys.
Haq plans to be ready for any influx. When a customer comes
in, first his men measure their limbs, then show various materials
and models. Then they go to work with saws, drills, files. Dust
and fiberglass shavings soften the shop’s cement floor. Boys hang
about and fetch drinks for people waiting.
Beyond limbs, Haq said, he tries to help heal souls. He
offers words from the Koran justifying struggles against those who
would hurt Muslim people.
“When we are victimized by aggression, then we are supposed
to fight,” he says. “You may have lost something. On your death,
God will make you a whole human being.”
That sort of consolation seldom reaches the Shamshatu
settlement southeast of Peshawar, where a dozen Afghan amputees
recently gathered outside a makeshift mosque that serves as a
refugee town center.
All lost at least one limb in the war with the Soviets. Most
had crutches. Few had functioning artificial limbs. One man’s leg
healed bent in half – never treated.
“I’d climbed up in the top of a tree,” said Mohammad Kasim, a
former commander who lost his right leg fighting Soviet forces on
a road between Kabul and Jalalabad. A helicopter approached. “I
was trying to shoot down the helicopter. Then it shot me.”
In this group, the 12-year-old Jamshed is the youngest victim.
“I need money,” he said.
Not so much for an arm or a leg, he said, but for medical
attention to stop a near-constant stinging in his empty eye
“I’m in pain,” Jamshed said, voice rising faintly in the
wind. “I just want my pain to end.”
For more information
In Afghanistan, where people have coped with warfare for two
decades prior to the U.S. bombing campaign, land mines are an
enormous threat. UNICEF estimates that Afghanistan ranks sixth in
the world for land mines per square mile. Here are some websites
where you can learn more.
Two UNICEF sites have statistics and overview information:
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines has information at
Physicians Against Land Mines is at www.banmines.org/ and has
a fact page on Afghanistan: www.cirnetwork.org/news/lmfacts.htm
The Landmine Survivors Network, whose work in Bosnia was
publicized in August 1997 by Diana, princess of Wales: