War in the Dark

Khoja Bahaudin, northern Afghanistan

In the Afghan fashion we sat around the edge of the room while a small banquet of rice and mutton was served. We were in Dasht-e-Qala, a village five miles south of the border with Tajikistan. Our host was Alam Khan, the leader of hundreds of refugee soldiers from Mazar-e-Sharif, a key city, fifty miles from the Uzbekistan border, that opposition anti-Taliban forces hope to take. When the meal was over, sweets were served as dessert. One of Alam Khan’s aides is Faziludin, who lost his right arm fighting in Kabul many years ago. His wife and children are still living in a village near Mazar-e-Sharif and he has not seen them since the city fell to the Taliban three years ago. I asked him what he would do when he got home. As he sucked his coffee-flavored boiled sweet, he thought a while, shrugged, and said: “I will kill Pakistani, Arab, and Chechen Taliban but not Afghan ones because they are my brothers.”

In 1997, just after the Taliban first entered Mazar-e-Sharif, approximately 2,000 of them were massacred before they were forced to withdraw. Some 1,250 of them were crammed into containers and left to bake to death in the blistering sun. When the containers were opened the bodies were found to have turned black. Paik Chong-Hyun, a UN special rapporteur who investigated the deaths of the Taliban, wrote in his report that many of them were tossed down deep wells, then hand grenades were thrown in, and then the wells were bulldozed over. In 1998 the Taliban retook the city and massacred some 6,000 people in revenge.

Alam Kahn has been fighting for the last twenty-two years, first against the Soviet Union and then in the various civil wars that followed. Most people in Afghanistan are exhausted by war, so I asked this famous warlord if he was, too. “Not only am I not tired,” he said, “but I want to fight Pakistan.” Alam Kahn’s antipathy toward Pakistan, which supported his fellow Mujahideen fighters during the war against the Soviet Union, springs from his feeling and that of his fellows that, after the Communists fell, Pakistan then tried to dictate who would govern Afghanistan and finally sponsored the Taliban. “I don’t want to attack Pakistan,” said Alam Kahn, “but I don’t want Pakistan to attack our country.”

Here in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, in Iran, in Russia, and in the West diplomats and policymakers are frantically trying to put together some form of broad-based government that they hope will form the first post-Taliban administration. None of them is optimistic. A friend of mine who is a senior official at the United Nations in New York told me, “This makes Bosnia look like a kid’s game.”

Since Western journalists cannot go to Taliban territory it is hard to know what Taliban leaders are thinking. Still, that does not mean that we have no idea what some …

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