Khoja Bahaudin, northern Afghanistan

A few weeks ago President George W. Bush said something to the effect that he didn’t want to fire off $2 million missiles to hit $10 tents in Afghanistan. Well, I think he said that, but I can’t check, because now I am living in a $10 tent in northern Afghanistan. There is no electricity, no clean water, no paved roads, not much food, and it is only the aid agencies that are staving off famine here. In this part of opposition-controlled northern Afghanistan, close to the border with the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan, it has barely rained for three years and choking dust swirls everywhere, entering every pore.

I arrived in the early hours of the morning after a five-day journey from London. On the banks of the Amu Darya, the Oxus River of legend, which marks the frontier between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, Afghan and Russian officials pored over everyone’s documents. Although Tajikistan has been independent for more than a decade, it has fought a war against Islamic insurgents and thousands of Russian troops help guard its frontiers. On the other side, after more document checks, and haggling with pickup-truck drivers, my colleagues and I got to the little town of Khoja Bahaudin. There we were directed by Afghan officials of the Northern Alliance to spend our first night in the country on the concrete veranda of a small building.

When I woke up I noticed that the windows of half the building were boarded over and that the ceiling was black. In fact it looked as if there had been a fire or explosion inside. My suspicions were quickly confirmed. I was sleeping just outside the room where the first deaths of this new war had happened. On September 9, two Moroccans posing as journalists had set up their television camera inside the room to interview the legendary Afghan Mujahideen commander Ahmed Shah Masoud. One of the Moroccans asked, “When you get to Kabul what will you do with Osama bin Laden?” Masoud took a breath to answer but before he did so the Moroccan set off the bombs strapped around his waist; he was shredded, and body parts were scattered around the room. The second suicide bomber survived and ran down to the nearby river, where he was killed. According to one version, Masoud died in a hospital six days later. Another has it that he died within hours but that his death was covered up for six days so as to ensure a smooth succession.

Of course it is impossible to prove a link between the murder of Masoud and the attacks on New York and Washington two days later, but people here have few doubts about it. Osama bin Laden, they feel sure, was giving his Taliban hosts the head of their most implacable foe before moving on to bigger things.


Ahmed Shah Masoud, an ethnic Tajik, was born in 1956, the son of a military officer. He attended Kabul’s French-run Lycée Istiqlal. In 1975 he fled to Pakistan because he had been involved in trying to begin an Islamic movement along with others, such as the engineering student Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. After the Soviet invasion in 1979 he became one of the founders of the Mujahideen resistance along with Hekmatyar and others. With Western backing, they were able to force the Soviet occupiers to retreat and thus played a major part in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Following the Soviet pullout the Russian-backed regime of President Mohammad Najibullah clung to power until 1992, when Masoud made a deal with General Rashid Dostum, a powerful ethnic Uzbek in Najibullah’s army, to switch sides and join his troops to Masoud’s against Najibullah. After that Kabul fell.

Michael Griffen, a British writer and journalist who is the author of the excellent Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan‚ quotes from an interview given to a US reporter by Najibullah just before the end:

We have a common task—Afghanistan, the USA and the civilized world—to launch a joint struggle against fundamentalism. If fundamentalism comes to Afghanistan, war will continue for many years. Afghanistan will turn into a center of world smuggling for narcotic drugs. Afghanistan will be turned into a center for terrorism.

The rival Mujahideen commanders and their armies now turned on one another. In 1993 the new president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, an Islamic scholar and poet, opposed Hekmatyar. Between January 1994 and February 1995 Masoud fought Dostum and Hekmatyar for control of Kabul, which had not been seriously damaged during the war with the Soviet Union but was now largely turned to rubble. Some 50,000 people are estimated to have died in these battles. Masoud was eventually forced to retreat from Kabul to the heartland of his support, the Panjshir Valley, the southernmost tip of which lies roughly thirty miles north of the capital. Rabbani also fled north from the Taliban.


Then Masoud formed a new alliance with Dostum and others because they had a new common enemy, the Taliban. According to Ahmed Rashid, the widely respected Pakistani journalist and author of Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Masoud’s reputation was at its peak in 1992, but “four years in power in Kabul had turned Masoud’s army into arrogant masters who harassed civilians, stole from shops and confiscated people’s houses, which is why Kabulis first welcomed the Taliban when they entered Kabul.”

The Taliban sprang from the madrasas, or religious schools, which flourished among the Afghan refugees in Pakistan during the years of the Soviet occupation and indeed ever since. “These boys,” writes Rashid,

had no memories of their tribes, their elders, their neighbours nor the complex ethnic mix of peoples that often made up their villages and their homeland. These boys were what the war had thrown up like the sea’s surrender on the beach of history…. They were literally the orphans of war, the rootless and restless…. Their simple belief in a messianic, puritan Islam which had been drummed into them by simple village mullahs was the only prop they could hold on to and which gave their lives some meaning…. Ironically, the Taliban were a direct throwback to the military religious orders that arose in Christendom during the crusades to fight Islam.

The main Taliban leaders came from the southern city of Kandahar. The driving force behind them was Mullah Mohammad Omar, who lost his right eye fighting the Soviets. Born in 1959, he came from a family of landless peasants and supported his family after his father died by becoming a village mullah and opening a madrasa. Different legends circulate about how Omar founded the Taliban because he was outraged by the sexual behavior of Mujahideen commanders; but we will probably never know exactly what prompted him to gather the religious students into a fighting force of their own, which would then go on to seize most of Afghanistan and subject it to its extreme version of Islam. What is clear is that religion here is entwined with the delicate ethnic politics of Afghanistan, which in turn is a factor manipulated by the country’s neighbors and others.

Today there are probably some 20 million or so Afghans, but of course, after twenty-two years of war no one can be sure. According to the 1973 cen-sus, the last to be carried out, 43 percent were Pashtuns (also known by the anglicized name of Pathans), mostly Sunni Muslims, who live mainly in the south. The border, known as the Durand line, which was drawn in 1897 to demarcate the frontier with then British India, now of course, Pakistan, divides the Afghan Pashtuns from their Pakistani brothers. Pakistani governments have always felt the need to keep their Pashtun population of some 20 million happy; their enduring nightmare is a revival of Pashtun nationalism, which would seek to carve a Pashtun state out of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Curiously, in view of the fact that Britain’s Royal Air Force has been bombing Afghanistan “shoulder to shoulder” with the US, it was this border question that was the reason for Britain’s last bombing of Afghanistan in 1919. After an Afghan-inspired attempt to raise a revolt among Pashtuns over the border, the RAF bombed Jalalabad (near the present Pakistan border), while a single plane made it to Kabul and bombed the royal palace and an arms factory. Martin Ewans, a former British diplomat who is the author of a highly readable new primer, Afghan- istan: A New History‚ quotes a letter that an Afghan leader sent in 1919 to the viceroy of India; it sounds curiously reminiscent of the statements of Taliban and other Muslim leaders today:

It is a matter of great regret that the throwing of bombs by Zeppelins on London was denounced as a most savage act and the bombardment of places of worship was considered a most abominable operation, while now we can see with our own eyes that such operations were a habit which is prevalent amongst all civilized people of the West.

Pashtun ethnic loyalty continues to be strong in Afghan politics today. The Taliban themselves come from the Pashtun heartlands and all but a few of their leaders are Pashtuns, some of whom do not even speak Dari, the Persian lingua franca of Afghanistan.

Many ordinary Afghans, of whatever ethnicity, at first supported the Taliban because, after years of war and mayhem, they expected them to bring peace and law and order. But after the fall of Najibullah it had rankled Pashtuns that the new authorities in Kabul were dominated by Masoud and Rabbani, who were both Tajiks, and by an Uzbek general, Dostum, while Hekmatyar, the main Pashtun Mujahideen, had lost out. According to the 1973 census, Tajiks, whose language is close to Persian, made up 24 percent of the population. They are concentrated in the north, where the old border of the tsarist Russian Empire had cut them off from their cousins in what is now Tajikistan. Uzbeks make up 6 percent of the population, and are likewise cut off by the old Russian and then Soviet border from their cousins in what is now Uzbekistan. The next-largest ethnic group are the Hazaras, who live in the center of Afghanistan, and who are set apart from most other Afghans in that they are Shia Muslims, like Iranians. Their broad faces and slanting eyes also make it clear that their origins must lie far to the east, and some believe they are, at least in part, the descendants of Genghis Khan’s Mongol Hordes. Other Afghans have tended to look down on the Hazaras, and in turn there is no love lost between them and the Pashtuns in particular. In 1995 Masoud drove the Hazaras out of Kabul.


Even if Afghanistan did not have strategic importance for all of its neighbors, it is clear that these ethnic and religious links would have drawn the surrounding states into the country’s politics anyway, either for their own reasons or to help their ethnic or religious kinfolk. Iran has helped the Hazaras. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have helped the Tajiks and Uzbeks, and still do. And of course Pakistan wants to support the Pashtuns. Russia too has its interests; its chief concern had been to stop the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. Iran has made it clear it wants a weak and divided Afghan- istan which could not threaten it. Pakistan has wanted Afghanistan to have a strong central government, dominated by Pakistan of course, which would then ensure open trade routes to Central Asia and allow the building of valuable gas and oil pipelines across Afghanistan and then into Pakistan. These were major considerations when Pakistan’s security services, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), poured money and arms over the border to build up the Pashtun Taliban.


What the Taliban did when they took Kabul and indeed some 90 percent of Afghanistan is by now well known. They prevented women from working, closed schools for girls as well as many nonreligious schools for boys. They debated whether homosexuals should be killed under falling walls or whether another type of punishment was appropriate. They banned music, television, and just about any other type of entertainment. They also played host to Osama bin Laden, the rich Saudi dissident who had fought with the Mujahideen and who, after US troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, declared a jihad against the United States. Bin Laden is believed to have been a major source of funding for the Taliban, along with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But until last spring the Taliban also financed themselves through the production of opium for heroin, which was deemed acceptable because only infidels, i.e., non-Muslims, became heroin addicts. (For their part, the health authorities in Pakistan say that their country has a major heroin addiction problem.)

As the Taliban took towns that lay outside Pashtun areas they became more and more brutal, committing massacres against civilians, especially Hazaras and Uzbeks. In return, thousands of Taliban prisoners were treated badly. The Taliban hope was not just to take all of Afghanistan, but to foment Islamic revolution throughout Central Asia and beyond. For this reason they welcomed thousands of Arab fundamentalists, as well as Chechen rebels and extremists from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and from among China’s Muslim minorities.

However, even with their foreign legions, the Taliban were never able to dislodge Masoud. They chased Dostum from his base at Mazar-e-Sharif, less than fifty miles from the Uzbekistan border, but could not crush resistance there either; nor could they defeat several other groups connected with the Tajiks and Uzbeks in at least half a dozen enclaves. Over the last year the front lines have not moved much but these groups fight under the common banner of what is widely called the Northern Alliance, although technically they should be known as the United Front. Most of these groups are not Pashtuns. When Masoud was killed, the Taliban’s leaders must have hoped that the troops led by the man they dubbed the Lion of the Panjshir would be so demoralized that the Northern Alliance would no longer be able to resist a knock-out blow. What they had not bargained for then was that the events of September 11 would set in motion a series of events which seem, thus far at least, to have had precisely the opposite effect.


While you can see Masoud’s picture everywhere up here in the north, the curious thing is that people don’t talk about him unless you ask. After he was killed, a shura, or traditional council, of his commanders was called. They decided that they had to carry on the struggle or face death. Masoud’s successor as minister of defense for the Northern Alliance is Masoud’s deputy, General Mohammad Fahim, a man who had fought by his side since the days of the war with the Soviets. By all accounts, and by appearances here, Fahim is doing a good job coordinating all the disparate semi-autonomous commanders and their troops that make up the armies of the Northern Alliance.

If the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had not been bombed then perhaps things would have been different. As it is, these small forces fighting in faraway Afghanistan are now being courted by the United States, with Russia and the Central Asian states all promising more aid. The US is mounting daily air strikes against their mortal foes. And just because Masoud has gone, this does not mean the Northern Alliance is unable to take advantage of the new situation. Evidence of preparations for an offensive are everywhere. By the banks of the Amu Darya, I came across hundreds of soldiers who had just been brought north from the Panjshir Valley to prepare to fight up here.

I went to Ai Khanoum, a majestic natural escarpment at the confluence of the Amu Darya and the Kokcha rivers. In 1963 French archaeologists discovered the remains of a fabulous and wealthy Hellenistic city, complete, Martin Ewans writes, “with a citadel, palace, temples and a gymnasium,” that “appears to have been sacked and burnt at the end of the second century BC.” It is once again in the middle of a war. Soldiers wait for the offensive to begin while a tank, dug into position, fires off odd rounds at the Taliban about a mile away. This is a rear position, but significantly the soldiers here, as everywhere else along these front lines, are both Tajik and Uzbek plus a sprinkling from other Afghan ethnic groups, including Pashtuns who have turned against the Taliban. They also include old enemies. I met former members of Mujahideen groups who were now fighting next to Afghans who had themselves years ago fought with the Soviets against the Mujahideen.

I caught a ride on the back of a truck loaded with soldiers going to their positions. Some were in uniform but others were wearing baggy pajama-style outfits, with pinstriped or checked waistcoats. The sturdy Russian truck lumbered across the Kokcha River and took us first to another escarpment at Kuruk. Here a spotter was directing fire on Taliban positions from artillery on another hill. “Down a hundred meters! That’s it!”

Then I drove for miles down the dusty track that lies behind the Kalakata hills. Here the front line is strung along the hilltops. It was eerily quiet except for the desultory exchange of the odd tank or artillery shell. It was also clear that almost everything was now in place for a major push to try to break Taliban lines. In otherwise empty mud-brick villages hundreds of soldiers were living in small barracks compounds which would not have looked out of place on the set of a 1920s film about the French Foreign Legion. At the barracks of Mazar-e-Sharif 01 (“zero-one”) Brigade, the soldiers, refugees from Taliban-controlled territory, were making eight-foot-long rakes. When the offensive comes, the first troops to advance will be armed with these, which they will use to clear Taliban mines lying in their path. All of these men are full-time soldiers. They are housed and fed and paid between $12 and $20 a month.

As dozens of his soldiers crowded around General Abdul Manon, the leader of the 01 Brigade sat cross-legged on the floor. “We have been fighting the Taliban and terrorism for six years, but the world did not know about their dangers. Now we hope that the UN and the whole world will fight against them and soon peace will come.” On the wall behind him a slogan was written in charcoal: “We are waiting for tomorrow’s victory over the Taliban! Our Taliban brothers, the traitors, have sold our country to the foreigners!” General Manon said that his hope was that the US air strikes would “destroy their army—then only bin Laden will be left. He will be alone and have nowhere to hide.”

General Manon, who fought on the side of the Russians during the Soviet war, said he believed that desertions were diminishing Taliban ranks, a statement which was of course impossible to verify. “They want to fight America,” he said, “but they don’t have antiaircraft guns or good enough weapons.” Ten minutes’ walk from his headquarters, his men have set up positions at the top of a very steep hill. They have dug trenches and sandbagged their bunkers in readiness for action. Peering across the valley, you can see a landscape pockmarked with shell craters.

Less than a mile away two figures could be seen moving on the top of a facing hill. “Dushman! Dushman!” (Enemy! Enemy!) the soldiers shouted before loosing off rounds from heavy machine guns. Barely a minute later the Taliban fired back. As I sprinted for shelter and fell into the deep dust of the trenches, the crowd of thirty or so accompanying soldiers broke out in hysterical laughter, before taking cover themselves. As the firing died down they ran back down the hill to safety, whooping and screaming like kids plunging down a roller coaster at a funfair.

If they survive the coming storm General Manon says that he and his men, some of whom, like himself, have been fighting for the last twenty-two years without a break, want to go home to Mazar-e-Sharif. And then, he says, “if people agree, I hope we will have a good government. Our people are hungry for peace. We hope that then we will be able to put our guns away and grow food, build roads, build schools, and build hospitals.”


For the last few weeks there has been speculation by Western analysts about whether the US and Britain will try to invade Afghanistan, using bases in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. An invasion with sizable ground forces seems unlikely and may be doomed to repeat the lessons of history, which in this part of the world can be summed up, “Don’t invade Afghanistan.” I met a man who said, “Are your soldiers coming here to Afghanistan? They can help us for a while, OK, but not if they come to live here.” A well-informed Afghan intellectual, who asked not to be named, said, “I don’t think these soldiers will come. It would completely change the dynamic of the situation and it would bring people together to fight the foreigners.” Before I left London I had called Tom Carew, who led missions into Afghanistan for Britain’s special forces, the SAS, during the war with the Soviet forces, and asked him about the prospects of US and British troops. Carew is the author of the highly readable and revealing book called Jihad: The Secret War in Afghanistan. He said, “You can’t even look at an Afghan woman so you can imagine what it would be like bringing in your average squaddie [ordinary soldier] to Afghan- istan! All the Afghans would go: ‘Whoa! Here come the infidels again,’ and all get together and jump on them.”

Chris Stephen, a friend of mine who writes for The Scotsman, and who shares the $10 tent with me, has been saying, “This is the first postmodern conflict because we are definitely at war but we don’t know who the enemy is.” If the aim of the war is to get rid of the Taliban, as opposed to trying to shut down Osama bin Laden’s network and camps, and arrest him, then it would seem that the Northern Alliance members are the West’s strategic allies. The Alliance is clearly ready to fight; but it is not certain if it is strong enough to take on even a weakened Taliban army spread out across the country. After all, the last time the people who lead the Alliance were in control, the country descended into bloody chaos, a fact that worries Western planners too. As for the size of the Northern Alliance forces, the estimates I heard—including one of ten thousand soldiers—are unreliable. Everyone over fourteen years old seems to have a gun; there is no clear distinction between soldiers and civilians. In any case, no one can say how many fighters are being added to the expanding local units.

What the Alliance leaders and at least some of the Western strategists are hoping for is that after a couple of military defeats Taliban commanders will begin to defect with their troops, either because they want to be on the winning side in the war or because they would be well paid. Throughout the last decade money has had as important a part as force of arms in determining who wins and who loses. Once one or two commanders defect, runs the theory, then their fellow commanders will follow like dominoes. Indeed the hope here is that once that happens, the northern territories will fall first, followed by much of the rest of the country, where there will be no major fighting at all; there would instead be local coups to overthrow the Taliban leaders and take over the province.

According to the Northern Alliance, this is already starting to happen. On October 13 I got through to General Dostum by satellite phone. He is fighting south of Mazar-e-Sharif, far away across Taliban territory. He claimed that within the last twenty-four hours a Taliban commander called Kazi Abdul Hai had defected to him, bringing his four thousand men with him. This is probably a highly inflated figure. Still, if it proves to be true then it is possible that the strategy is working. If Mazar-e-Sharif falls, it is widely assumed that the Alliance will take control of the rest of the north, including the north–south road leading from Kabul to Uzbekistan, where US and British troops are reportedly being deployed.

“Of course,” says the Afghan intellectual I’ve mentioned, “when it is all over no one will admit to having been a Taliban. It is easy to shave off your beard and take off your turban. Actually I know several people who were not mullahs but who grew beards and now they are big mullahs.”

The opposition and the West could face a disaster if the Taliban are willing to continue fighting and don’t collapse; or if the Taliban is forced to retreat from non-Pashtun areas but stand firm in their ethnic heartlands, bolstered by support from the Pakistani Pashtuns. If that happens it is impossible to predict what the outcome might be, but then, as my Afghan intellectual source says, “It is impossible to predict what is going to happen in this country in an hour.”


Who is running the Northern Alliance and what would happen if they did take over the country? In mud-built Khoja Bahaudin you will not find much by way of a reasoned answer. The Northern Alliance is, formally at least, the legitimate, internationally recognized government of the “Islamic State of Afghanistan,” which just happens to have been kicked out of Kabul in 1995. It still controls the country’s UN seat and most of its embassies abroad. Officially Burhanuddin Rabbani is still president, living in Faizabad, about forty miles from the Tajikistan border, but he is seldom heard from. On October 11, however, he said at a press conference in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, that representatives of all Afghanistan’s peoples should help determine the nation’s fate, “except terrorists and those who are up to their elbows in blood,” i.e., bin Laden and his organization and his Taliban allies.

Rabbani did not say so, but we often hear of the plan for a future government headed by the former king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, who is eighty-six, was overthrown in 1973, and lives in Rome. He is keen to return, and, crucially, he is a Pashtun, although his first language is Dari. There is a chance that this might work, especially now that Masoud, who loathed the monarch and was opposed to his having any political position, is dead. Zahir Shah’s advantage is that he can claim to be above politics and is not associated with the internecine bloodletting of the past decade.

In mid-October Northern Alliance officials gathered in the Panjshir Valley to select sixty delegates to attend a shura with sixty partisans of the King; this meeting is supposed to select delegates to a Loya Jirga, or grand council, that would discuss the future shape of any post-Taliban government. The Northern Alliance now say that they are holding the door open to collaborating with at least a part of the Taliban if they defect now. What the Northern Alliance resists however is pressure from Pakistan, which in turn is pressuring the US, to accept what Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf wants, which is a broad-based government “including moderate Taliban elements.” Pakistan is of course terrified that a hostile Northern Alliance government will come to power in Kabul and take revenge on Pakistan for supporting the Taliban.

When, on October 16, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the urbane Northern Alliance foreign minister, came to Khoja Bahaudin he said there was no such thing as a “moderate Taliban element,” adding: “Their objective is terrorism and fanaticism so who could expect us to join such a government with such people? This is against the objective of the international alliance against terrorism.” But Dr. Abdullah accepted that a future government did have to have a broader base than the Northern Alliance, which is code for saying that it did need to include some significant Pashtun representation.

Another senior leader in northern Afghanistan is General Atiqullah Bar-yolai, the deputy minister of defense. He says the “original” Taliban, that is to say Mullah Omar and his cronies, can have no say in the future of the country because they are nothing but Pakistani agents. “They brought foreigners here to kill Afghans. They educated boys of thirteen or fifteen in Pakistan to destroy our history, our museums and our archives.” Like the Afghan intellectual I met, General Baryolai believes that there are many who became Taliban for opportunistic reasons and, especially if they defect now, they should be able to participate in decisions on how the country should be run.

Of course it is difficult to divine what will happen from Khoja Bahaudin, but it is possible that the UN will be drawn into a diplomatic process by which it would oversee a transitional phase in Afghanistan just as it did in Cambodia. The UN, which has its own special representative for Afghanistan, has formed a task force to consider this and other possibilities, but it is too early to say whether foreign governments would commit troops to bolster any such operation.

The Afghan intellectual told me he was “quite optimistic” about the prospects of the Northern Alliance leaders. As for the slaughter they committed when they were in Kabul, which leaves their popularity in doubt, he said: “I think now they understand very well. If there is no cooperation [with Pashtuns and other groups] they will lose everything.”

I saw Dr. Syed Kamil Ibrahim, who is the acting minister of health. He told me: “Our aim is an Islamic democracy. It is freedom for the Islamic religion, but not by force. Yes, we will have Sharia [Islamic] law but not like the Taliban. Women will have rights to study and work. They will be equal.” This was echoed by Dr. Abdullah, who claimed that women would have a say in determining the future of the country.

Here in the north of Afghanistan, however, women are not equal. They have no part in decision-making. But girls go to school and they can work. In this deeply conservative society you rarely see women outside their homes and when you do they are veiled. In the camp of Lalla Guzar, which houses ten thousand refugees from Taliban-controlled territory, I visited a new school, which was built by a French aid group called ACTED and funded by the Turkish government. It has space for less than half of the children in the camp, but it is a start. Boys go to school in the morning, girls in the afternoon. When I went I saw four classrooms full of eager girls chanting the alphabet, doing arithmetic, and having a religion class. I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up and almost all of them said they wanted to be either a teacher or a doctor, the only jobs they ever see women doing. They also knew that in Taliban-held territory girls are banned from school and women not allowed to work. Lalimoh, aged twelve, said that girls were being prevented from going to school in Taliban-held areas because the Taliban “are not educated and that is why they don’t allow schools.”

I wanted to ask if anyone wanted to become an astronaut but the director of the school said that this was absurd since “they don’t know what an astronaut is.” In this land without electricity there is no television either. Everyone lives in tents or mud huts, yet despite their tough life these refugee girls were full of energy and smiles. Bucking the trend among her schoolmates, Zokira, aged ten, said: “If I try, I will become a minister!”—she meant in a future government. Such are the glimmers of hope in northern Afghanistan.

—October 17, 2001

This Issue

November 15, 2001