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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 19:31 GMT 20:31 UK
Life plods on in opposition Afghanistan
Northern Alliance fighter
For Afghans this is not a new war
The BBC's Central Asia correspondent Catherine Davis was among those who initially went to Afghanistan to cover the funeral of opposition leader Ahmed Shah Masood, but she soon found the trip overtaken by other events.

Eating watermelon with commanders on the front line has become a regular occurrence.

The conversation might be punctured by the sound of gun-fire, but Afghan hospitality is never compromised.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor we ask if there is any sign that the Taleban are strengthening their positions.


While the world has followed Washington's latest moves, opposition held Afghanistan has focussed on the death of one of its main commanders Ahmed Shah Masood

Commanders in return inquire when we think the Americans will attack.

There is a sense of expectation here, of waiting for something to happen - Afghanistan may be a focus of attention, but inside the country I feel strangely isolated from events.

Kabul is only 80km (50 miles) away, but in Taleban controlled territory.

Proclamations from there, meetings in Tajikistan to the north and calls for a crusade from Washington all seem a world away.

Radio lifeline

Just as ordinary Afghans do, I too have come to depend on the radio for news of developments.

Mourners for Ahmed Shah Masood
Opposition Afghans are fixed on the death of Masood

At certain times of the day in homes or shop doorways people stand with the radio to their ear.

Afghans must be among some of the few who have not seen the dramatic images of the past few weeks. Yet it is those events that have thrust their country centre stage.

While the world has followed Washington's latest moves, opposition held Afghanistan has focussed on the death of one of its main commanders Ahmed Shah Masood.

For people here his assassination and the attacks on the United States are linked - both masterminded, they believe, by the Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden.

Mourning

Shops and schools have been closed, black flags hang outside homes and fly from jeeps, posters declaring the veteran commander a hero are pasted to car windows.

People here speak with great respect and affection for the man who for years lived among them in the Panshir valley.


There is no gas or electricity here, just the hope that as darkness falls the hastily acquired generator will work

They are mourning not only the loss of a military leader, but someone they identified with on a personal level too. Many say they are angry and want his death avenged.

But aside from the outward signs of mourning, life goes on as usual. A maze of sunken, dusty lanes leads to the front line just north of Kabul, past neglected vineyards and battle scarred homes.

A rocket launcher stands in a field of maize. Against the crumbling, sandy ruins veiled women often in blue stand out in quiet contrast.

As Taleban and opposition forces exchange fire, villagers hover close to nearby buildings.

Foreigners evacuated

All around there is evidence of previous battles - rusting, burnt out Soviet tanks lie scattered across the arid plains or hang off rocky mountain slopes.

The outside world talks in turn of any military strike as a new war, for people here it would simply be a continuation of an ongoing conflict.

Afghan children in front of an abandoned Russian tank
The marks of war are everywhere

With foreigners officially evacuated from Afghanistan our small group is all the more noticeable. Hosted by the foreign ministry of the ousted government, we are escorted from place to place.

Roads are mostly bumpy tracks - even travelling a few kilometres turns into a major expedition with the day dominated by travel.

There is no gas or electricity here, just the hope that as darkness falls the hastily acquired generator will work.

As power surges on and off, the paraphernalia of modern journalism is redundant. Filing stories is often best done by torchlight, and using pen and paper.

Shattered calm

Washing involves buckets of water, clothes are recycled. At night we lie on cushions on the floor and a blanket, Afghan style.

Bread, rice, apples and green tea are provided each day.

Kabul Taleban militia
Kabul seems a world away

Last week came news of hundreds of other journalists clamouring to enter Afghanistan. We knew their transport problems would not last forever.

Suddenly, on Sunday afternoon, the calm of our Afghan retreat was shattered.

A mountain of cameras, tripods and bags appeared. The worlds media had arrived. In some ways one sensed the story has too.

Our Afghan hosts though, seem to have taken this unaccustomed invasion in their stride.

See also:

26 Sep 01 | South Asia
Fighting rages in north Afghanistan
26 Sep 01 | South Asia
UN plea for open Afghan borders
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan warns of Afghan instability
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Taleban face total isolation
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