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This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Reaction of ordinary people in Northern Afghanistan 8/10/01

TIM WHEWELL:
For the vast majority of Afghans, this was a morning like any other. After more than two decades of constant war, all life here feels temporary. This mud town, Khawaja Bahauddin, doesn't even figure on maps. It grew up just a few years ago to serve the new military headquarters of the anti-Taliban forces, the Northern Alliance. With many fathers away at the war, it's often the children of the 1,500 refugee families around the town who are called to collect the rations provided by aid agencies. Their thumbprints certify receipt of their four kilos of sugar and six bottles of cooking oil. But not all of them are strong enough to carry the food away. But now Western air strikes have begun, families who fled the Taliban advance are hesitantly hoping they eventually may be able to return to their old lives.

ZEAOUDIN:
(Refugee)
(TRANSLATION) If they keep on with this action, soon we will be able to go back to our villages. But if they only do it for one or two days, the situation will be the same as before, and we won't be able to go home.

WHEWELL:
But aid workers have already started working out how best to organise relief if these camps begin to empty.

SEBASTIEN TRIVES:
(ACTED Aid Agency)
These attacks have ushered in a sense of expectation for these people. Many of them believe that perhaps they will be able to go home soon. We are talking about thousands of families. We have to be ready with significant resources to assist them when the time comes.

WHEWELL:
Today the motley troops of the Northern Alliance were charging their weapons with a new confidence, boosted by the knowledge that America is now doing most of their job for them. Until now, they have spent years fighting a rear-guard action to defend an ever shrinking corner of the country. Northern Alliance leaders say that in the wake of the British and American strikes they want to advance from here to retake the important northern city of Mazar-e Sharif. But for now, it's still a waiting game. The front line hasn't moved for seven months, and the local commanders say they will need more action from the West before they can move forward. The Northern Alliance's revered former commander, Ahmed Shah Massood, was assassinated last month before he could create a unified regular army from a set of disparate militias, controlled by fractious warlords. His successor, General Mohammed Fahim, still has to contend with deep ethnic and personal rivalries among his subordinates. But the Northern Alliance has paraded one of its prisoners to show how it believes the Taliban regime may now crumble from within. This Taliban soldier, captured in the Panjshir valley, said he would now change sides, and fight against his former comrades. Troops in the north are listening eagerly for details of the ongoing American attacks. Meanwhile, their own leaders are giving no information about their plans, although they are certainly talking big.

MUTALIB BEG:
(Northern Alliance Commander, Talequan Province)
(TRANSLATION) We are ready right now to capture Kabul and take care of the security of the civilians. They have been under the Taliban for six years. We want to give them independence.

WHEWELL:
In practice, the route to a new Afghanistan is completely uncharted. For now, these Afghans will carry on risking their lives to earn a little money trading across the river that marks the front line. They are doing what they have always done, living with war.


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