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banner Sunday, 2 December, 2001, 17:56 GMT
A personal account
Northern Allicance
The Northern Alliance
By Phil Rees

Abdul Majid, a commander with the 710th Holy Warriors' Brigade, stood atop his mud-built fort on the frontline north of Kabul. He bellowed orders into his radio: "By sunset, reach as far as you can walk. God willing, they cannot resist the Mujahideen."

Taleban forces defending Kabul had melted into the late evening sun. Abdul Majid turned to me: "We are going to reach Kabul."

While officially described as the Northern Alliance, these soldiers still refer to themselves as Mujahideen - Islamic fighters who repelled the Russians from Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Entering Kabul

At dawn the next morning, I joined Abdul Majid as his soldiers rushed toward the city. The Taleban had fled overnight. On the main road into Kabul, the evidence of battle was only a few burnt out vehicles and the bloodied bodies of five Taleban soldiers.

Tanks of Northern Alliance
Tanks of Northern Alliance soldiers enter Kabul

Some older folk clapped and gangs of children waved as the tanks of the Northern Alliance rolled in, draped in jubilant soldiers.

In the shopping areas around Chicken Street, where carpets and western goods are in abundance, a shopkeeper offered me alcohol and danced to music from a loudspeaker on the pavement.

The Taleban was not much loved here. There was genuine relief that war with America was over and that Kabul had not, once more, become a battleground for competing armies.

Liberating Kabul

Family re-unions were heart warming. We found Commander Abdul Majid in his old home, drinking tea with aunts and uncles whom he had not seen for five years.

Abdul Majid
Northern Alliance Commander Abdul Majid

For many who observed Kabul that day, the city's fall seemed a genuine act of liberation. After all, the Taleban regime was harbouring the group responsible for the mass murder on September 11th. It was VK Day (Victory in Kabul) blared one British tabloid.

But a more restrained glance suggested more solace than euphoria. It seemed confirmed to me that the years of Mujahideen misrule from 1992 to 1996 had not been forgotten. Much of Kabul seemed a city numbed by war and fearful of harbouring hope.

Reminiscent of liberating Kuwait

I was also sobered by an event I was reminded of, a decade earlier, during the fall of Kuwait City at the end of the Gulf War.

Kuwait celebrations at the end of the Gulf War
Ten years ago, jubilant scenes as Kuwait was liberated

Back then I could still hear the sound of distant gunfire as I entered the city alongside American troops. It had rained overnight and the air was filled with smoke from burning oilfields, ignited by fleeing Iraqi soldiers.

I went into the nearly deserted Hilton Hotel on Arabian Gulf Street. The hotel staff had long gone and there was no power, but I was still hoping to grab an empty room.

Cowering in a corner in near darkness were half a dozen Filipino girls who had been working as domestic maids for local Kuwaitis. I asked how they were; the Iraqis had treated them well, they said.

Then suddenly, struck with fear, one of the girls grabbed my arm and pleaded that I should not allow the Kuwaitis to return. I listened as two of the girls told me that they had been raped by their Kuwaiti masters. Their erstwhile employers held their passports and the girls were too fearful to report the crimes.

After listening to their harrowing accounts, I'd had to admit to them that I was powerless to help. Somewhat embarrassed, I simply wished them well and explained that I had work to do.

I was to experience a similar feeling in Kabul.

Hope is restrained

I ventured west to the district of Afshar, where block after block of shattered housing resembles the ruins of an ancient civilisation.

Abdul Rasul Sayyaf
Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Mujahideen leader

In 1993, it was the site of repeated human butchery during fighting between a faction that adheres to the Shi'ite Muslim faith and followers of a Saudi backed Mujahideen leader, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf.

Amnesty International reported that Sayyaf's forces rampaged through Afshar, murdering, raping and burning homes.

Now Sayyaf's forces are back in Kabul, a key component of the Northern Alliance army.

The future

As we filmed the devastation in Afshar, I noticed a woman peering from the doorway of her home. She was perhaps 50, though the poor diet and harsh climate often makes Afghans appear much older than their age.

There's no future here. There is nothing here. Nothing to live for

Mrs Waseeq

Her face was showing under a headscarf. She was not wearing the burqa - the head to toe covering required for women under Taleban law. I asked if she was happy that the Taleban had fled and she no longer needed to abide by their strict dress code.

She shrugged. Her name was Mrs Waseeq. It didn't matter who was in charge, she said, and wearing the burqa was of little consequence.

Then, in a sudden flurry of excitement, she called her son, a thin young man who looked about 15. She pushed him towards me. "His name is Sayed. Take him," she pleaded, "take him home with you. He is a strong young man. He can help you. Take him with you to your country."

Her sullen face was now round with anticipation, her eyes widened by hope.

The ruins of Afshar district of Kabul

Taken aback, I said the boy should stay to look after his mother and it was impossible to bring him into Britain.

Her face narrowed in disappointment. "There's no future here. There is nothing here. Nothing to live for."

Resigned, Mrs Waseeq pulled her son back and closed the door behind them. She was trapped in her world and I was powerless to liberate her.

I had work to do. And the aim of the war in Afghanistan is to ensure that the United States becomes a safer place, rather than to provide hope to Mrs Waseeq and her son Sayed.

The Afghan Trap: Sunday 2nd December 2001 at 1915 on BBC Two

Reporter: Phil Rees
Producer: Frank Smith
Deputy Editor: Farah Durrani
Editor: Fiona Murch

See also:

23 Nov 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Afghanistan
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Who are the Northern Alliance?
02 Aug 00 | Middle East
Timeline: War in the Gulf
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