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EDITIONS
Saturday, 17 August, 2002, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Farewell to Afghanistan
Men in Kabul
Afghan society is slowly opening up
The BBC's Kate Clark has been reporting from Afghanistan for the past three years - a time of huge upheaval and change.

Here she gives her assessment of the post-Taleban era and looks back on her time in Kabul.


I travelled into the central highlands of Afghanistan a few days ago to Band-e-Amir, a series of lakes of matchless beauty, the colour of jewels, carved out in a miracle, so locals believe by Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed.

I arrived to find a few dozen Afghan tourists - miraculously, both women and men - family groups, some visiting the shrine marking the place where Ali prayed, crying out their troubles; others listened to music, ate fish and relaxed.


They shot him dead - along with scores of other men - the bodies, relatives kept repeating - stacked like firewood in the snow

Women are relatively free in this region - plus, of course, the Taleban have now gone.

For once, I was glad to see other tourists, to see Band-e-Amir alive. Last time I came, almost two years ago, I had met Haji Ismael, keeper of the shrine and of a little hotel.

He had been a champion swimmer in his youth before losing a leg during the Soviet occupation.

A few months after I filmed him speaking about his hopes for reviving tourism, he was severely beaten by the Taleban - they joked that he was an opposition commander who was lame.

Taleban crimes

Then they shot him dead - along with scores of other men - the bodies, relatives kept repeating - stacked like firewood in the snow.

Taleban militia
Many Taleban who carried out war crimes are still alive and free

I had feared Band-e-Amir would be deserted without Haji Ismael's intelligent, generous presence, but his sons were both there, both remembered me, and they're now running the family business.

Reporting on this massacre was one reason I was thrown out in March 2000 - revealing the Taleban's nasty secrets to the world. But more was to come.

This whole area suffered a scorched earth policy last summer as the Taleban and their al-Qaeda allies sought to wipe out opposition by killing civilians and burning whole villages.

I broadcast film in September that had been smuggled out showing burned schools, scorched Korans - Afghan Muslims were the first victims of al-Qaeda's jihad.


In Kabul, where international peace-keepers maintain a general calm, not far below the surface, there is violence

The men who carried out those war crimes are still mainly alive and free - Commander Dadullah, who used to be my neighbour in Kabul - whom even other Taleban said was the most dangerous man in the movement - probably now, I think, in Pakistan.

Mullah Zoi, currently an ally of the defence ministry - now capturing territory and smashing state schools to the north-west of Band-e-Amir - on the familiar grounds that education should be entirely religious.

Violence beneath the surface

The central highlands is one place which feels completely liberated. People here suffered so badly under the Taleban, and the new rulers are relatively benign.

That is not the case elsewhere. Even in Kabul, where international peace-keepers maintain a general calm, not far below the surface, there is violence.

Two of the delegates from the loya jirga, the national gathering held in June, are still in hiding, under death threats from members of the dominant armed faction here.

People ask if I am optimistic about Afghanistan's future. Most days I am. After 11 September, everything was possible here - short of the Taleban staying in power.

I could have been reporting on a bloodbath - or on a more democratic Afghanistan.

We have ended up somewhere in the middle - 1,000 times better than the Taleban - but still far away from what Afghan civilians could be making of this country.


Afghanistan is like a drug, every correspondent who has worked here has felt compelled to return

Warlords, armed factions, gunmen - who between them killed or wounded one-sixth of Kabul's population in 1994 alone - became the allies of America against al-Qaeda and have been rewarded with power.

Many of them were nothing before 11 September. Now they have houses, four-wheel drives, land and ministries.

Democracy

The loya jirga was supposed to introduce a more broad based government, instead it has concentrated power.

The democratic mandate of having representatives chosen from every district in the country was thrown away, as a cabal of warlords, a few civilian leaders, and the American and United Nations special envoys drew up lists of ministers in secret.
Loya jirga
Many feel that the loya jirga has not created a broad-based government

But there is room to breathe now. A freer press, a civilian head of state, and a space for manoeuvre for democrats, human rights workers and women activists.

Girls go freely to school, increasing numbers of women walk around Kabul barefaced - my heart lifts every time I see them.

And there is that network of community representatives, left over from the loya jirga.

As for me, I feel I am just beginning to understand the multi-layered politics of this country, my heart is still here, I am still moved by the generosity of people who have lost everything.

You will be back, friends reassure me. Afghanistan is like a drug. Every correspondent who has worked here has felt compelled to return. I will be back. But in another guise, rather than doing one of the best jobs in the world: the BBC Kabul correspondent.


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See also:

01 Jun 02 | South Asia
19 May 02 | South Asia
20 Mar 02 | South Asia
31 Jan 02 | South Asia
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