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Monday, 17 September, 2001, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Pakistan views possible US retaliation
The Afghan Pakistan border at Torkham
Pakistan has closed its border with Afghanistan
By the BBC's Owen Bennett Jones in Peshawar

The last time a foreign army invaded Afghanistan three million people fled the country and arrived in Pakistan.

The authorities in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's northwest frontier, are clearly afraid the same thing could happen again.


Afghanistan is a pure Muslim country, and if our government is with America we will oppose it

Pakistani student in Peshawar

Pakistani officials have now closed the border between the two countries, and over a thousand Afghans who want to leave the country are now stuck at the official crossing front near the Khyber pass.

There are already over a million Afghans in Peshawar's hot and dusty refugee camps.

Some have been here 20 years, ever since the Soviet invasion.

About 80,000 Afghan refugees live in this makeshift camp in Jalozai
Conditions for many Afghan refugees are desperate

They no longer live in tents. Over the years they have constructed mud houses with high walls, behind which they can protect female family members from prying eyes.

Bariq Barizai fled through the mountains on foot to Pakistan in 1981. He has 16 close relatives who still live on the Afghan side of the border.

"I am very nervous", he said.

"Half my family is in Kabul, but the Pakistanis aren't letting anyone through."

Military action 'inevitable'

The Afghans in Peshawar believe American military action is now inevitable. They ask when, not if, the attack will happen.

Dr Matullah Azizi fled Eastern Afghanistan in 1984. He now runs a medical clinic for Afghan refugees in Peshawar.

Khyber Pass political agents inspect a truck coming from Afghanistan into Pakistan
Peshawar has long been a transit point for smuggled goods

This is a labour of love. Few have enough money to pay for their treatment.

Like the other refugees, the doctor has not returned to Afghanistan because of the endless fighting there.

But, he says, if the US invades then he will have to go back.

"If the Americans attack the Afghan people are ready to fight", he said.

"Afghanistan is my country, like my mother's. I will go to protect my country."

Tribal affiliations

Peshawar lies just 70 km from the Afghan border. It has long been a transit point for arms, drugs, gemstones and smuggled electronic goods.

Tribal and religious affiliations are strong and transcend the international border.

Pakistani students at Peshawar University are expressing solidarity with the Afghans.

"We must support them. They are our Muslim brothers," said one.

"Afghanistan is a pure Muslim country, and if our government is with America we will oppose it."

A Pakistani guard turns Afghan refugees back at the border
Afghan refugees: not welcome

The vast majority of people in Peshawar are against any American military action.

They say the Americans have not shown any proof of Osama Bin Laden's involvement in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"Any foreign attack is disliked", said Afrasiab Khattack, the Peshawar-based chairperson of Pakistan's human rights commission.

"By and large the people there are not fanatics but as far as foreign military interventions are concerned, of course, they are opposed to that."

See also:

14 Sep 01 | South Asia
Aid agencies warn of Afghan crisis
13 Sep 01 | South Asia
Kabul braces for US attack
12 Sep 01 | South Asia
Taleban tense as US seeks targets
Links to more South Asia stories are at the foot of the page.


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