BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: World: South Asia
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Afghans place hopes in UN
Refugee family in Jalozai refugee camp on the outskirts of Peshawar
Refugees wonder if there may be a chance to go home
By the BBC's Afghanistan correspondent Kate Clark

People speaking from the Afghan capital Kabul say some residents have returned to the city after an initial panic exodus following the attacks on America.

Washington has blamed the attacks on the Saudi militant Osama Bin Laden, who is living in Afghanistan under the protection of the ruling Taleban.

The Afghan people have been held hostage to terrorism. If there is an expanded and direct role for the UN, there will not be resistance

General Jawed Kowistani

People in Kabul say they are now less fearful of swift and massive American military action and more hopeful that the former king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, might return to usher in a new broad-based government.

One man who had tried to move his family to Pakistan said it was good that America had taken time to think about the risk to civilians.

Mood of optimism

Talk of the return of the former king Zahir Shah also means that people feel the likelihood of opposition forces capturing the city has also receded.

Kabul is in ruins from the last time they were in control.

One resident said the mood, which had been tense, was now much more optimistic.

Kabul money changer
The national currency is soaring in value

The national currency, the Afghani, which has been plummeting for years, is now soaring.

At its lowest - just after the attacks on America - one dollar was buying more than 100,000 Afghanis.

Now the figure is 56,000 Afghanis to the dollar, which is about the same price as three years ago and means that food and fuel prices are stable.

Long wait

Inside Pakistan, Afghan refugees are avidly watching the news, listening to the radio, trying to work out what is going to happen to their country.

One man I spoke to, whose family left Afghanistan in 1992, said he was watching the television every hour.

Afghan boy arranges sand bags in front of the window of his home in Kabul
People in Kabul have been preparing for an attack

"We are worried about the current situation of the people of Afghanistan and what will happen," he said. "We are afraid of what will happen in future, and we are especially worried about the people, because we have been in a similar situation ten years ago."

Royan's father has taken up smoking again and his mother says she is finding it impossible to sleep, but she is hoping US action can bring some positive change:

"The people of Afghanistan have been suffering for 20 years," she said. "We want the US to use the neighbours of Afghanistan, especially Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iran and maybe India to find Osama Bin Laden, to finish terrorism here, and bring peace to Afghanistan."

Disaffected commanders

Royan and his parents are intellectuals from the capital, but the people with real power in today's Afghanistan are the armed men.

General Jawed Kowistani used to be a senior commander in one of the mujahedin parties, fighting the Soviet occupation, then in the bloody internecine battles for Kabul.

More recently, he has been involved in the underground peace process, making secret contact with disaffected commanders from the Taleban and the opposition.

He believes that if there was United Nations backing, Afghans themselves, including members of the Taleban, would fight against Osama Bin Laden and his Arab forces.

Afghan refugees inside Pakistan
Refugees watch events with apprehension

"The Afghan people have been held hostage to terrorism," he said. "There are strong forces, not only within the opposition Northern Alliance, but also within the Taleban, who are strongly against terrorism.

"As long as they receive assurance that the United Nations is involved and that they have the full backing of the Security Council, we can count on the support of these forces.

"If there is an expanded and direct role for the UN, there will not be resistance."

In a refugee camp on the outskirts of Islamabad, people were echoing this view.

More like a village than a camp, people live here in mud-built houses.

There are small shops and lots of small commerce, people on bicycles and crowds of people.

Chance to go home

Some of the people have been here for twenty years, others are newcomers.

They are wondering whether there are going to be many more Afghans crossing the border soon, or if there is a chance they could go home.

One man said: "How is it possible to go back to Afghanistan if you expect a war? "No, we can't go back. The situation's no good. There's no king, no-one who can rule the country.

"If the UN brings its troops into Afghanistan and stabilises the situation, we'll go back then, but not now. If we go back, we'll be threatened by the Taleban, or by one group or another."

Zahir Shah
Some Afghans hope the United Nations can bring about the return of Zahir Shah

Another man agreed: "The destruction of our country, society falling apart, the religion falling apart, our minds not developing, can you not see the worry we have?

"But there is a chance that you, or the United Nations or America could bring a popular government, a government for the people of Afghanistan."

This feeling among Afghans is almost universal - those here in Pakistan and those I am in contact with inside Afghanistan all say they want the United Nations to be involved.

The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan himself has said the United Nations can help in the fight against terrorism, but so far, he said nothing about what that could mean for Afghanistan.

See also:

22 Sep 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Afghanistan veers towards chaos
21 Sep 01 | South Asia
UN moots return of Afghan king
22 Sep 01 | South Asia
Aid shortage adds to Afghan woes
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more South Asia stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more South Asia stories