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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 20:21 GMT
Afghan exiles cautious about return
Taleban fighters
Exiles want to see fighters disarmed before they return
By BBC News Online's Richard Allen Greene

Afghan exiles worldwide are optimistic about the changes that have taken place in the country in the past three months, but few are preparing to go back just yet, diaspora leaders say.

Afghan exiles want to be sure that the untested new interim administration of Hamid Karzai can guarantee stability and security before they return.

Former Afghan King Zahir Shah
The diaspora is cheered by the king's role
They are encouraged by the plan to convene a loya jirga, or council of elders, to set up a new permanent government for Afghanistan - and by the participation of former King Zahir Shah.

But if educated Afghan exiles do return to the country, even with the best of intentions, there could be tension between those who fled and those who stayed, one expert says.

Peter Marsden, an Afghan specialist at the Refugee Council in Britain, says that people who have been out of the country for years "have no idea how to behave" when they come back.

He tells of one returning emigre who - after working as a management consultant in California - ordered his Afghan staff to wear Western clothing.

"He didn't last long," Mr Marsden says.

He says that returning exiles must ease into Afghan life gradually, with humility, to avoid incurring resentment of those who stayed through decades of war.


Leaders in the Afghan diaspora say such problems are still largely in the future.

We need to take the guns away from people or they'll start fighting again

Walid Sharif,
Afghan Network
"Nobody is packing their bags yet in North America," says Walid Sharif, founder of the Toronto-based Afghan Network.

"It's a matter of security," he says. "For the last 10 years, every time a new government comes in, more people die."

Shapur Amiri, director of the Afghan Academy in London, says that the fall of the Taleban is encouraging, but that 20 years of civil war have not yet completely come to an end.

"People have suffered under so many groups - the Taleban, the mujahideen, the communists - and they know that those groups are all still there and fighting is still going on," he says.

The Refugee Council says no one should be pressed to return to Afghanistan against their will.

"It has to be an individual choice," says spokeswoman Nasreen Memon.

Educated class's concern

Moderates and professionals - people who could do much to help rebuild the country - have a particular fear, Mr Marsden says.

Starting in the late 1980s, different governments actively targeted them for assassination, he says.

Hamid Karzai
The new leader is untested
"There was an increasing climate of fear as aid workers, intellectuals and professionals were targeted. That climate of fear was a major factor in making people flee," Mr Marsden says.

He describes Mr Karzai, the UN-appointed interim leader of Afghanistan, as an "unknown quantity" with no significant experience of governing Afghanistan.

Thus, he says, exiles are taking a wait-and-see approach to his administration.

Mr Sharif agrees that the diaspora is reserving judgement on Mr Karzai and his government.

"People are cautious about how this government is going to act," he says.

International force

He adds that the planned deployment of international peacekeepers will help convince exiles it is safe to return.

"We need a neutral force," he says. "We need to take the guns away from people or they'll start fighting again.

UK Major General John McColl, who may lead the peacekeepers
Peacekeepers are 'a great help and hope'
Mr Amini in London says that some Afghan exiles oppose the idea of international forces in Afghanistan "in theory - but in practice we have witnessed over two decades of killing".

He says: "The majority suffered under all three groups.

"We see a great hope and help in an international force acting as a mediator."

Family ties

For some older exiles, however, safety is not the issue.

Some have been abroad since the purges of the late 1970s and have built lives and families in Europe or America.

"For those who came here in the early stages, their children were born here and go to school here," Mr Amini says.

I know a man who lost his left arm in the fighting - he had a call asking him to go back, and now he's trying to get a passport

Shapur Amini,
Afghan Academy
"People have strong connections with their host countries," he says.

He says he does not even know if he still has family in Afghanistan.

Mr Marsden says that in addition to feeling alienated from Afghanistan after many years away, some older exiles would see returning as a step down.

"Many held senior positions and would find it hard to go back and not return to those senior positions," he says.

Mr Sharif says refugees who left fleeing war or poverty rather than persecution are not as tempted to return as professionals.

"People who were poor say they're not going back. They sold everything they had to get out and came for the American dream," he says, adding that he believes they are in the minority in North America.

Northern Alliance fighter
Many groups could return to a war footing
There is a general consensus that, if safety can be assured, many educated Afghanis do want to return.

"Architects and engineers want to contribute to rebuilding the infrastructure," Mr Sharif says.

He says an architect he knows in Toronto is waiting for spring "to see how it goes - but he is already looking for someone to buy his home".

Mr Amini says that businesspeople in London are looking for opportunities to build factories in Afghanistan.

And, he adds, personal appeals for exiles to return exert a powerful pull.

"I know a man who lost his left arm in the fighting. He had a call asking him to go back, and now he's trying to get a passport," Mr Amini says.

"Now that they need help, he wants to go and help."

See also:

12 Dec 01 | South Asia
Normal life returning to Kandahar
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