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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 19:55 GMT
Bamiyan looks to the future
Bamiyan landscape
Bamiyan suffered heavily under the Taleban
Marcus George

Gholam Hussein stood up, greeted the gathering and began his speech. He had come from Yakholang, a town five hours west, to put a petition to his spiritual leader.

"We did have a good bazaar, we had good schools and we had a good life. Now it has all been destroyed. We have had three years of drought and our community has been afflicted," he said.

One by one, petitions were presented in person to Karim Khalili, governor of Bamiyan in the central region and warlord and spiritual leader of the Hazaras, Afghanistan's predominantly Shiite minority.

We supported the peace talks in Bonn. And even if our party was not represented by a single ministry I would not oppose the process or the interim government

Karim Khalili
Called out by the court announcer, these people had been sent by their far-flung communities to Mr Khalili's court to pay allegiance to their leader, following years of brutal rule by the Taleban.

Spartan life

But the allegiance came at a price. Their harvests had failed, their children had died from malnutrition, the Taleban had arrested, tortured and killed members of their families and they needed help.

Governor of Bamiyan Karim Khalili
Mr Khalili supported the Afghan peace talks in Bonn

This was a scene from medieval times. More than 100 community leaders sat cross-legged on the spartan ground. Only satellite dishes on the roof above them and the roar of passing vehicles brought the gathering into modernity.

Bamiyan was relinquished from Taleban control just days before Kabul, following more than 20 costly battles with the strict regime's troops over the course of a whole year.

Mr Khalili is fully supporting the interim government, but above his headquarters flies his party's flag.

"We have a different flag because I am not officially working in the government. But if God is willing there will be another, state flag flying in the future.

"We supported the peace talks in Bonn. And even if our party was not represented by a single ministry I would not oppose the process or the interim government.

"Our aim is peace and our people are very tired of fighting. We need a bright future for this country."

Taleban remnants

The former teacher says he has come to agreements with other leaders in the region to put their power behind the new government. But only a few months before some of these figures, previously allied to the Taleban, were Khalili's foes.

Bamiyan landscape
There are still pockets of Taleban resistance in the hills surrounding Bamiyan

"Local commanders who helped and supported the Taleban no longer have much influence here.

"In the past they were Talebs but now they are our brothers. We have the same aims and are, together, supporting the interim government."

But despite this strong support, the Hazara leader seems unwilling to disarm his fighters, saying there still may be pockets of Taleban in surrounding areas.

Reports in the town claim that over 200 Taleban fighters, under the control of two Arabs, are still holed up in a town five hours north, on the main road to Mazar-e-Sharif.

It is believed the group is looting vehicles and other commanders speak strongly in terms of a battle on the horizon. But nobody is certain if this is a local feud or a serious threat to Mr Khalili's power.

Such delicate power balances, in the vacuum created by the fall of the Taleban, are to be found all over Afghanistan.

International help

Regional governors are reaching agreements with former opposition commanders. But disarmament is not likely to be reached for a long while.

Destroyed Bamiyan buddha
The Bamiyan buddhas were once the area's most well known feature

British and American special forces are in the region coordinating operations and, according to the authorities, assisting the community in their return to normality.

Outside Khalili's base, an Afghan waited, reading a recent edition of the US newspaper "Stars and Stripes", given to him by his "American friend".

Several others in dark blue military clothing said they were waiting for firing practice and training exercises from the foreign forces.

Chinook helicopters come and go in darkness, the roar of their engines cracking the silence in the mountainous region.

There are many clues to suggest the struggle for power is far from over here. But for the time being, at least, the guns of Bamiyan have fallen silent.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"Another step in Afghanistan's return to the world community"

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11 Dec 01 | South Asia
30 Dec 01 | South Asia
20 Nov 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
19 Nov 01 | Europe
24 Jan 02 | South Asia
24 Jan 02 | South Asia
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