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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 13:22 GMT
Life in an Afghan jail
Pakistani prisoners
The prisoners have nothing to do but wait
Marcus George

The iron doors open to reveal bodies in blankets, packed like sardines on the cold concrete floor.

The room is filled with the fetid smell of sweat and dirt. There is no natural light, and the occupants are only sporadically given permission to visit the toilet.

Killing of humans is not allowed in Islam, it was not right, it was a grave error

Afat al-Walili, Arab prisoner
In this central Kabul prison, over 100 foreigners, mostly Pakistanis, are crammed into less than a dozen cells measuring three by four metres.

They cough and ache but, with two meagre rations of food, they have little spare energy to complain.

The only possessions they have are the mattresses and blankets given to them when the Red Cross came to register them as prisoners of war.

Foot soldiers

These prisoners are not the hardened al-Qaeda militants the world has heard so much about.

They are the foot soldiers told to go and fight the holy war by their community clerics in neighbouring Pakistan.

Nader Khan
Nader Khan has now changed his views on Bin Laden's call to jihad
"We came here because they told us that there was jihad. And we only understood that it wasn't real jihad when we arrived," said Nader Khan, who had travelled from Pakistan.

"The mullahs used to preach to us in the mosques that the jihad was coming. People were dying, they told us, and if we wouldn't go we would be condemned forever."

Others said that they were civilians who had come to Afghanistan years earlier to fight the Soviet army, and settled there.

They oppose Osama Bin Laden's war against America.

"The action of Bin Laden was not Islamic," said an Arab prisoner, Afat al-Walili.

"Killing of humans is not allowed in Islam. It was not right. It was a grave error," he said.

"His jihad is not just. It is wrong. He is accusing most of the world of infidelity and that is not right."

Many fighters feel confused and let down. Not only have they been incarcerated for what they thought was their duty, many have also decided that the jihad they participated in was not genuine.

'Ready for more'

But some still felt the fighting spirit and were anxious to spill more blood.

"We hate the Americans and any other infidels. Only Muslims are decent people," said a 21-year-old Pakistani.

"We enjoyed the fight. There were the planes flying above us, dropping bombs. It was really good. We wanted to get the Americans but they were just out of reach.

Prisoners write inscriptions on the walls to help pass the time
"We are ready for more jihad because this is God's order and written in the holy Koran. We will go to war against foreign infidels who do not believe in Islam. When we are freed we will prepare for more."

An uncertain fate awaits these prisoners.

It is likely that US forces have already vetted them for likely al-Qaeda suspects.

I was told that more than 30 suspects had been transferred from the prison just days before.

Afghanistan's deputy security minister, Aman Barekzai, said he was still waiting for orders from the interim government over what will happen to foreign prisoners in Afghanistan.

He said the government would consider any demands from the US to hand over prisoners, and there were plans to release more Afghans who were forced to fight for the Taleban regime.

As I left the prison compound I asked a guard whether the prisoners really deserved such treatment.

"Let them die," he replied. "They caused pain and suffering to our people. They should pay for that."

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