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John Simpson
For 20 years this country has been little more than a battlefield
 real 28k

Monday, 20 December, 1999, 14:33 GMT
Afghanistan's mindless war

A beautiful country ravaged by war

By World Affairs Editor John Simpson in Afghanistan

There can be few more dreadful places on earth to work than the brick fields on the outskirts of the Pakistani city of Peshawar.

The fires are fuelled with rubber, so as to give the bricks a particular colour. The smoke gets into the workers' lungs and they soon sicken.

For this, they earn a dollar a day.

The men who work here are mostly refugees from Afghanistan.

A painful and degrading exile A painful and degrading exile
No one wants them. Their exile is painful and degrading. They are the continuing victims of a mindless, pointless war which has lasted now for 20 years.

An extended family of 19 has just arrived in the brick field camps from the Shomali area, north of Kabul.

The men used to have a farm and orchards.

Now they get occasional work in the brick fields, and have nothing but the clothes they stand up in.

I don't know what kind of life this is? Only one person is working and 10 are eating
Pari Shah
They say they were forced to leave at gunpoint when the Taleban burned down their homes and chopped down their fruit trees.

They were driven out because they were from the same ethnic group as the Taleban's enemies.

We would call it ethnic cleansing.

"The reason for coming here is to save our women and our children's lives because we don't have a government to save us," says Alam Shah.

"If we hadn't moved here the Taleban could have killed our family," he adds.

"Life is very tough we do not even have enough to eat. During the night our children don't have a proper place to sleep," says Pari Shah.

"I don't know what kind of life this is? Only one person is working and 10 are eating," she says.

Twenty-year battlefield

The unceasing war has reduced the inhabitants to poverty.

Surviving on subsistence trade and little else Surviving on subsistence trade and little else
Apart from the opium traffic which funds the conflict, Afghanistan does not have an economy, just subsistence trading.

Without peace there is no question of investment or redevelopment.

For 20 years this country has been little more than a battlefield with outside countries encouraging the fighting for their own selfish ends.

The West, which used to care so much about Afghanistan when the Russians occupied it, does not worry in the slightest what happens to it or how much its people suffer.

They can't win against us so it's useless fighting us
Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil
Iran has stirred up the fighting in order to make sure an international oil pipeline went through its territory and not through Afghanistan.

India and Russia have played their part and Pakistan helped to invent the Taleban.

And still the fighting goes on between the Taleban and Ahmed Shah Massoud, the warlord whom Western countries used to favour.


Neither side wants to show weakness by proposing a deal. It is a stalemate.

Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil is the Taleban's new foreign minister. I asked him if his government was really interested in peace.

Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil: 'We've never refused negotiations' Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil: 'We've never refused negotiations'
"It largely depends on the opposition because we've never refused negotiations. We are willing to talk peace," he said.

"Our leader, Mullah Omar, has been offering peace and an amnesty to the opposition. And we've again asked the opposition that they should stop threatening us with war. They can't win against us so it's useless fighting us," he said.

Countries like Afghanistan which disappear from international view are regarded as bandit territory.

Anyone can do anything to them, without question.

Pakistan, Russia and Iran can stir things up to their heart's content.

Innocent victim of a cruel war Innocent victim of a cruel war
And because Osama bin Laden, the extreme Islamist leader, operates from here, the United States can fire any amount of cruise missiles at Afghanistan.

This country has been utterly ruined by 20 years of warfare.

Now, as a final twist, it is governed by what is probably the most extreme religious movement in the world.

The Taleban have not only outlawed pictures of living beings; children have been ordered not to fly kites - though they do - and no one is supposed to sing or whistle.

Yet even though music is outlawed, the government allowed this chant to be broadcast on the radio while we were there.

"Our pilots and our young boys never fear the enemy," it says. "I pray to Allah to save them and give them victory."

But what kind of victory can it possibly be? And what will be left if it ever comes?

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See also:
28 Nov 99 |  South Asia
UN aid for Afghan refugees
09 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Ramadan truce in Afghanistan
19 Nov 99 |  South Asia
Pakistan fears Afghan exodus
15 Aug 99 |  South Asia
UN concern for Afghan civilians
09 Aug 99 |  South Asia
Afghan refugees face uncertain future
03 Aug 98 |  South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?

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