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Page last updated at 10:43 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 11:43 UK

War memories fade in Afghan valley

By Bilal Sarwary
BBC News, Shomali

Mohammad Fahim
Mohammad Fahim is enjoying better times

For many in the West the picture they get of Afghanistan is one of unremitting gloom and doom for the average person.

While there is no doubt that many people in the south and east are suffering terribly, for some the removal of the Taleban has meant that their lives have immeasurably changed for the better.

Take the case of 17-year-old Mohammad Fahim in the beautiful northern town of Charkiar for example.

Under the Taleban, his entire village was burned down, causing him to seek refuge in Pakistan, where he worked as a child labourer in a brakes factory.

Fertile

He has bitter memories of working tirelessly in the scorching heat of a foreign country.

But now he has returned to his homeland - one of the most beautiful parts of Afghanistan - which is free of insurgents, free of violence and basking in its former glory.

We sell our berries and yoghurt, and we rent our garden to people who come from Kabul to relax in the Salang valley
Shomali resident Rohullah

Today Mr Fahim earns about $15 a day selling water melons in the fertile Shomali plain - renowned for its wide range of vegetables and grapes.

"It's from my own fields, it feels so good to earn money in your own country," he told me.

"A lot of people like our province, with its beautiful gardens and the Salang river. I am so happy that there is peace in Afghanistan. There is life because we have peace.''

Please don't just take Mr Fahim's word for it.

Like everyone else, I couldn't resist the temptation of the sweet berries, and decided to sit down by the side of the wild Salang river that springs from the heart of the Hindu Kush.

It is not difficult to see why this strikingly beautiful area is known as Afghanistan's paradise.

For the people of Shomali, there is a visible economic boom in this former Taleban battleground.

''We sell our berries and yoghurt, and we rent our garden to people who come from Kabul to relax in the Salang valley," another man, Rohullah, told me.

''During the time of the Taleban, people left everything behind, because Shomali was a battleground - thank God, today we are back in our homes and life is better.''

The Shomali Valley
The Shomali valley is renowned for its beauty

During the fighting between the Taleban and their arch rivals, the Northern Alliance, Rohullah lost his father, when his village was caught in the midst of war.

Almost seven years after the fall of the Taleban, life is improving for him and thousands of families who live along the busy Kabul-Mazar highway.

The road to northern Afghanistan from Kabul is lined with lush fields and dense vineyards. It winds through the rugged landscape and high peaks of the Hindu Kush, until it reaches the idyllic, nirvana-like Salang valley.

Battlegrounds

In the 1980s, the invading Soviet forces were constantly ambushed by the mujahideen forces seeking refuge in this mountainous valley.

Today, there are other dangers - often in the form of reckless drivers searching for the best picnic spots.

Over the decades, the valley has borne the brunt of much of the fighting in Afghanistan.

It was the front line between the Taleban and the Northern Alliance.

Berries from the Shomali Valley
Fruit and vegetables are available in abundance

At the time of the fighting, everything was destroyed as warring factions sought to limit their enemy's choices for cover.

During the Soviet invasion, it was one of the most heavily mined areas in the country.

Today the Salang valley has returned to some of its former natural splendour.

Unlike the south and east of the country, the area is virtually devoid of the Taleban.

New petrol stations, food shops and local fruit sellers have replaced destroyed houses and damaged tanks. Afghan drivers say that they don't have to fear landmines anymore.

The roads are clogged with packed passenger buses, goods lorries and private vehicles.

More cross-country travel like this means more money for the long-suffering people of Shomali.

Roadside shops and huts sell juice made out of yoghurt and there are mouth-watering ground berries, melons and vegetables.

This is arguably the least troubled part of Afghanistan.

No wonder that many people are crying out for this kind of peace in other parts of a country which has known only war for the last few decades.



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