November 17, 2001
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War is far from over, feel Pushtoons

The Taleban may have been vanquished in Kabul and other cities, but for many Afghan lads in Kandahar the war is not over till the last battle has been fought. And they remain confident that the Taleban will eventually win.

To Mullah Abdul Masoom, who guards a Taleban post at a mountain peak, life is all about dodging US aircraft and keeping one's morale high, the Online news agency reported.

Dressed in the traditional salwar kameez, Masoom, 24, sports a long beard and has his raven black hair in twisted strands.

His gun barrel constantly points south, apparently aiming at American B-52s and British Hornets, which fly over the area at least twice a day from their carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf.

Whenever Masoom and his comrades hear the planes coming, they fire at them, though the bullets can only go up to 2,000 feet, far, far short of the aircraft.

But Masoom and his troops are confident that they will win this war. "The Taleban have a lot of arms and even more courage. Once the ground war starts it is the Americans who will be at the receiving end," he says, seemingly unflustered by the fall of Kabul and other provinces to the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taleban commanders.

Mullah Abdul Jalil, deputy foreign minister of the Taleban, said: "They can capture our cities, destroy the bridges and hospitals, but the fight against the Americans will go on from the mountains and the deserts."

Though most Afghans hate the Americans, it does not necessarily translate into support for the Taleban, the Northern Alliance or even former king Zahir Shah.

In Pakistan, none of the Afghan refugees thinks the Americans are going to win. Those who fought for the Taleban against the Northern Alliance in the past are more vocal in predicting victory for the former. Two former Taleban fighters, Ahmed Gul and Rasheed Dostum, believe the militia is the panacea for Afghanistan's problems.

But there is another point of view. "I don't think the militia regime is very popular, but at the same time the Northern Alliance is even more hated," says 35-year-old Rahim Jan, a resident of Boldak town.

"The only point on which the whole Afghan nation can rally is the fight against the Americans and I don't think the war is going to end with the US-led coalition taking Kabul," adds Tahir Agha, an Afghan shopkeeper.

A veteran aid worker who has been working in Afghanistan for the last nine years supports this theory. "There cannot be peace even if US-led forces take control of Kabul. The war will be waged from Afghanistan's mountains and bring more misery for the country," says Akhunzada Mateen of the Islamic Relief Agency. "The Taleban are feared, but the US and the Northern Alliance have a worse human rights record."

Like other cities of this war-ravaged country, Kandahar, the Taleban stronghold, resembles the remains of an ancient city. Most buildings have been destroyed -- by the earlier civil war and then by the US bombings after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Roads in the area are full of huge holes.

The towns of Maroof and Rozgan have been badly affected as most of the Taleban military installations and government buildings are in these areas. Almost a third of the population has moved to refugee camps in Spin Boldak (near the Pakistan border) and Chaman in Pakistan.

Now, there is an increase in the number of people, including children, women and elderly men, fleeing the city fearing an imminent ground attack on Kandahar. "We are scared of the Northern Alliance, which mostly consists of Uzbeks and Tajiks. They are slaughtering people in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif," says Haji Ibrahim, aged between 65 and 70.

The general feeling is in favour of Osama bin Laden. Not only because the local people consider him innocent in the September attacks, but also because of growing anti-US feeling, especially after the carnage allegedly committed by Northern Alliance troops.

The locals hold the US responsible for the killings of Pushtoons in Kabul and other cities. A large number of Pushtoons who were earlier not supporting the Taleban are now with them for this reason. This will definitely help the Taleban in their expected guerrilla war against the US and the Northern Alliance.

Indo-Asian News Service

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