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Shia in Kabul Preparing for War

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Issue: 42 Section: Accounts Geography: South Asia Afghanistan, Kabul Topics: taliban, civil war

December 30, 2006

Shia in Kabul Preparing for War

Residents warn sectarian violence is just around the corner

by Chris Sands

Qurban Hussain told The Dominion the arrival of international troops had helped save his people from further bloodshed. But he also claimed a new wave of internecine violence lies just around the corner. ©2006 Reproduction without permission prohibited. Photo: Chris Sands

This trash-strewn Kabul suburb is dotted with giant furnaces used for baking bricks. Yet not so long ago the smoke coming from these chimneys carried the stench of charred human flesh. People were cooked alive here in the 1990s simply because they belonged to the wrong ethnic group or fought for the wrong commander.

The men who murdered them are not the insurgents NATO-led forces have been struggling against. This is a Shiite neighbourhood and its residents are staunch opponents of the Taliban. But after five years of trying to eke out an honest living from Afghanistan’s shattered economy, they have had enough and are once again waiting for war.

"Yes, soon the jihad will start. I will fight against the Taliban and the infidels, the foreigners. If your stomach is empty, of course you will do something and what we will do is fight," said Yahya, a local labourer.

"Yes, soon the jihad will start. I will fight against the Taliban and the infidels, the foreigners. If your stomach is empty, of course you will do something and what we will do is fight," said Yahya, a local labourer. ©2006 Reproduction without permission prohibited. Photo: Chris Sands

"I will kill [foreign] civilians and not soldiers. There won't be any soldiers on the ground; they will all have disappeared and you will just see them in the sky in their planes. But I will kill civilians because they have stolen all our money. All the money that's been given to Afghanistan goes in their pockets.

"Of course I will kill you if you come back to see me when the jihad starts. That happens when there is fighting. I have seen men kill their own brothers."

Strip away all the NATO talk of winning hearts and minds and it becomes clear the nation is approaching meltdown.

As the insurgency grows stronger, so does the fear and anger among the Shiite Hazara community. Following a civil war in the early to mid 1990s, they faced a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing under the Sunni-extremist Taliban regime. They are not about to let that happen again.

Qurban Hussain told The Dominion that the arrival of international troops had helped save his people from further bloodshed. But he also claimed a new wave of internecine violence lies just around the corner.

"At first, the four per cent of Hazaras who are rich will leave the country. But the others will stay here and the Taliban will start killing and arresting them. Those people who have got small houses will then have to sell them to get their relatives released," he said.

The 32-year-old was speaking in what was once a notorious jail run by Shiites. Men from Afghanistan's two largest ethnic groups, the Pashtuns and the Tajiks, were frequently imprisoned, tortured and murdered between these walls.

"The next civil war will be twice as bad," said Hussain.

The building is now a warehouse and few signs of the horrors remain. One room still lies in ruins from a rocket attack and on a nearby door there is a child-like drawing of an obese man carrying a gun and a knife.

"The last civil war was horrible," said Khoda Dad Attay, as he sat beside Hussain. "Even if we were at home or at work the rockets were raining down and killing us."

He is now preparing for the next round of carnage.

"It's 100 per cent certain we will fight the Taliban. We will fight them to the best of our ability," he said.

Afghanistan's Shiites are found mainly among the Hazara, an ethnic group believed to have descended from Genghis Khan's Mongol hordes. Their heartland is in the province of Bamiyan, where they were massacred by the Taliban regime.

Haji Mehdawi, a former militia commander, said most of them had surrendered their weapons after the 2001 invasion. Now they want them back.

"We just want peace because we are hoping the government will build schools, will build hospitals, will improve our economic situation. But to be honest, nothing has been done," he told The Dominion.

"Many times I have met the Americans in Bagram, and I have met the Canadians. I have said, 'Give us guns and we will fight against the Taliban. If anything happens we will defend our tribes and families. Make us an army, give us guns and a salary, then we can defend our tribes and families.'

"We will fight against the Taliban, but we need the foreigners to give us guns. We believe that the foreigners are the water of life for us."

When asked why he did not enlist in the Afghan National Army (ANA), Mehdawi's response spoke volumes about the deep hatred that exists between the country's different ethnic groups.

"If you join the ANA you have to sign a contract. We want to do it as a community, so if someone has a problem they can leave. Our standards are different to theirs," he said.

"Most of our people believe if we join the ANA the Pashtuns will ask us to go to the front line, then from behind they will shoot us in the back."

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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