Many Afghans haunted by Northern Alliance's past

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 12, 2001
Dan Chapman - Staff

Chaman, Pakistan --- Haji Abdul Ghani placed a forefinger in his mouth, and cocked his thumb like a pistol.

"They put the nozzle of the gun in the baby's mouth," said Ghani, an Afghan refugee. "The baby began sucking it like the nipple of his mother's breast. Then they fired."

Ghani, a truck driver, swore his story was true. It happened, he said, three weeks ago in Central Afghanistan. A fighter with the Northern Alliance pulled the trigger, he added.

Beyond its abject horror, the story told by Ghani --- who has no love for the Taliban either --- illustrates the anger and fear many Afghans harbor for the Northern Alliance.

Far from the underdog militia trying to overthrow the despotic Taliban regime, Northern Alliance troops are reviled across much of Afghanistan for their brutality.

They are also despised because they are primarily Uzbeks, Hazaras, Tajiks. Pashtuns comprise the main Afghan ethnic group in a country whose ethnic stew never stops boiling.

Strange bedfellows

The United States is the Northern Alliance's main benefactor, providing materiel, advisers and an intensive bombing campaign aimed at weakening

Taliban resistance

The Northern Alliance has taken advantage of heavy bombardments to advance into the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, a key military target.

Kabul would be next in Northern Alliance sights. While the United States, at Pakistani insistence, suggests that the Northern Alliance won't be allowed to single-handedly run Afghanistan, refugees and others remain wary of any leadership role for the mujahedeen.

"We have lived under them before and they were not good rulers," said Sayed Noor, an Afghan farmer who arrived last week at Killi Faizo refugee camp along Pakistan's border. "They cannot rule Afghanistan again because we had such bitter experiences with them. They are vicious."

Many of the mujahedeen, or holy warriors, now fighting for the Northern Alliance are war veterans who served in the decadelong battle against the Soviets. Northern Alliance commanders also filled key government positions after the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

General Abdul Rashid Dostum was --- and is again today --- a top mujahedeen leader. The Uzbek warlord's mutiny in 1992 led directly to the downfall and execution of Najibullah, the last Communist ruler. It also ensured the mujahedeen would roll into Kabul.

Michael Griffin, in his book "Reaping The Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan," labeled Dostum "a backwater Saddam Hussein . . . ruthless . . . cunning."

Return from exile

Although included in a succession of Afghan governments, Dostum never garnered the power he so coveted. Ethnic hatred between Uzbeks, Hazaras, Tajiks and the majority Pashtun also scuttled any chance at real peace.

In January 1994, Dostum's 20,000-man strong militia laid siege to Kabul. Two months of back-and-forth rocket and artillery fire led to the deaths of 4,000 Kabul residents and the exodus of 200,000 more.

Of Dostum's troops, Griffin wrote: "These Uzbek fighters inspired even greater fear among civilians who named them galamjam --- or carpet-thieves --- a term that Afghans diversified to embrace anyone with bad intentions."

Dostum eventually retreated to Mazar-e-Sharif, until losses to the Taliban pushed him over the border and eventually into exile in Turkey. But Dostum returned this year to lead one of the main Northern Alliance factions.

"Listen to me carefully," warned Haji Abdul Ghani. "Those opposed to the Northern Alliance are not on the side of the Taliban or al-Qaida. We just want our children's survival, our women's survival. If the Northern Alliance comes, we will all be killed."

Ghani and other Afghans also fear a return to lawlessness. When the mujahedeen ran Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996, life was cheap. Rape was common. Truckers like Ghani paid tolls to bandits on virtually every roadway.

The horror of the past

The Taliban's Pashtun rulers restored order to Afghanistan, albeit a harsh and twisted Islamic version of order. A Northern Alliance victory, even with the United States looking over its shoulder, scares many Afghans.

"The Americans can't save us from the Northern Alliance," said Noor, 25, the farmer. "I'm from northern Afghanistan and I've seen Dostum rule. His brand of justice [favored] the people of his tribe and everyone else was neglected, beaten or killed before the Taliban came."

Noor threw a pebble he was fingering into the sand.

"I have no doubt it will be no different if the Northern Alliance comes to power again."


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