Omaid Weekly Articles


published in Omaid Weekly, issue #435, 21 August 2000:

Afg internal refugees deride int'l community

A special report by Ms. Nadjia Bouzeghrane for EL-WATAN, a leading
French-language Algerian daily newspaper. This report was published during a
visit by Women on the Road for Afghanistan to the Panjsher valley in early
July 2000. Summarized translation by OMAID WEEKLY staff.

After nearly three hours of [helicopter] flight [from Tajikistan] we arrived
here in the center of the valley of Panjsher. Panjsher, an area boxed
between two mountainous barriers, is 120 km in length with varying widths of
50 to 3,000 meters. The only road is the sinuous and broken road of Kabul
that crosses the valley, parallel to the river, which is littered with the
corpses of tanks that bear witness to recent and old battles. It is in this
valley, in northern Afghanistan, that the Taliban have been halted by
resistance forces of Commander Ahmad Shah Masood.

The frontline is only a few ten  kilometers away [from our lodging], on the
Kabul roadway. During our stay in the village of Bazarak in Panjsher, we
heard Taliban air raids. In the Taliban's first offensive, on the evening of
July 1, supported by 2,500 Pakistani soldiers, they launched five
simultaneous attacks in zones controlled by Commander Masood's resistance
forces. One of these attacks targeted Bagram military airport, 30 km south
of Kabul; it was defeated.

In the valley, we saw women wearing the chadari without any constraint nor
obligation; it is [forcibly] imposed by the Taliban. Other women [in the
Panjsher] wore a simple scarf on their head. We saw school classes for
girls, whereas education for girls is prohibited by the Taliban. We heard
music and attended a street festival.

A practicing Muslim, Masood does not force women to wear the chadari; he
encourages women to be educated and to work. Bazarak, a large and animated
borough, hosts some 13,880 refugee families [eds: Refugees from the Taliban
militia's ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign against Afghanistan's majority
non-Pashtoon population]. Some 300,000 people live in the Panjsher; a
precarious life of destitution and malnutrition.

Like Commander Masood, the official in charge of the refugees, Bahawdine
Chanuni, is waiting for Afghans outside the country to apprise the
international community about the distress and hardships of their
compatriots in Afghanistan; to organize themselves to help their country in
the war by building schools and paying teacher's wages ($5 per month).
Education is one of the primary concerns of Afghanistan's resistance force
[eds: the United Front, which represents the country's UN-recognized

Boys and girls are taught separately, but there is no discrimination.

"You live in the Internet era while we lack elementary necessities," says
Zohal Zara, wife of Afghanistan's Minister of Education; she is charged with
women's education issues.

We saw new refugees coming down the road, dirty and exhausted. Like those
before them, they are fleeing provinces around Kabul that are bombarded by
the Taliban. They do not know where to go as they are only guided by the
desire to leave far behind the advancing Taliban. Many will return when this
round of fighting ends. But, for those who wait and stay, life is very
difficult. Each family in the Panjsher has reserved a part of their home for
incoming refugees. And if there are no more homes, the refugees are provided
with tents. But these tents are not well-suited for the harsh climate of the
Panjsher. Hundreds of infants have died from the cold. Last summer, the
massive influx of refugees prompted the requisition of government offices,
school classes and even mosques.

Lack of food is the most dire problem. In 11 months, the World Food Program
(WFP) distributed only 50 kg of cereal, on two occasions, and one pair of
tennis shoes per family. Insufficient humanitarian aid cruelly misses the
thousands of families who fled Taliban-occupied areas.

Leaders of the resistance criticize the scarce presence of Non-Governmental
Organizations in these areas. The refugees and Panjsher natives do not hide
their anger and resentment at the international community for its
indifference to their grim fate.

There is significantly more humanitarian aid in Taliban-controlled zones.
Most of the assistance intended for Afghanistan is routed through Pakistan
and subject to [Islamabad's] whims.

"In the name of what and who is it decided that [Taliban-occupied] areas
must receive more aid than [free or liberated] parts?" asks Chanuni. "Why
does aid intended for the northern parts not arrive?"

And so we continued on our journey with one message from the Panjsher: "Do
not forget us! You know what you saw. Carry our voices which the world does
not want to hear!"

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