Bamyan residents fear return of Taliban

Bamyan (Afghanistan), May 30 (DPA) The more the violence in Afghanistan escalates, the more the West clings to the hope that negotiations with the Taliban could solve the conflict and bring within reach the withdrawal of the international troops.

While that idea, born out of sheer desperation, also gains support in Afghanistan, the plan triggers fear among the people in the central province of Bamyan.

There are few places where the Taliban are more hated then here. Hardly any other province suffered so much under the Taliban’s murderous regime. And today, hardly any province is more peaceful.

The Taliban’s destruction of the historic Buddha statues in Bamyan, ignoring the international protests also from Muslim countries, has burned itself in the world’s memory and created a global outcry. Yet, the massacres the Taliban committed among the people in Bamyan are largely forgotten.

Most Bamyan people are members of the Hazara, a Shiite minority, against whom the Sunni Taliban rulers moved with extreme brutality. Residents estimate that thousands were killed in the province, but no figures exist.

Survivors said that most residents fled in panic from villages and the capital Bamyan City at the Taliban’s approach. The militants opened fire indiscriminately on the men, women and children who had stayed and burnt down houses and Shiite mosques.

‘The Taliban are not human, they are animals,’ said Sultan Ali. Like so many others, the 35-year-old labourer and his family live in one of the caves near the rock niches where the gigantic Buddha statues used to be.

He points at a grave where a green flag is moving in the evening breeze. His nephew is buried there. The Taliban murdered eight of his relatives – uncles, cousins and nephews, Ali said.

‘Seven were shot, one beheaded. All were civilians,’ he said. ‘The Taliban didn’t need a reason to kill people. They killed because we are Shiite and Hazara.’

He does not believe for a second that the Taliban would change if they were part of the government. ‘A bad person stays a bad person,’ he said.

Syed Mirza Hussain agreed. ‘A Talib is a Talib,’ said the 40-year-old, who was caught by the Taliban when he tried to flee Bamyan city. The Taliban forced him and three other locals to destroy the Buddhas.

Every day, they dragged him out of prison and lowered him on a rope from the head of the 53-metre statue, drilling holes with a screwdriver into the stone and placing explosives, he said.

The largest Buddha resisted the longest. It took 25 days to destroy Bamyan’s unique symbol, which had been hewn from the rock face 1,500 years ago.

‘We were constantly afraid of death,’ Hussain said. ‘We did not know whether we would survive.’ He and the other prisoners were beaten, in prison and during forced labour, and he is still suffering from the effects.

‘I prayed for a quick death, so I would not suffer that eternal pain,’ he said.

After 40 days, a militia drove the Taliban from the city for a little while and he managed to flee to the mountains. He only returned after the fall of the regime in late 2001.

Following the relief over the end of the Taliban reign of terror, Hazaras in Bamyan, which remains unaffected by the militant insurgency, are growing concerned again. ‘When we hear on the radio that the Taliban again seized a district (in another province), then we are very afraid,’ Hussain said.

Back then, the Taliban tried to exterminate the Hazara and he said he does not believe they have changed their minds. ‘If the Taliban return, where should we flee to?’ he asked.

Today, there are no Taliban in Bamyan, where they, members of the Pashtun ethnic group, would stand out among the Hazara. The New Zealand troops of the International Security Assistance Force don’t have to fight in the province. Here, nobody demands the withdrawal of the NATO-led troops from Afghanistan.

‘If NATO would retreat today, then the Taliban would be back tomorrow,’ said Abdul Hussain, who runs a simple guest house located between Bamyan City and Afghanistan’s first national park Band-e-Amir.

The 45-year-old thinks nothing of peace talks. ‘The foreign troops should kill all Taliban and finish them once and for all.’