At a Kabul museum honouring Afghanistan’s war victims, talking to visitors reveals just how many layers and generations of pain and grief have piled up during four decades of unrelenting conflict. Fakhria Hayat recalled an attack that changed her family forever. It was 1995 and the Afghan capital was under siege, pounded by rockets fired by rival mujahedeen groups.
Her world exploded: A rocket slammed into her yard, killing her brother and leaving her sister permanently in a wheelchair. Hayat, one of those visiting the Kabul Centre for Memory and Dialogue, said the rockets that killed her younger brother and paralysed her sister 25 years ago were fired by the men of warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf.
Sayyaf was notorious for his ties to al-Qaeda in the 1990s and was the inspiration for the Philippine terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf. He is also a powerful politician in post-Taliban Afghanistan, often seen at meetings with Karzai’s successor, President Ashraf Ghani. Mujahedeen warlords like Sayyaf have remained powerful since the 2001 US-led invasion and head heavily armed factions.
They include men like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was on the US terrorist list until he signed a 2017 peace pact with Ghani’s government and Uzbek warlord Marshal Rashid Dostum, who has been implicated in a litany of human rights crimes. Danish Habibi was just a child in 2000 when the Taliban overran his village in Afghanistan’s serene Bamiyan Valley. His memories of those days are re-occurring nightmares.
Men were forcibly separated from wives and children and dozens were killed. Habibi’s father disappeared only to return a beaten, broken man, never able to work again. Habibi wonders how he will be able to accept peace with the Taliban and doesn’t know how he can forgive. Today, those accumulated, unresolved grievances cast a long shadow on the intra-Afghan negotiations underway in the Gulf nation of Qatar.
Washington signed a deal with the Taliban in February to pave the way for the Doha talks and American forces’ eventual withdrawal. The Americans championed the deal as Afghanistan’s best chance at a lasting peace. Afghans are not so sure, they say preventing the next war is as vital as ending the current one. Afghanistan has been fighting for more than 40 years. First was the Soviet invasion in 1979 and nine years of conflict.
The Soviet withdrawal unleashed a bitter civil war in which mujahedeen factions tore the country apart battling for power and killing more than 50,000 people until the Taliban took over in 1996. The militants’ repressive rule lasted until the US-led invasion in 2001. Ever since, the country has been bloodied by insurgency. Hamid Karzai, the first democratically elected president after the Taliban’s collapse, said all sides are equally involved in the suffering of Afghan people.
In the immediate aftermath of the Taliban’s 2001 defeat, revenge attacks multiplied, and ethnic Pashtuns, who made up the backbone of the Taliban, were initially harassed and persecuted when they returned to their villages. As a result, many eventually returned to the mountains or fled to safe havens in neighbouring Pakistan which allowed the Taliban to regroup.
Today, the insurgent group is at its strongest since 2001, controlling or holding sway over nearly half of the country. Under Washington’s deal with the Taliban, US troops are to withdraw by April 2021, providing the Taliban honour their promise to fight terrorist groups, most notably Islamic State. Thousands of Taliban prisoners recently released as part of the peace process have already faced revenge attacks, assassinations and abductions, as well as harassment from local officials.
One released prisoner, Muslim Afghan, said he rarely leaves his home in Kabul for fear of retaliation. He doesn’t remember Taliban rule and was only in the second grade when they were overthrown. But his elders had been senior Taliban members and because of them, the rest of the family was harassed. He said he never joined the Taliban but was arrested in 2014 because of his family connections.
For Abdullah Abdullah, who heads Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, the organisation tasked with striking a peace deal with the Taliban, negotiating has been an emotional struggle to control his anger at the casualties of the last 19 years. Even if an intra-Afghan deal is reached, many Afghans fear that the country’s numerous factions, including the Taliban, will once again fight for power if US and NATO troops leave.
(Image Credits: AP)
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