Nov 1, 2008

World - America's unlikely Afghan allies

The BBC Urdu service's Haroon Rashid meets Afghans who once fought against invading Soviet forces but now support the presence of US troops.

Afghanistan's history is full of changing loyalties that have shaped its history.

In the beautiful green valley of Naray, close to the border with Pakistan, I met Afghans who once waged war against the invading Soviet forces, denouncing them as foreigners, who are now actively supporting American forces.

Many believe this is what counts in this war - to win the hearts and minds of Afghans and so make US forces more acceptable to ordinary people.

A glimpse of this policy is visible at the US forces' Bostick forward operation base in northeast Kunar province.

Teaching girls

Thirty-five-year-old Sher Ali handled lethal surface-to-air Stinger missile operations against the Soviet forces in the mid-1980s
Losses inflicted by Stinger missiles were one of the main factors leading to the eventual withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.

Sher Ali now teaches at a girls' school in Shamser village near the US base. The school was built with American aid.

He says that at the age of 16 he headed a team of 10 fighters that downed four Soviet fighter jets with the Stingers.

He was then supporting the party of the former Afghan Prime Minister and mujahideen commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Hekmatyar has now joined hands with the Taleban in his drive against foreign forces and is believed to still be active in Kunar and Nooristan provinces.

But Sher Ali says he has lost contact with his former bosses.

He defends his decision to take up arms against the Soviets, but not against the Americans.

"The Soviets were brought by a handful of Afghans to occupy Afghanistan. The Americans have come on the request of the majority of Afghans. Those now fighting the coalition forces are a small minority."

However, Sher Ali warns that one day he could oppose the Americans and fight them.

"That time has not yet arrived. They have not adopted the ways of the Russians. They are building schools and roads. They have our support at the moment."

Another former mujahideen fighter who supports the Americans is 48-year-old Ghulam Rahim who has run an FM radio station at the US base in Naray district for the last four years.

"The Soviets came to occupy Afghanistan illegally, while the Americans came under Bonn agreement on the request of the Afghans. The other difference is the Americans are here to help develop Afghanistan.

"It's now question of economics. Whoever will help Afghanistan financially will win."

'Safe from US influences'

Sometimes people's motives are not obvious. Take the case of one former Taleban official rubbing shoulders with the Americans at their base.

Thirty five-year-old Inayatur Rehman now serves in the Afghan National Army, but his heart and mind is still very much influenced by the Taleban.

"I joined the army and came here to make sure Afghan soldiers are kept safe from American influences. I wish to see the soldiers develop with strong Islamic beliefs and emerge as an Islamic army."

He even is hopeful that an Islamic government will soon emerge in Afghanistan. "All these sacrifices and blood will not go to waste," he says.

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