By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Of Massoud, Dashty says simply, “He was a great man.” He was Afghanistan’s last chance, Dashty believes, of uniting as a nation above ethnic and regional differences, and would never have allowed the humiliation of an American occupation. Shortly before his death, Dashty says, Massoud told a visiting State Department official that so long as a piece of Afghanistan remained to him the size of his hat, he would defend it to his death. This, Dashty hints conspiratorially, is why he was killed.
Only once over the course of a two-hour conversation does Dashty’s composure lapse. It is lunchtime, and we’ve been talking for 45 minutes. I ask him if he is hungry. Dashty slaps the desk with his open palm. “Yes!” he says. “Of course I am angry!”
I ask him if he has any hope that, in the absence of a single unifying leader like Massoud, Afghanistan will be able to cobble together some lasting peace. He pauses for longer than usual before answering, his eyes on his tightly clasped fingers.
“No,” he says softly.
Over green tea and caramel candies in his office across the street from the main CARE compound in Kabul, before settling in to the stories of the years he spent in prison under the Soviets and his years in exile in Pakistan, of the difficulties he faced working for a foreign NGO under the Taliban, and in the chaos that immediately followed their fall, Dad Mohammad Baheer tells me that his house was robbed two days after we last met. He woke in the night and found the locks forced open, his family’s jewelry and $5,000 in cash stolen. (There are no banks in Afghanistan; anyone who has any money keeps it in cash.) Even the carpets were gone. He considers himself lucky not to have woken while the thieves were still there. He did not report the crime. “The police are one with the thieves,” he says. “It would be fruitless.”
A tall man who prefers Western slacks and collared shirts to the more common Afghan garb of baggy pants and knee-length tunics, Baheer manages Kabul’s water system for CARE. A week earlier, while driving from water pump to water pump through the ash-colored rubble of south and west Kabul, in accented but grammatically perfect English, he tells me tales of neighbors’ homes robbed by soldiers and police, who often enter on the pretext of searching for al Qaeda, then take all they can carry.
Not everyone, it seems, shares Fahim Dashty’s devotion to the spirit of Massoud, whose forces occupied Kabul for four years in the early ’90s and, while battling the Pashtun fundamentalist (once funded by, now hunted by the CIA) Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other former mujahedeen leaders, took part in the destruction of the city. His soldiers did what occupying armies do; they killed and looted. The fact that Massoud’s photos are glued to the windows of nearly every shopfront in town does not mean that his followers are any more welcome now, only that the Panjshiris are once again the ones with the guns, and few Kabulis dare tear the photos down.
Resentment, though, runs high. Kabulis grumble that jobs, houses, wealth — all the spoils of war — go to former Northern Alliance commanders, most of them Panjshiris; that Kabulis, and especially Pashtuns, regardless of merit and qualifications, are excluded from circles of power, and routinely preyed upon by Panjshiri soldiers and police.
Meanwhile, Baheer tells me, only 22 percent of Kabul’s population enjoys running water. In some areas as many as 1,000 families rely on a single hand-pumped spout. In the hills, Baheer says, “There is no anything. There is no water source,” and CARE has to run water up in tanker trucks. It’s a sign of the government’s impotence that the system must be managed by an NGO — Baheer estimates that it will be at least three years before the government is able to take over. At the moment, the city can’t even provide electricity to run the pumps, which for now run on generators that burn through 1,100 liters of diesel a day.
Baheer recalls the difficulties of rebuilding the water system — some wells were blocked not only with dirt and rock, but “even the bodies of the dead.” He talks about the night a fragment of an American rocket destroyed his kitchen. No one in his family was hurt, and Baheer brushes off the damage to his home (“It was not a modern kitchen”), but the rocket destroyed his neighbors’ house, killing two people, a bride and groom. “This was the first night of their wedding party.” And he talks about his current anxiety. The water system is funded by a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development that expires at the end of September. USAID has said it will not be renewed. “There will be no water,” Baheer says. “There will be no alternative.”‰
Late one dusty afternoon, I stroll with Babrak, my driver, through the shambles of the Kabul Zoo, past the squalid cages of pigs, vultures and undernourished wolves, through the rubble of what was once the aviary, now stinking of human shit. We pause in front of two lions dozing in the sun. A white check mark has been painted on the high back wall of their cage to indicate that it has been successfully cleared of mines. Babrak tells me how grand the zoo once was. He points to an enclosure containing four small deer. Dozens once ran through the zoo, he says, but soldiers ate the rest.