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From the January 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 1)

Reaction to the War in Afghanistan

Tajikistan: Condemning the War


Michael Winiarski, Dagens Nyheter (liberal), Stockholm, Sweden, Oct. 15, 2001

You don’t have to go far from the Tajik capital to find cracks in the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism. President Emomali Rakhmonov declared his willingness to cooperate in the fight against terrorism and also promised to offer air bases for the American military. But behind the official façade, there is an undercurrent of anger over what is happening over the heads of the population. While Western, high-tech forces bomb a stone-age country back to prehistory, the Afghans’ kinsmen here in Tajikistan are concerned that it looks mostly like innocent civilians are being killed.

In little Luchob, a few miles outside Dushanbe, it looks about the same as it does in Afghanistan, on the other side of the 1,300-kilometer border. This is a typical kishlak—a Tajik village—with roughly 1,000 inhabitants. Peasants work their garden plots. A cow stumbles forward in a ditch. Boys and girls play in the gravel. A few men are talking to each other on a street corner. In contrast to Afghanistan, the women do not wear veils.

For five days, the United States and its allies have maintained their bombing campaign in Afghanistan, and with very few exceptions, people in Luchob are condemning the war.

“The United States is totally doing the right thing; all terrorism must be fought and Osama bin Laden must be completely defeated,” says a man who does not want to give his name. He admits that most of his neighbors would not agree with him.

Many people I talk to feel that the United States is engaged in meaningless bloodshed. Someone says that the Afghan people are innocent and are being made to suffer because the Taliban has taken the population hostage. Another person worries that Tajikistan, which also suffered a bloody civil war a few years ago, could be drawn into the conflict.

“Of course I am against this war,” says Habibullo Sadikov, an old man who was a part of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), when he fought against Germany.

“Certainly, I can’t be bothered with the Taliban and Bin Laden. They should be rooted out immediately, but war…no!”

Iskander, a young teacher and assistant principle at the village school is also afraid of a repeat of the Tajik civil war, which lasted from 1992-97 between Communists loyal to Moscow and Islamists. The American war, he says, is threatening Muslims, and therefore all the world’s Muslims will support the Afghans.

“I believe that there is strong support for the Taliban here. This is because they want justice and a pure Islam,” says Iskander.

He warns that the Northern Alliance already had power in Kabul once before. “There was chaos and a civil war. The Taliban came in and created order, albeit with harsh methods. So perhaps people do not want to have that here; we are not fundamentalists.”

Not everyone is as knowledgeable about the war in Afghanistan as Iskander. Odil Jabarov and Saivally Saidav are two bearded gentlemen who are completely in agreement on one thing: Those who have been proved guilty of committing the Sept. 11 crime should be killed, but why kill innocent Afghan women and children?

Both men are afraid of the war’s consequences for Tajikistan. “If it wasn’t for the Russian border patrol and the Russian 201st division stationed here, there would be a risk that the Taliban would come over the border.”

Odil Jaborov invites Dagens Nyheter into his home for green tea, nuts, and fragrant, warm bread baked with his own grain. “Now we grow everything ourselves,” he says. “During Soviet times, there was flour and everything in the shops. I worked as a geologist and could support my wife and 12 children. Now my children cannot even support themselves.”

It is this poverty that provides the breeding ground for radical forms of Islam. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the already poor Central Asian republics became even more desperate, as a half million Russians, the most educated portion of the population, emigrated to Russia.

The sun sets quickly behind the green hills, and the falsetto of the muezzin can be heard calling from the mosque. Inside, in the semi-darkness, village elders gather together on the floor for an evening meeting after prayers.

“We discussed what is happening in Afghanistan,” says the oldest one, who speaks for the others, “and we are against the U.S. war effort. We support the Afghan people!”

None of the men believe that the Taliban is responsible for the attacks against the United States. They don’t even consider it to be a threat. “Why does everyone blame all the evil in the world on Bin Laden? Neither he nor the Taliban has the power to do such a thing. Bin Laden is innocent—don’t touch him.”


 
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