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Villagers want violent tug-of-war for Afghanistan to stop

Afghanistani women August 16, 1997
Web posted at: 4:14 p.m. EDT (2014 GMT)

From Reporter Nic Robertson

SULAIMON, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Fundamentalist Taliban forces and an opposition alliance that includes former government troops have been battling for control of Afghanistan for months. Caught in the middle are thousands of civilians, who want one thing: peace.

That desire for peace can be felt, for instance, in Sulaimon, where Mubarak Shah's hardware store sits at the village crossroads.

It is a favored gathering spot. In the shade of an old mulberry tree, people stop and watch Shah at work, just as people used to watch Shah's father and his father before that.

But these days, the village of Sulaimon is not such a safe place to be.

Fighting in Afghanistan
video icon 1.2M/19 sec. QuickTime movie

"You see the shells coming in from opposition forces as well as the Taliban. The poor can only retreat, and not take care of the crops," Shah said.

Shah is not alone. Villages like Sulaimon pepper the landscape, with the locals leaving and returning to their homes as the battles ebb and flow around them.

The Taliban army controls about two-thirds of the country, and is intent on crushing all remaining resistance to its rule, particularly north of Kabul, where the opposition alliance has been resisting Taliban forces for months.

Taliban member

That opposition unity is cause for concern among the Taliban. "All those armed parties that used to fight separately in other provinces are now all together," said Taliban Minister Shir Mohammad Stanakhzai.

Ethnic Tajiks, Uzbecks and Hazares from the north are united in their dislike for the Pashtoun Taliban, who come from southern Afghanistan.

A key figure in the anti-Taliban alliance is former government defense minister and now alliance general, Ahmad Shah Massood, who says people are asking to be defended from the Taliban.

"The people have asked the Mujaheddin to rise up and save them from the cruelty and domination of the Taliban," said Massood.

The Taliban have been imposing what they see as the true laws of Islam, banning education for women and ordering men to grow beards.

People in the region have been suffering tremendously from the fighting, and with the armies doing daily battle just outside the capital Kabul, the potential for greater suffering is close.

However, there seem to be conciliatory statements. "We don't want the destruction of the capital, we announced to them we are ready to negotiate," Massood said.

That statement appeared to strike some resonance with the Taliban. "We have already seen 20 long years of war. We don't want to impose more war on this nation because we are from the same nation," Stanakhzai added.

But these sentiments alone may not be enough to stop the conflict. Both Taliban forces and the anti-Taliban alliance have accused each other of getting outside support and prolonging the war. The Taliban accuse Iran and India of assisting Massood's United Front, and the Front claims that the Taliban are backed by Pakistan.

In the village of Sulaimon, the solution to the conflict looks simple enough.

"We just want peace, because peace is good for us. It is good for the harvest and everything," Shah said at his hardware store. At the crossroads in Sulaimon, people wait, as the fighting continues.

 
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