Area picks up pieces destroyed by Taliban

Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 12:20 a.m.
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An Afghan man and his son, members of Afghanistan's Hazara ethnic group sit before the shell of a giant Buddah which was destroyed by the Taliban in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, Wednesday. The Hazaras had fled into the mountains to escape the successive campaigns of murder and ethnic cleansing by the hardline Taliban Islamic militia that once ruled the nation. The Taliban dynamited the statue in 2001.

(AP Photo/Amir Shah)
BAMIYAN, Afghanistan - Said Askar, his wife and four children make their home in a smoky one-room cave carved from a sheer rock face where Afghanistan's famed Buddha statues once stood.
The home is bare of furniture, has a dirt floor and uses one plastic sheet for a window, but is still a major improvement for the family, which fled into the mountains during the Taliban regime.
Now, with the Taliban gone, some 50 families - the poorest of Bamiyan's poor - scrape by in the caves and hope for better days.
"Life here in the caves is very difficult. It's cold, and my daughter is sick," said Askar, taking water buckets from another daughter who made a 45-minute climb along a narrow track to reach the cave.
Bamiyan, about 60 miles west of the capital, was home to the glories of Afghan's rich history, of which the pair of towering, 1,500-year-old Buddhas was the crown. The Taliban dynamited the statues in 2001, calling them idols that offended their interpretation of Islam.
Askar's cave is about 100 yards from where the statues once stood.
Between 1998 and 2001, the Taliban, who originated among the ethnic Pashtun in eastern Afghanistan, killed many from the Hazara ethnic group here, burning homes and crops, stealing and killing livestock.
The Taliban leveled more than 5,000 buildings. The region still has no electricity, and water comes from the river.
Yet people have started piecing their lives back together - house by house, sheep by sheep.
Even in winter, when temperatures drop to minus 4, the bazaar's 50-odd shops, restaurants and small schools bustle. New construction on roads and homes invites hope.
A major factor in the revival has been the presence of U.S. troops, who are greeted with smiles and waves in Bamiyan.
- a striking contrast to southeastern Afghanistan, where U.S. and other forces search for remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
"We try to be very visible," an American soldier said while shopping for food.
U.S. troops recently built a bridge over a river near the bazaar, distributed blankets and food and helped rebuild some homes, said the soldier, who would not give his name.
Bamiyan's mayor, Nasir Ahmad, who says the Taliban killed four of his relatives and imprisoned him for two years, said, "If America goes, then once again these terrorists will come back and kill."
About 25 Afghan and foreign non-governmental organizations are helping the rebuilding effort. One of the most active, the Afghan charity Shuhada, runs projects ranging from a carpet-weaving workshop to midwifery and nursing classes. It has built 11 houses and has plans for 200 more.
While the Taliban have been driven from the valley, remnants are believed to be operating in surrounding mountains. On Monday, one suspected Taliban was arrested in Bamiyan and taken to Kabul.
The presence of U.S. forces also may be stifling any revenge attacks.
Mayor Ahmad said one of his neighbors pillaged with the Taliban but he doesn't want vengeance.
"The man could never compensate me for my animals and house," said Ahmad, helping supervise a road project near the bazaar.
He motions to the work at hand.
"This," he said, "is the right way."

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