Monday, October 7, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Peace laden with risk
A year after the Taliban
Ashwini Bhatnagar

Afghan Central Bank governor Anwarulhaq Ahadi poses with sample 1,000 and 500 Afghani banknotes
Afghan Central Bank Governor Anwarulhaq Ahadi poses with sample 1,000 and 500 Afghani banknotes in his office in Kabul on Saturday. New banknotes are due to be released on Monday, that authorities hope will boost economic growth and make small transactions that now require stacks of bills easier. — Reuters photo

Kabul, October 6
The cinema near the dried up Kabul river that now houses a makeshift bazaar is showing ‘Hindustan Ki Kasam.’ A couple of kilometres away, another theatre loudly proclaims ‘Aflatoon’ along with a large picture of Bollywood hero Akshay Kumar in a tense moment from the film. Private cars — almost all of them brand new, taxis — of the vintage Toyota variety, and buses — Tata from India, cram the wide avenues of the city as the locals placidly sit on the road dividers with a kettle full of kahwa, sipping the brew all by themselves. The hustle and bustle is all there but really no hurry to get anywhere. Kabul, it seems, is at peace.

But one has to escape to the bazaar to experience normalcy and let its animated chatter drown the ominous silences that have thrown a ring around the country much like the mud hills that surround the Kabul valley. Elsewhere, the threat blows in without warning like the late afternoon wind which develops suddenly and leaves only after the warmth of the landscape has been replaced by a chill. The topography permits such occurrences as the Kabul valley lies in a triangular gorge between the Asmai and the Sherdarwaza ranges at an elevation of 6,000 feet. Much of Afghanistan is also similarly located — plains dominated by heights in the vicinity or simply one fold of the mountain merging into another — daunting even at first sight. There is nothing picturesque about them, only a ruggedness that instills fears.

Much has changed since the first shot rang out in the valley on October 6 last year announcing the start of Operation Enduring Freedom. The international coalition led by the Americans that had launched the attack to overthrow the Taliban regime and destroy the Al- Qaida network following the bombing of the twin towers in New York on September 11, 2001, took all of 36 days to enable the Northern Alliance to enter the capital city. Since November 11, a resemblance of normalcy has returned. Roads within the city are motorable. Schools have opened. Women are now free to discard their ‘shuttlecock’ burqas and take lessons in the English language. Shops are open and doing brisk business. Mostly importantly, there is music in the air — music from Bollywood films. There is, of course, still a curfew in place in the city but it starts at midnight and ends at 3.30 am.

However, even a year later, movement beyond the Darul Aman, once the Afghan King’s secretariat and palace that is located at the edge of the city, is ill advised. “The area is with the Al- Qaida. It is very risky to even drive on the road even during daytime,” says the taxi driver. “I will not go,” he says firmly and turns the vehicle around. Government officials do not disagree with the risk part. “Yes, it is a bit unsafe. Bandits are there. Not the Al-Qaida,” says one with a sheepish grin on his face.

Operation Enduring Freedom, it seems, ceases to exist at the edge of large towns like Kabul and though officially Afghanistan has been ‘liberated,’ peace and security of life is still at a premium. Apart from the remnants of the Taliban and the Al-Qaida that have demonstrated their capacity to strike even in the capital, central authority is routinely defied even by the warlords that have supposedly allied themselves with the Northern Alliance that runs the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan. Anxiety and fear, consequently, rule the roost. The President of the transitional government, Mr Hamid Karzai, is therefore protected not by an elite group of Afghan commandos but by a special crack team of the US army. Mr Karzai has already survived two attempts on his life in the recent past. The last attempt was in Kandahar on September 5. Two of his senior Cabinet colleagues were not so lucky. They had mistaken foes for friends and paid with their lives.

The Al- Qaida, though ousted, has not been overrun. Unlike a year ago, it does not overwhelm with its presence. Rather, it waits in the shadows. It is still as menacing and sinister as it was a year ago.


French tanker attacked

Sanaa, October 6
A boat packed with explosives rammed into a French supertanker off Yemen today badly damaging it, a week before the second anniversary of the terrorist attack on the US warship Cole, the French Embassy said.

Twelve of the 25 crew had been “recovered” and hospitalised with injuries, but the others remained unaccounted for. Sixteen of the crew were Bulgarian.

“The oil tanker was rammed by a small boat stuffed with explosives as it came by an off-shore terminal in the Arabian Sea,” Vice-Consul Marcel Goncalves said. AFP

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