4:00am

Thu September 8, 2011
Afghanistan

Post-Taliban Jalalabad Fighting For Stability, Hope

Originally published on Thu September 8, 2011 12:40 pm

A decade ago, al-Qaida leaders were last seen in eastern Afghanistan, in the city of Jalalabad, before they vanished. And as the years went on, Jalalabad, which lies in the mountainous region along the Pakistan border, became a center of insurgent activity.

Now, it is a city still struggling to stay peaceful.

Jalalabad's deputy police chief knows what it means to be under attack. His hands bear the angry red scars left from the severe burns he suffered last winter, when suicide bombers overran a bank in the city.

Uniformed police and soldiers had been standing in line to cash their paychecks. Of the 40 who died that day, at least half were civilians.

Still, Qari Amir Lewal says spectacular attacks by the Taliban are rare in Jalalabad.

"There is no one area that they control here, but they do hide and seek. They create trouble and then go back. They create panic and terror, and for that, the people hate them," he says.

Lewal spent the early part of his life fighting out of uniform: first as a mujahedeen against the Soviets, then against the Taliban. And finally he fought with American forces in December 2001.

One recent afternoon, at a thatched mud hut on the edge of town that serves as a police outpost, Lewal pointed to the dramatic mountain range that curves south of the city: the Tora Bora area, the power base and last stronghold of al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden.

"Al-Qaida was not easily going to escape from the area, or give up. It's a very difficult part of the area, the other side ends in Pakistan. They had an escape route from the back. Bin Laden wasn't a simple, naive type of person. He spent the morning here, the afternoon somewhere else, and the evening somewhere else," Lewal says.

When asked whether he ever met bin Laden, he says he has not.

"Because when the Taliban were in power, I was in opposition and I had fled the city. An enemy can never meet an enemy," he says.

When the Taliban government was finally driven out, Lewal says he felt "jubilation and happiness."

"Because the people under them were like a nation taken hostage by them, and we would hope that we should have a government that is elected and brought into power by the people," he says.

Ten years later, though, the world is still not the way he hoped it would be.

"Because what should have taken place and what should have been done, it didn't happen. Some people say that the Americans came here under the slogan that they will rebuild this country and bring security, and that hasn't happened. Then other people say that they have stayed here for this long and that's enough, they should leave. They haven't been able to bring security and peace, something that they came for," he says.

Music Returns, As Do Attacks

While they were in power, the Taliban were infamous for their ban on music, and after Sept. 11, music quickly came to symbolize an Afghanistan emerging from the Taliban era.

One recent morning, Abdul Ghani stands in his quiet shop, looking out at the bustling bazaar. Ghani's tiny space is lined with cassettes and CDs, but he can no longer advertise with the sound of music, as he once did.

Last year, Ghani says, there were 25 music shops. Of those, 18 were blown up, 6 were forced to close down. In the last one month or so, he says, 16 are back.

The attackers, says Ghani, came at night and planted explosives that went off after the shops were closed. The bombs killed one young boy, though Ghani thinks the attackers were aiming at something much broader than music shops.

"These people, they want to finish the Afghan culture, they want to target the Afghan culture, whoever are launching these attacks," he says.

In the wake of the bombs, Ghani took action.

"I gathered all of the shopkeepers one day, and I said look, you cannot give in to these people. ... I said, look, if we let them close these shops, the next move on their parts will be they'll close the tailors shop, they'll close the cosmetics and the others," he says.

Ghani isn't sure it's the Taliban who are targeting the music. His theory is that it's foreign militants from neighboring Pakistan, aiming to stir up trouble in Afghanistan.

And it is true that in the last few years the Taliban have gotten involved themselves in music, putting out their own songs. Some ballads tug at the heart with lyrics such "Orphans are crying rivers of tears." Others strike a tougher note: "Your turn has come crusader. I don't care about your atom bomb."

A New World For Jalalabad's Girls

Jalalabad is set on the fabled Grand Trunk Road. To the west is Kabul; to the east, just beyond the Khyber Pass lies Pakistan.

For centuries, the Grand Truck Road has carried invaders and also ideas into the city, which may account for the many billboards around town advertising schools, like one for the private Oxford Model High School.

There is a university, and the provincial governor even sponsors his own school: the Shirzai Learning Center. Of its 5,000 students, 2,000 are girls.

At the school, the girls have heard tales of the Taliban times, and how girls like them were not allowed to go to school. But none is old enough to remember.

Waslat Nasima, 17, does remember coming home to Jalalabad years after her family had fled to Pakistan. She and her sister were wearing headscarves — and found themselves in a sea of head-to-toe burqas.

"They were looking at us and were discussing and laughing. They said, 'Please, don't wear any burqa, day by day, we will also change ourselves. ... [Now,] all of them are wearing scarves," she says.

Waslat says her widowed mother wants her to become a doctor. Her mother is just a housewife, but has a brave mind, says Waslat.

Adila Shinwari, 18, says her mother never spent a day in school. But she also wants Adila to study medicine. And her father, a government lawyer, has actually taken on her disapproving uncles.

"My uncles say, 'Don't go to school because you are big now and it's not good for a girl to go to school.' But my father says, 'No, it is good,' and then he fights with them,'" she says.

And how do these young women picture Afghanistan in the next 10 years?

Waslat is optimistic.

"When we study and we struggle hard, our Afghanistan also will be in the high position of all countries, like [where] you come from, and inshallah, we will do it by our own self, if we try our best," she says.

So the key is the new generation?

"Yes," she says with a laugh. "We are the keys of Afghanistan."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, two things stand out about the war that followed in Afghanistan. One is the incredible speed with which the Taliban fell from power back in 2001, creating a wave of optimism.

GREENE: The other is the way the war has dragged on ever since, not to mention the search for al-Qaida figures.

INSKEEP: A decade ago, al-Qaida leaders were last seen in the city of Jalalabad before they vanished.

GREENE: As the years went on, Jalalabad became a center of insurgent activity.

INSKEEP: And this week in Jalalabad our colleague Renee Montagne found a city struggling to stay peaceful.

(Soundbite of vehicles)

RENEE MONTAGNE: The deputy police chief of Jalalabad knows what it means to be under attack. His hands bear the angry red scars left from the severe burns he suffered last winter when a bank here was overrun by suicide bombers. Uniformed police and soldiers had been standing in line to cash their paychecks. Of the 40 who died that day, at least half were civilians. Still, Qari Amir Lewal says speculator attacks by the Taliban are rare in Jalalabad.

Mr. QARI AMIR LEWAL (Deputy Police Chief, Jalalabad): (Through translator) There's no one area that they control here, but they do hide and seek. They create trouble and then they go back. They create panic and terror and for that people hate them.

MONTAGNE: Deputy police chief Lewal spent the early part of his life fighting out of uniform - first as the mujahedeen against the Soviets, then against the Taliban, and finally he fought with American forces in December of 2001.

One recent afternoon, Lewal took us to a thatched mud hut on the edge of town that serves as a police outpost. And he pointed to the dramatic mountain range that curves south of the city.

Mr. LEWAL: (Through translator) As you may know, we're overlooking the Tora Bora area. This is a very famous name in the press. This was the power base and the last stronghold of al-Qaida. And al-Qaida was not easily going to escape from the area or give up. It's a very difficult part of the area. The other side ends in Pakistan. They had escape route from the back.

Now, bin Laden was not a simple, naive type of a person. He spend the morning here, the afternoon somewhere else, and the evening somewhere else.

MONTAGNE: Did you ever see him?

Mr. LEWAL: (Through translator) I've never met him, because when the Taliban were in power I was in opposition and I had fled the city. And an enemy can never meet an enemy.

MONTAGNE: When finally the Taliban government had been driven out, what was your feeling?

Mr. LEWAL: (Through translator) My feeling was one of jubilation and happiness. Because the people under them were like a nation taken hostage by them. And we hope that we should have a government that is elected and brought into power by the people.

MONTAGNE: Is this, 10 years later, is today the world that you hoped it would be?

Mr. LEWAL: (Through translator) No. I don't think so, because what should've taken place and what should've been done, it didn't happen. Some people say that the Americans came here under the slogan that they will rebuild this country and bring security. And that hasn't happened. And other people say that they have stayed here for this long and that's enough. They should leave. They haven't been able to bring security and peace, something that they came for.

(Soundbite of song)

NAGHMA (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

MONTAGNE: One thing the Taliban were infamous for when they were in power: music was banned. Even Afghanistan's most beloved voices were silenced. Like Naghma, the singer we're hearing now.

(Soundbite of song)

NAGHMA: (Singing in foreign language)

MONTAGNE: After September 11, music quickly came to symbolize an Afghanistan emerging from the Taliban era. But today, in Jalalabad, music is once again under attack.

Abdul Ghani is standing in his quiet shop one morning, looking out at the bustling bazaar. Ghani's tiny space is lined in cassettes and CDs, but he can no longer advertise with the sound of music, as he used to.

How many music shops like yours were there, say, last year?

Mr. ABDUL GHANI: (Through translator) There were a total of 25. Eighteen were blown up, six were forced to close down, and in the last one month or so, 16 are back.

MONTAGNE: The attackers, says Ghani, came at night and planted explosives that went off after the shops were closed. One young boy was killed, though Ghani thinks the attackers were aiming at something much broader than music shops.

Mr. GHANI: (Through translator) These people, they want to finish the Afghan culture. They want to target the Afghan culture, whoever are launching these attacks.

MONTAGNE: What happened when the shops were actually blown up?

Mr. GHANI: (Through translator) Well, I gathered all of the shopkeepers one day, and I said, look, you cannot give in to these people, even though my family was not here. And then I said, look, if we let them close these shops, the next move on their part will be they'll close the tailors shop. They'll close the cosmetics and the others.

MONTAGNE: Music shop owner Abdul Ghani is not at all sure it's the Taliban who are targeting the music. His theory is that it's foreign militants from neighboring Pakistan aiming to stir up trouble in Afghanistan. And it is true that in the last few years, the Taliban have gotten involved themselves in music, putting out their own songs. Some ballads tug at the heart with lyrics like: Orphans are crying rivers of tears. This ballad strikes a tougher note: Your turn has come, crusader. I don't care about your atom bomb.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

MONTAGNE: The city of Jalalabad is set on the fabled Grand Trunk Road. To the west is Kabul, to the east, just beyond the Kyber Pass, lies Pakistan. For centuries, the Grand Truck road has carried invaders and also ideas into the city, which may account for the many billboards around town advertising schools, like the one for the private Oxford Model School.

There's a university. And the provincial governor even sponsors his own school, the Shirzai Learning Center. Of its 5,000 students, 2,000 are girls. The girls here have heard tales of the Taliban times, how girls like them were not allowed to go to school. But none is old enough to remember.

Seventeen-year-old Waslat Nasima does remember coming home to Jalalabad years after her family fled to Pakistan. She and her sister were wearing veils, scarves and found themselves in a sea of burkas, or as she calls them, bukras.

Ms. WASLAT NASIMA: First, when we came from Pakistan, we saw a lot of women wear bukra. They were looking at us and were discussing and laughing. They said, please don't wear any bukra. Day by day, we will also change ourselves with you people. All of them are wearing scarves.

MONTAGNE: Pretty loose scarves, not burkas. Waslat says her widowed mother wants her to become a doctor. She's just a housewife, says Waslat, but her mother has a brave mind.

Adila Shinwari, who's 18, says her mother never spent a day in school. But she also wants Adila to study medicine. And her father, a government lawyer, has actually taken on her disapproving uncles.

Ms. ADILA SHINWARI: (Through translator) My uncles say don't go to school because you're big now, and it's not good for a girl to go to school. But my father says no. It is good, and then he fights with them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: All of this made me wonder: How did these young women picture Afghanistan in the next 10 years?

Ms. WASLAT: When we studied and struggle hard, our Afghanistan also be in the high position of all countries, like you come from. And then shall we will do it by our own self, if we try our best.

MONTAGNE: So you'll create - you'll build this country back.

Ms. WASLAT. Yeah. Yeah.

MONTAGNE: The key is the new generation?

Ms. WASLAT: Yeah. Yeah. It's my key.

MONTAGNE: It's - that's you.

Ms. WASLAT: Yeah, they are.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WASLAT: We are the keys of Afghanistan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Tomorrow, I'll travel to a province that never fell to the Taliban, where people will be mourning the loss of its greatest modern hero, assassinated two days before September 11th.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related Program