Mujahideen Come Home

Things Change—and Remain the Same—in Post-Taliban Jalalabad

On Sunday, Hazrat Ali's forces are patrolling the road in front of the base. His forces have been given the security detail for the province, and they stop each car heading toward the city, checking for weapons. Five Toyota pickups try to pass by. They do not need to be checked, since their cargo is plainly visible: two dozen fighters armed with a small arsenal. These mujahideen are from Haji Zaman's camp. When the spoils were divided a few days earlier, Zaman and his followers were given control of the military installations. They feel the bombed-out base is their territory.

"You have to lay down your weapons," Ali's men tell them.

"We are in charge here," Zaman's men respond. "It is you who have to surrender your weapons to us."

A mujahideen fighter at a meeting of rival warlords in Jalalabad
Photograph by Michael Kamber
A mujahideen fighter at a meeting of rival warlords in Jalalabad

The two commanders stand in the road, arguing furiously, occasionally pausing to shout into their radios. The tension increases, and Ali's men pull their RPGs and machine guns out of their trucks and take up positions behind the brick perimeter wall, training their weapons on their supposed allies. Zaman's men are caught out in the open and they sit mutely, knowing a move to pick up a weapon could result in a massacre. Nearby, the boys are tending sheep in a grassy field bordered by a grove of eucalyptus trees whose leaves rustle softly in the breeze.

In the end, the situation is resolved peacefully. But barely four days into Jalalabad's post-Taliban era, factions of the same mujahideen forces that helped reduce the country to rubble in the civil war of the early 1990s are once again pointing weapons at each other. The future for Jalalabad, and Afghanistan, is uncertain at best. Many locals are anxious, waiting for the trouble to begin.

Yet people seem to be carrying on as before. Little in their lives has changed, they say. They can now listen to music on Radio Kabul; the men can shave their beards if they so choose. But in Jalalabad, at least, the anticipated emancipation of women will not be forthcoming. "We are Pashtun," explains Rafi Saeed, a Jalalabad resident, referring to the tribe to which most here belong. "Our women wear the burka. And we do not send them to school. That is always our custom." On the streets, men too poor to afford donkeys pull carts laden with produce and bales of cotton. Late in the afternoon, the call to prayer is heard. Along the side of the road, in farmers' fields, in front of small shops, men and boys sink to their knees and begin to pray, as they have for centuries.

Related Articles:
"Talking Jihad: Three Views of One War" by Michael Kamber

"The Forgotten Refugees: Stranded for Decades, 2 Million Afghan Refugees Struggle to Survive in Pakistan" by Michael Kamber

"After the Taliban: Could a Coalition Government Withstand Afghan Rivalries?" by Michael Kamber

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