Pashtun Backlash

Pashtuns in northern Pakistan angered by the ill-treatment and disappearance of locals who volunteered for the Taleban are taking it out on Afghan refugees sheltering in the region.

Pashtun Backlash

Pashtuns in northern Pakistan angered by the ill-treatment and disappearance of locals who volunteered for the Taleban are taking it out on Afghan refugees sheltering in the region.

Afghan refugees face a backlash from Pashtuns in northern Pakistan furious that many among the thousands of local volunteers who last month went to fight on the side of the Taleban are now feared dead.

People in the border town of Dir, around 240 km north of Peshawar, in Malakand, North West Frontier Province, NWFP, were horrified to hear about the ill-treatment and disappearance of their kin in Afghanistan.

Wounded Pakistani volunteers gave graphic details on their return home of their ordeal in Afghanistan, claiming fleeing Taleban left them to the mercy of the Northern Alliance.

The stories have turned many local people against Afghan refugees, in particular non-Pashtuns, sheltering in the region. There have been a number of attacks on groups of the latter. Yesterday, Monday, dozens of them were detained for their own safety.

It is estimated that at least seven hundred men from Maidan, in Dir district, are missing. Another four hundred from the Shireen Gul, Dog Dara and Shaur areas of the same district, are unaccounted for. Many are presumed to have been killed.

Sa'adat Waris, seriously wounded in the battle for Mazar-e-Sharif, managed to return to his home in Maidan. According to him, foreigners who fought with the Taleban were detested by Afghans who made it clear that they had no place getting involved in the affairs of their country.

Azmet, another wounded Pakistani volunteer, put it more simply, "The local population loathed us".

Nearly 10, 000 tribal Pashtuns crossed into Afghanistan to fight for the Taleban, following appeals by Sufi Muhammad, the hard-line leader of the Tehreek-e-Nifaaz-e-Shariat-e Muhammadi, TNSM.

Sufi Muhammad came to the fore in 1994 after his followers, Pashtun tribesmen loyal to the student militia, took control of all the major towns in Malakand in a revolt aimed at imposing Sharia law on the region.

This army of volunteers first grouped at Lagarai Kandau in the tribal area of Bajaur agency. Their initial demands to be allowed to take part in the Afghan jihad were rebuffed by the local Taleban leadership, who told them to go home.

However, after further meetings between Sufi Muhammad and the student militia, the participation of Pakistani volunteers was agreed.

Volunteers from Toap Darra, Shirangal, Shaoor, Warai sub-division, and Maidan were then allowed to enter Chaghar Farai in Afghanistan.

Sufi Muhammad and his followers assembled in local mosques before being moved to Jalalabad. From there, they were dispatched to Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.

Following their abandonment by the Taleban, many Pakistani volunteers report being subjected to attacks and robbery as they passed through the Asmar and Kunnar areas of eastern Afghanistan on their way home.

"We were beaten and deprived of all our belongings," said Sa'adat Waris. Hazert Khan, a student who served on the front lines north of Kabul, said he was robbed and wounded by locals.

Khan said his group of fighters lost contact with their Taleban commanders after the US bombardment of their positions.

Such stories are seeing support for the Taleban in Malakand fade away. An indication of this is that Sufi Muhammad was arrested when he withdrew into the region. As a knock-on effect, the TSNM could also lose control of its strongholds here.

Bakhat Biedar, a former member of the NWFP assembly from Dir, said the TSNM was responsible for what happened to local people.

"They misguided our innocent people," said Biedar. "Sufi Muhammad has to answer many questions - he cannot get away with it. He has no respect for human lives."

Muhammad Rasheed is a well-known lawyer and human right activist in Dir, a town on the border of Afghanistan in north-west Pakistan.

Pakistan, Afghanistan
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