A Tale Of Two Villages

The villagers of Sinjadarrah and Ghorbandarrah have lived in relative peace on the same barren mountainside just north of Kabul since the time of their grandfathers' grandfathers. But for the past five years, though they're less than two kilometers apart, the two villages have been bitterly divided. Sinjadarrah, whose 2,000 mostly ethnic Tajik inhabitants farm the cornfields and orchards of the lower slopes, is firmly Northern Alliance. Ghorbandarrah, a smaller village of mostly Pashtun herdsmen who eke out a living on the high pastures, is Taliban. Ever since the Taliban occupied Ghorbandarrah in 1996, the two communities have been at war, taking potshots at each other from emplacements dug into the rocky scree.

But there are signs that as U.S. bombing continues, grass-roots support for the Taliban in Ghorbandarrah--and similar villages across Afghanistan, no doubt--is evaporating. "We are ready to help you. We are ready to kill the foreigner Taliban. There are 14 of us. Give us a sign," reads a clumsily handwritten note from some villagers in Ghorbandarrah. The note was brought over the front lines by a village elder and handed to Mullah Beg, commander of one of the tiny hamlets that make up Sinjadarrah, two days after the start of the bombing. "It is not the first such note," says Mullah Beg, 42. "In [nearby] Khalai Danab 10 more men told us they were ready to come over."

As if to confirm Beg's prediction, a turbaned figure appears out of the night. It is Abdul Quayum, 25, a native of Khalai Danab, and he has just walked over the front lines with his wife and 4-year-old son to join the Northern Alliance. Quayum's former enemies shift on their cushions to give him pride of place by the single kerosene lamp in the middle of the floor; a servant brings him tea and bread. "Our people don't want to be Talibs, but when they came, we couldn't leave our trees and lands, so we became Talibs too. If an attack comes, maybe eight or nine out of 70 men in our village will fight," says Qayum.

For these villagers, local feuds and clan allegiances are more important than national politics. "The only men who will fight for the Taliban are those who have no choice. They have done things that the people of Sinjadarrah will not forgive them for," says Haji Nadir, another defector, who crossed the lines two weeks before. At the same time the alliance fighters have little appetite for laying waste to their neighbors. Sinjadarrah's senior commander and feudal lord, Khodamuddin, 26, says that the enmities of the past decade must be ended soon. "We have lived side by side for years," he says, suddenly waxing lyrical. "Pashtun, not Pashtun--that is a Pakistani idea intended to divide us. We are all Afghans." And will be, when this strange new war finally ends.