Nobody wants a repeat of the bloody ethnic fighting that followed the Soviet exit from Afghanistan in the 1990s — least of all Wahidullah, 32,who was crippled by a bullet that pierced his spine during the civil war.
Yet as the Afghan war began its 12th year Sunday, fears loom that the country again will fracture along ethnic lines once international combat forces leave by the end of 2014.
“It was a very bad situation,” said Wahidullah, who was a teenager when he was wounded in the 1992-96 civil war. “All these streets around here were full of bullet shells, burned tanks and vehicles,” he added, squinting into a setting sun that cast a golden glow on the bombed-out Darulaman Palace still standing in west Kabul not far from where he was wounded.
The dilapidated palace is a reminder of the horror of the civil war when rival factions — who had joined forces against Soviet fighters before they left in early 1989 — turned their guns on each other. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed.
Fed up with the bloodletting, the Afghan people longed for someone — anyone — who would restore peace and order. The Taliban did so.
But once in power, they imposed harsh Islamic laws that repressed women, and they publicly executed, stoned and lashed people for purported crimes and sexual misconduct. The Taliban also gave sanctuary to al-Qaida in the run-up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. When the Taliban refused to give up the al-Qaida leaders who orchestrated 9/11, the U.S. invaded Oct. 7, 2001.
Eleven years later, Afghanistan remains divided, and ethnic tension still simmers.
The Taliban, dominated by the ethnic Pashtun majority, have strongholds in the south. Ethnic minorities such as Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks live predominantly in central and northern Afghanistan. The fear is that when international forces leave, minority groups will take up arms to prevent another Taliban takeover and that members of the Afghan security forces could walk off the government force and fight with their ethnic leaders.
Anxiety and confusion about what will happen after the foreign forces leave permeate society. Debate about an Afghanistan post-2014 is getting more vocal. Some political leaders threaten to take up arms while others preach progress, development and peace. Young Afghans with money and connections are trying to flee the country before 2014.