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For Young Afghan Refugees, Home Only Dim Memory Now

January 24, 1987|RONE TEMPEST | Times Staff Writer

MUNDA CAMP, Pakistan — His name, Janat Gur, means "Heaven's Flower" in the Pushtu language of his native Afghanistan. Like many Afghans, he has a fair complexion and freckles and turquoise-green eyes. Place him in Hannibal, Mo., instead of this desolate, mud-walled refugee camp in the North-West Frontier province of Pakistan, and he is Tom Sawyer.

Heaven's Flower is 10 years old. His fondest dream is of the day when he has grown big enough, like his brother before him, to pick up a Kalashnikov rifle and kill Russians.

The young Afghan and the several hundred thousand others like him in the 308 Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan are key factors in the refugees' rejection of peace initiatives offered by the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

They represent a new generation in the refugee camps, similar to the volatile populations in the Palestinian refugee camps of the Middle East, for whom the idea of homeland is only a vague or theoretical notion.

Memory of Mulberries

Janat Gur says that all he can recall of his family farm near Kabul are the sweet grapes and mulberries there.

His new life is dominated by war and weaponry and hatred of a foreign enemy. Even the textbooks in his school preach a bellicose message.

"The books," he said, "tell me about my country and how the Russians sometimes kill the child in the lap of the mother. With the older ones like me, they tie them to a cannon and blow them up."

A week after Najib, the leader of the Afghan Marxist government, began a six-month unilateral cease-fire and asked the 3 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan to come home, very few appear to have taken him up on the offer. Pakistani officials posted on the border report only a trickle of crossers, no more than the normal movement in this seasonally migratory and nomadic desert country.

Reasons for Refusal

There are several obvious reasons for the refugees' refusal to go home, despite the Afghan government's promise of a peaceful passage.

For one thing, after several years of bitter fighting in which several hundred thousand people have been killed, Afghanistan is no longer the country the refugees left after the Soviet invasion of 1979.

"All of the country is more or less destroyed," said Abdul Haq, a leader of the Afghan rebels--the moujahedeen forces -- who commands guerrilla units that operate around Kabul. "There is no road left, no school left. There is nothing much left."

Also, in the same seven-year period, the refugee camps that began as squalid tent settlements along the Afghan-Pakistani border, have evolved into semi-permanent, adobe brick villages. They have their own governments and markets, even some light industries such as flour mills. With the help of massive aid projects from sympathetic governments, including more than $800 million from the United States, the refugees are provided health care and more food than many were able to acquire in Afghanistan before the war.

Every month, each of the registered 2.7 million refugees is allotted 33 pounds of wheat, two pounds of edible oil, one pound of sugar, two pounds of dried skim milk and several ounces of tea. However, officials report that as many as 400,000 refugees living in Pakistan are still not registered and therefore not eligible for these supplies.

The distribution of such enormous quantities of food to the world's largest refugee population is one of the biggest success stories of the seven-year war.

Thursday was distribution day at the Munda Camp, Pakistan's largest with more than 65,000 refugees living in the foothills of the Sulaiman Mountains 25 miles north of Peshawar. Hundreds of refugee families, many with donkeys to carry their supplies, lined up outside the distribution center. Huge bags of wheat were stacked on the ground and cut open to fill the bags of refugees.

One of the recipients, Sayed Miran, 34, said he had come to Pakistan in 1984 after he could no longer make a living in his homeland because of the war. He said he will not go back to Afghanistan again until he is sure that all the Russians have left.

'I Think It's a Lie'

"I heard the announcement about the cease-fire, but I think it is a lie," he said. "If I really come to know that the Russians are no more there, only then will I consider going back."

For the time being, he went on, his life in the refugee camp is good enough for his family.

A Pakistani official observing the distribution said: "These people are poor people. Most come from farms. In Afghanistan, their life is very hard, was very hard, even before the war. Here they just come with their donkeys and pick up food without even working for it. I am sure that many are happier here than they were back home."

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