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RESPONSE TO TERROR | LOYALTY IN QUESTION

Alliance's Prisoners Deny Taliban Ties to Save Themselves

Jails: Afghans who claim they have not fought their captors have a better chance of survival than foreigners, often Arab or Pakistani.

November 22, 2001|ROBYN DIXON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BANGI, Afghanistan — The prisoner sat in a small room close to the front line in northern Afghanistan while a dozen Northern Alliance soldiers peered in at him, their voices growing louder and angrier.

"I didn't fight," the prisoner, Bozmohammad, 25, pleaded Wednesday, denying any connection with the Taliban.

But one of the soldiers, Gado Mohammad, 23, was having none of it.

"I recognize you. Thirty of you attacked us."

"No, I'm a peaceful guy."

"He's lying."

One of Bozmohammad's captors toyed silently with some white prayer beads. The prisoner's face, framed in the window, froze when one of the soldiers pointed his gun as if to shoot. They were playing with him, an elaborate, terrifying game of cat and mouse.

The prisoner, Gado Mohammad insisted, was part of a force of 600 Taliban that invaded the northern town of Farhor last winter, adding that if Bozmohammad ever went back there, people would tear him apart.

In fact, Mohammad said, if he had not been restrained by other Northern Alliance fighters Wednesday, he would have shot the prisoner.

"They really terrified the population. They attacked anyone who spoke Farsi. They killed a man and tormented his wife. They killed a little baby, this big," he said, hands about 18 inches apart.

Reports from beyond the front line convey the desperation of the thousands of Taliban fighters trapped in and around Kunduz, to the west of here.

One villager said that angry Taliban fighters beat people in his settlement and executed five, including two women. The information could not be verified.

Deserters described shouting matches between Afghan fighters and foreigners from Pakistan and Arab countries, and death threats to those who wished to surrender.

About a mile down the road, another Taliban fighter, Mohammad Ayub, limped away in the custody of other Northern Alliance soldiers. Despite his leg wound, the deserter could not have looked more delighted, as if he'd won a prize.

He openly admitted to having fought on the Taliban side for about three years, but no one was claiming to have seen him involved in an atrocity.

Ayub and 10 friends planned their escape carefully: They sneaked away along a mountain track to cross into Northern Alliance territory, frightened that they would be caught by foreign Taliban fighters.

"If they had seen us, they would have killed us," he said. "They said if anyone betrays us, we'll kill him.

"I'm very glad to be here. I feel great. I just want peace for my country."

The situation around Kunduz remained volatile, with thousands of Taliban fighters trapped in and around the city. If a big battle for the town erupted, there could be many civilian casualties.

Refugees from the area brought news of tense Taliban fighters killing civilians, and of U.S. bombings causing new casualties.

Sargul, 65, a peasant, said Taliban and Northern Alliance forces had been fighting in his village of Amirobad the last three days. His village is within the enclave where Taliban sympathizers are trapped.

"People are dying because of the bombing, and the Taliban are killing them too. They're beating people with rifle butts. They beat me too, yesterday," he said, bending to show where he said he had been hit in the back.

He said that Tuesday he had seen Taliban fighters lead two women and three men a short distance from the village and shoot them.

"They said, 'The [Northern Alliance] troops are killing us, so we'll kill you.' "

Two refugees from Kunduz said they had heard that the Taliban had shot three shopkeepers in the city and the elderly father of a Northern Alliance commander named Mirzonosiri, information that could not be verified.

With a few exceptions, such as in the case of the prisoner Bozmohammad, the Northern Alliance soldiers are differentiating between the foreign Taliban and the Afghan Taliban. The former they see as terrorists guilty of atrocities. The latter are, for the most part, brothers coming home.

"I gave up today," said former Taliban Ayub. "My countrymen called me, and I decided to surrender."

Before the military turnabout, he was a typical graduate from an Islamic school, or madrassa, in Pakistan, where he studied the Koran and was taught that he should kill his enemies.

"We were told to fight against Americans and infidels. I've changed my mind about that now."

Surrounded by the Northern Alliance fighters he now calls "my countrymen," Ayub insisted that he never killed anyone in three years of fighting.

In Afghanistan, barriers that have stood for years between people are suddenly dissolving, as new enmities rise.

In a bare room in the jail in Taloqan, east of here, resting in a thin strip of sunlight on the concrete floor, sat two prisoners with long shaggy hair and beards accused of being foreign Taliban fighters.

One, Salejon, 40, insisted that he was from eastern Afghanistan.

"He's lying. He's an Arab," barked one of his captors. Salejon said he joined the Taliban to fight against Americans, Israelis and Russians.

The second, Maqsudali, 22, from a village near Peshawar in Pakistan, studied in a madrassa there and came away with a view of the world as divided between true believers and others.

"We came here on a jihad [holy war] to kill our enemies because we're the only true Muslims," he said.

Some Afghans, such as Mohammadalim, 40, a trader, believe the old barriers will soon rise again.

"People who have been fighting for 20 years don't know how not to fight," he said.

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