- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

CHAMAN, Pakistan Two months of pounding by American jets and a siege by local tribal forces had turned the Taliban's final refuge, Kandahar, into a scene of acute misery in the days before the hard-line militia's decision yesterday to surrender.
Pashtun tribal leader Hamid Karzai, the man chosen to lead the first post-Taliban government in Afghanistan, says he looks forward to rebuilding Afghanistan, but that optimism is lost on the refugees living in camps near the Pakistani border city of Chaman.
Many here spoke of the sleepless nights and empty stomachs that helped persuade Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar to give up his spiritual capital without a fight.
"Six or seven times a day, planes came and bombs fell. There were even more bombs at night. People were terrified," said Akhtar Mohammed, 30, a scrap metal dealer.
Others told of growing hunger in the city, especially as fighting around the airport to the east frequently closed the main road from Chaman to trucks filled with international relief supplies.
"Conditions have gotten so severe that most civilians have fled. There just isn't enough food to go around. The Taliban came and unloaded all the relief trucks," said Abdul Ali, 35, a cabdriver who arrived in Chaman after driving the 75-mile route littered with the burned-out shells of cars and trucks hit by U.S. bombs.
Taliban defenses swiftly receded after the fall of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Nov. 9, when the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance took over most of northern Afghanistan and the Taliban surrendered most of the mountainous eastern region to local tribal leaders.
But the Taliban maintained control of Kandahar, the city where Mullah Omar's militant Islamist movement first gained a foothold in the early 1990s before proceeding to assume control of more than 90 percent of Afghanistan.
The tomb of Ahmad Shah, the founder of a Pashtun tribal dynasty that ruled Afghanistan until the 1973 coup against the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, still dominates the central bazaar in Kandahar, an oasis city of apple and apricot orchards on the edge of the nation's vast southern desert.
Next to the tomb lies a shrine that contains a cloak said to have been worn by the Prophet Muhammad himself. In 1996, Mullah Omar wrapped the cloak around himself in front of a large crowd and proclaimed himself the "Amir-ul Momineen," or "leader of the faithful."
Refugees from Kandahar were surprised to learn that the mullah had decided to hand over the city.
"I saw Mullah Omar about 13 days ago. He was wandering through the city with his companions," said Mr. Mohammed, the scrap metal dealer. "He can't leave Kandahar because it is his city."
At Chaman, hundreds of families camp in the open, in a no-man's land 300 yards wide between Afghanistan and Pakistan, waiting with empty stomachs to be registered by the United Nations and moved to nearby tent cities where food rations are passed out.
Zalmay, a laborer from Kandahar who like many Afghans uses just one name, brought his four children, mother and father to Chaman two days after an air strike killed his wife of 10 years.
"They've had nothing to eat for the past 45 hours," said Mr. Zalmay, a slight man with sunken cheeks and a scraggly beard.
"When night comes and it's time to eat, the children start crying because there's no milk, no food to eat, only water."
Just a few feet away, other recent refugees sit on the floor of a giant white tent, waiting to be registered by officials of the U.N. World Food Program so that they can receive shelter and food rations.
Inside, a little boy clings to his mother quietly, his dust-caked cheeks bearing the trail of recent tears.
U.N. officials say it takes up to three days to register new refugees, with nearly 2,000 arriving daily.
Pakistani officials send those too sick or too injured to wait for the United Nations on to the hospital. Mr. Zalmay's father is being treated for shrapnel wounds there, and is not expected to survive.

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