- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Conditions are harsh in a makeshift tent school on a dusty field at the Shamshatoo refugee camp, an hour's drive from Peshawar. But for 9-year-old Farah Naz, being able to attend school at all is a joy.
"I love school. I love to learn. I want to become a doctor and serve my parents, serve my country," said young Farah.
When her family fled Afghanistan two years ago, the ruling Taliban had closed the girls' school in her village near Kabul.
Today, the issue of whether girls should go to school divides the Taliban from its opponents, both in Afghanistan and in refugee camps in Pakistan where nearly 2 million Afghan refugees from earlier wars now live.
"The Taliban's actions were cruel. To keep girls out of school is stupid and it's nonsense," said Pashtun Bibi, 30, a teacher at the school.
"To seek education is the duty for every woman in Islam, so they know about their religion, their God and how to live their lives. Why should a man know these things and not a woman?" Miss Bibi asked, the anger in her voice piercing the scarf pulled across her face.
The Taliban's decree banning girls from school stems from an extreme interpretation of Islam that many refugees fear.
The Taliban "intervened in everybody's personal life. They'd say, 'What are you doing? Why aren't you praying.' It got worse and worse," said Dan Khuda, principal of the school.
Two years ago, Mr. Khuda fled his village, which was about 30 miles north of Kabul, because it sat between front lines of the Taliban militia as well as the opposition Northern Alliance.
The village changed hands several times. When the Northern Alliance was in control, girls went to school and when the Taliban ruled, they stayed home.
"We will all go back home when there is peace and we have a legitimate government that is acceptable to all the people," he said.
In tents that serve as classrooms at the Shamshatoo camp, children sit cross-legged, facing a blackboard placed on the ground and a teacher, who kneels to speak.
Outside lies a bulldozed moonscape where more refugee families will join the nearly 20,000 families already here.
Pakistan kept its border closed yesterday, claiming inability to handle the influx of refugees that could top 1 million from the present crisis.
A large stone-throwing crowd surged toward border guards at the Chamar crossing point yesterday, prompting the guards to respond by firing rifles over their heads, the Associated Press reported.
A 13-year-old boy was taken to the hospital with a bullet wound, but his condition was not life-threatening, doctors said.
As U.S. air strikes continued, television footage showed refugees in thousands moving in single file on foot along narrow mountain paths in hopes of illegally crossing the border.
Abdul Wakil brought his wife and five children on a similar journey from Jalalabad after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"We couldn't live like that anymore, always in the shadow of war," he said.
Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks, operates a number of guerrilla training camps near Jalalabad, some of which the United States bombed in 1998 after attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa.
Mr. Wakil, after being turned away at the border, paid smugglers to guide him and his family through the mountains on a 60-mile, two-day trek. Today, his family lives in a small tent. A partly constructed mud wall defines his lot.
When the wall is complete, he will replace the tent with a tiny house, also made with mud. Others who have lived at the 2-year-old camp for a while have built their own homes.
And with continuing air strikes, their thoughts turn constantly to their homeland.
"We had our own home and a whole lot of land," said Khan Shrin, 35, who came shortly after the camp opened.
"We had a garden that you wouldn't believe, with fruit like grapes and figs and every kind of food you can imagine," he said over a lunch of tea and bread.
Men from the neighborhood joined in and, with some prompting, several showed the scars of bullet wounds suffered while fighting Soviet troops in the 1980s.
"We want the U.N. to come, announce elections and give the government back to our people," said Abdul Razzaq, 40, one of the walking wounded.

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