Peel the Onion | A visit to a war-torn Afghan village
By Augustus K. Yeung
This article gives a glimpse of the war that took place in the village of ARZO, the war that destroyed a newly rebuilt army base there, the war that ruined a house built 15 years ago by Mr. Sharifi, a villager, the war that crumpled the local boys' school, the war that …
The village of ARZO, AFGHANISTAN lies on a key supply artery connecting the provinces of Ghazni and Paktika, which used to be a lifeline for embattled south-eastern provinces, that the now collapsed Afghan government had wanted it to be kept open at all costs.
With a dusty settlement of about 300 houses perched on a rolling hill in southeastern Afghanistan, the village of ARZO was once home to over 10,000 residents. There was a mosque, a school, and the shops in the bazaar.
This Land is Mine Where I'd Built My House
Mr. Muhammad Akram Sharifi is an inhabitant of the village of ARZO where he built a house for his family 15 years ago. A year ago, he was forced to flee--like most of the villagers before the fighting started.
During the fighting in the village, 40 civilians were killed and at least 60 were wounded in the crossfire and in explosions over the last 15 months, according to other villagers.
With the Afghan Ghani regime now collapsed and the war was over, Mr. Sharifi returned home only to find everything has changed: "Bullet holes and caved-in structures are visible at every turn. The destruction is everywhere, seemingly frozen in time."
The mosque, the school and the shops in the bazaar were all in ruins. So was the house he built for his family. (It was next to the newly rebuilt army base). "A nearby army base was overrun…" Mr. Sharifi recalled, implying that the entire village with its residents and buildings have all become sacrificial lambs.
"My children, my grandchildren—22 people used to live here," Mr. Sharifi said, "And now, it is all reduced to rubble. My pockets are empty. What will we do?"
The Village School in the Cross Hairs of the Taliban
Mr. Fazel Karim, the headmaster of the local boys' school said his school paid a particularly heavy price in the days before the fall of Ghazni city, on August 12 (three days before the fall of Kabul), as government forces dug in. "One of the men said the Taliban had taken position inside the [school] premises, digging a tunnel that led to the army base out front," he said.
Mr. Karim said that when the security situation in ARZO started to deteriorate, the education department decided to move the classes to a village close to the city. "The Taliban entered the school and started the fight from here," he said.
"As a result, the whole school was destroyed. A bombed was dropped from the air in early August and hit one of our classrooms." The school's corrugated metal roof now lies crumpled, "like a gaping wound".
"After the new Taliban government announced that schools were to reopen, the classes returned to the ruined compound and students started trickling back in," Mr. Karim said, "Not all of our 1,100 boys are here yet, because some families are still displaced."
"The girls' school has reopened too, but only up to the sixth grade," reported Jim Huylebroek and Victor J. Blue who had visited the village and taken photographs last month for the Times.
The Challenges that the Villagers Have to Endure
At a local mosque, which has just been built, the smell of fresh paint lingered. Inside, villagers gathered and spoke of the challenges that have endured: Mr. Sharifi complained that food prices had doubled over the past few weeks; flour shortages have been of most concern for the villagers; with prices rising so sharply, many shopkeepers had stopped buying it themselves.
"In Ghazni, outside the governor's compound, burqa-clad women were lining up to register for government assistance. They said the Taliban had announced that women were not allowed outside without a male relative, but a drive through the city revealed many ignoring that directive," reported the team for the Times. (Note: Ghazni is an important hub connecting Kabul, the capital, to the south and west of the country.)
Omar, a Taliban Member Shared His War Experience
"At a police station at the foot of Ghazni's treasured citadel, a Taliban member who identified himself only as Omar was at a gathering of fellow fighters after midday prayer. He said he had been at the BATTLE FOR ARZO. 'I started jihad against the Americans 16 years ago – now I am 31,' he said, as he scrolled through photos and videos of him posing on rooftops with his Russian rifle.
One video showed a half-dozen Afghan soldiers dead on a road, their vehicle smoking. 'We ambushed them near ARZO, Omar said, 'Everyone in that village knows me.'
The gravel roads of ARZO, lined with mud-brick houses where so much death and destruction transpired in the months past, are slowing coming back to life."
War is Easy, but Peace and Civilian Life is Difficult to Build Back
"Residents are dribbling back in, many of them working to rebuild what was lost. Young and old have been shoveling, hoisting iron buckets and packing layers on top of layers of mortar," reported the team based on what they had eye-witnessed in this war-torn Afghan village.
"Mr. Sharifi built his house in ARZO 15 years ago. Last month, he looked at its remains from atop another pile of rubble. 'Back then,' he said, 'there was money, there were jobs. Now we have nothing.'"
Twenty years ago, the Americans invaded Afghanistan with the pretext of fighting terrorists. With their home and school destroyed, Mr. Sharifi and the schoolmaster should know better. Who are the terrorists? (Source: "An Afghan village struggles to rebuild," BY JIM HUYLEBROEK AND VICTOR J. BLUE, New York Times, Monday, October 4, 2021.)
Read the original article: Reduced to Rubble, an Afghan Village Struggles to Rebuild
The author is a freelance writer; formerly Adjunct Lecturer, taught MBA Philosophy of Management, and International Strategy, and online columnist of 3-D Corner (HKU SPACE), University of Hong Kong.
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