KANDAHAR: As Kabul continues to relax a week after the end of the American bombing, the see-saw of war is bringing new and heavier terror to the people here.

Apparently determined to destroy the Taliban leadership and prevent any chance of a negotiated end to their rule in the region which is their spiritual headquarters, the US has stepped up its air raids here by day and night.

The Pentagon confirms the strategy, as do the thousands of refugees pouring out of the city. On the second day of their excursion for foreign journalists, Taliban commanders on Tuesday took the press to a huge new refugee camp on the road between the border town of Spin Boldak and Kandahar. “My house is about 500 metres from the deputy governor’s,” said Harehmatullah, a 25-year-old who left Kandahar four days ago. “The bombing is getting heavier and heavier. It goes on in daylight and not just in the night. We could not take it any longer.”

Another man who left Arghandab near here, four days ago said that US aircraft seemed to be trying to hit Taliban vehicles as they drove along the road near his home. Sultan Mohammad, 60, stood outside the small patch of desert which he has expropriated by driving wooden poles into the sand and hanging blankets and pieces of sacking between them as a wind-breaker. Children sat on carpets laid out inside his makeshift home. “We became so afraid of the loud sounds every night,” his wife Fatima Bibi called out in a break in the tradition among uneducated Afghans which prevents women from addressing male strangers, even in their husband’s presence.

Desperation bends the rules and she pleaded with us for help. “Even if the bombing stops, we will never go back to Kandahar again. Never. I am so afraid,” she said.

Three weeks ago this camp did not exist. Now it already has 1,500 tents, financed by a charity linked to the royal house of the United Arab Emirates. Even taking a conservative average of six people per family, this brings the total up to 9,000 - three times the estimate which officials of the UNHCRgave in Quetta.

Mullah Mohammed Sayeed Haqani, the local Taliban commander, said that at least 6,000 of the latest refugees at this camp were from Kandahar. Others were people who had fled the bombing in other parts of Afghanistan but were blocked here because Pakistan has closed the border.

But this is not the end of the problem. At the back of the neat rows of white canvas, there was another huge area of home-made dwellings, too many to count in a short visit. Along the main road, where they had been dumped by lorries and buses, were the most abject of the new poor. They sat among their bundles waiting for the strength to move into the camp.

Entire extended families made the journey here. “We came as soon as we heard a new camp was going up,” said Abdullah Jan, a young man of 22. He pointed to his tent which had four people, another tent with 10, and a third with five. Two sheep rooted around in the sand of the small compound he and his family have made by stringing sacking between their tents. “Those lambs were born here,” he said.

“Each family got a bag of 20kg,” he said. “But since then nothing, and those who didn’t get here in time to be allocated tents haven’t got any food.” The camp we visited is one of four in the Spin Boldak area, each apparently just as large. This means the bombing could have prompted between 50,000 and 100,000 to leave their homes to find safety.

Camels wandered through parts of the camp, making it clear that some of the people were traditional nomads who pasture their animals in the mountains in summer and return to the plains for winter. But Spin Boldak is not their normal resting place, and as one refugee from Kandahar said: “Even the nomads don’t know where to go these days.”

The authorities have clearly been overwhelmed by the problem. With the UAE money they have built brick latrines, and put up metal water tanks with taps. Seven tents have been set aside for a clinic which claims to be ready to look after people wounded by bombing as well as the sick. But we saw no wounded patients, nor any sign that the clinic had facilities to handle any serious injuries.

Children were playing football near one large tent which serves as a mosque. Several small open-air mosques had been laid out on the floor of the desert. —Dawn/The Guardian News Service.



Updated 28 May, 2022

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