Carlotta Gall The New York Times
International Herald Tribune
Friday, July 26, 2002
Wrath went beyond Buddhas
BAMIAN, Afghanistan A 51-year-old farmer, Hussein Jan, tossed a stone into a shallow pit dug on a slope above this town. “They shot us here, 76 people, they killed everyone, and only I survived,” he said.
“With me there were 11 people from my village, most of them relatives, and I alone survived,” he said.
In tales like this, the people of the Bamian region have been counting their dead since they returned to this fabled valley seven months ago, after the departure of the Taliban.
The ancient Buddhas carved into the great cliffs on one side of the valley are gone, destroyed by the Taliban in its Islamic fundamentalist fervor. Gone, too, are an estimated 1,400 villa gers, killed in waves over the four years the Taliban governed.
The Hazara, the main ethnic group here, say the massacres were part of a sustained campaign by the Taliban to eliminate them. But the scale and circumstances of the killings have not been independently established. As with so much else in Afghanistan in the years of unending violence that followed the Soviet invasion of 1979, it remains uncertain if they ever will be.
The new transitional government in Kabul has set up a human rights commission, but it faces a huge task. The national death toll over the last decade alone probably runs into the hundreds of thousands, and 1 million people are thought to have died during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s.
For now, the families returning to the valley, from hideouts in the mountains or exile in Pakistan, have discovered at least six mass graves. Local leaders are collecting numbers of the dead. They say the pattern of killing shows an ethnically motivated campaign against the Hazara, who are distinct for their Asian features and who are Shiite Muslims , while most other Afghans are Sunni Muslims. (The two groups differ over the line of succession from Mohammed and the validity of some Islamic writings.)