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Foreigners hide along Pak border

Foreigners hide along Pak border

Author: John Pomfret
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: December 11, 2001

Shara Oba, December 10: A Red pickup truck packed with fighters and guns rolled up on the mud outpost where Abdullah Mohammed was guarding Pakistan's border on Saturday night. When the men began firing, Abdullah dove into the dirt, ripping a hole in his left cheek. He fired back twice, driving off the truck. ''The men weren't Afghans,'' Abdullah said. ''They were lighter skinned. They wanted to sneak in."

As the focus of the war shifts from a battle for territory to the manhunt for bin Laden and his followers, hundreds of Taliban have fled from the country, and many more, including foreigners, are hiding along the 1,500-mile border with Pakistan looking for a chance to escape, according to local authorities. ''You see those villages, that one, this one and that one?'' asked Sardar Jelani Khan, a local tribal leader and Pakistani politician.''The men are foreigners, Arabs and Taliban. They are trying to escape.''

A trip to Shara Oba's post, half a mile inside Afghanistan, underscores the problem for Pakistan. The hard-scrabble mountains here are a fugitive's dream. Lawlessness reached such a point that Pakistan felt compelled to establish a post for its militiamen inside Afghan territory several years ago. Also, many of the tribes that inhabit this region are partial to the Taliban. Along the dirt road, Taliban flags flew from many mud houses. Khan is Pakistani, but his sway reaches into this Afghan turf. He sailed through the last Pakistani checkpoint into Afghanistan in his Toyota Land Cruiser.

To prevent infiltration, Pakistan's military has bolstered its border defenses. On Saturday, members of Pakistan's Frontier Corps moved into no-man's land called Vaish that separates Chaman from Spin Boldak, in Afghanistan. On Sunday, Pakistani soldiers could be seen silhouetted along several ridges. But the forbidding terrain of this desert landscape can also provide passage for suspected terrorists and their allies. US Marines based at an airfield 55 miles south-west of Kandahar are searching for fleeing Taliban fighters.

On the streets of Chaman, Taliban fighters are easy to pick out, Khan said. Some have taken off their trademark black and white turbans. Others haven't bothered. Those with family ties in Pakistan have found refuge in Chaman and Quetta.

Pervez Kasi, proprietor of a real estate agency, said the arrival of the Taliban has doubled housing prices in Quetta's satellite town, a dusty suburb of low-slung homes surrounded by walls. A four-bedroom house that went for $300 a month in September now fetches $600. Just then a middle-aged man stuck his head in the door. ''Any houses?'' said Ramimullah, an Afghan from Kandahar. ''Not anymore,'' said Kasi. Asked later who the house was for, Ramimullah smiled: ''A Taliban.'' (LATWP)
 


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