Left Alone, Refugees Decry US Indifference
'No one likes America now' is often heard among Afghanis who see an anti-Muslim US conspiracy
PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN — AS he speaks, curious refugee children stop playing near the ditches clogged with garbage and raw sewage. Elderly refugees step out of the mud huts they have lived in for the last 17 years and nod in agreement.
''No one likes America here,'' Farid Khan, an Afghani refugee says slowly and clearly. ''We don't like any [foreign] group because, like America, they will also deceive the Afghans.''
Five years after Afghan ''freedom fighters'' were praised by then-US President Bush for winning a bitter war against occupying Soviet troops, Afghani refugees are talking openly of an ''anti-Muslim'' US conspiracy.
In interviews, many residents of the 400,000-person Kacha Gari refugee camp here bitterly complain the US has abandoned them because they are Muslims.
''We are struggling for the establishment of a Muslim government'' in Afghanistan, says Munib Khan, a school teacher who has lived here as a refugee for the last 14 years. ''America will never like it.''
Since the defeat of the pro-Soviet forces in 1989, several Afghan factions have waged a bitter civil war for control of the country. An estimated 1 million people have died in the conflict, receiving scant coverage in the Western media. The continuing bloodletting led to the deaths of about 5,000 people last year alone.
''Nobody cares,'' says Haji Samiullah, an unemployed Afghani who has lived here for 17 years. ''Thousands of people are still dying in Afghanistan.''
An estimated 5 million Afghans remain refugees from the drawn-out conflict. Approximately 1.6 million live in Pakistan, 1.6 million in Iran, and the rest are scattered throughout Europe and North America.
Patience in some host countries appears to be running thin. Iran recently launched a resettlement program critics complain is forcing Afghans back prematurely. While Western officials warn that Pakistanis are increasingly worried the refugees may never leave.
''They've set up businesses and houses,'' says a Western observer. ''Many Pakistanis are suspicious they're here to stay. Tensions are slowly rising.''
But Afghan refugees in this sprawling refugee camp located on the outskirts of Peshawar -- which has a population of 1 million Afghan refugees and 800,000 Pakistanis -- say they are eager to return home.
More than 70,000 mud huts make up the camp, with some converted into stores. Plumbing systems consist of small holes in dirt floors that run into rancid open ditches. Makeshift electrical wiring hangs over the dirt roads that crisscross the sprawling camp. Afghans say the US could easily halt the country's prolonged civil war and blame its continuation on secret military backing to various factions provided by the United States, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
Western officials say the anti-US conspiracy theories are the result of the steady erosion of US aid to the area and could result in some Afghans joining extremist, anti-Western groups operating here.
They say covert military aid, believed to have totaled in the hundreds of millions during the peak of the war, has now dropped from $85 million in 1992 to $15.6 million in 1995.
''There's very much the feeling among Afghans that Afghanistan is off the front burner and has pretty much been forgotten,'' says the Western observer. ''They did our bidding [and] ... were consistently praised by us for fighting the communist giant.'' The most recent blow, according to the Western observer, was the closing of the US Agency for International Development office here last year and the failure of the US to open an embassy in Kabul.
Dana Rohrbacher (R) of California, one of only two US congressman to have visited the area in the last two years, told Afghans last week that he would try to get the US to remember their former allies here.
But Rashid, a young nurse who quickly attracted a crowd of 40 to 50 supporters, seemed to attract far more support. ''[The US] is not only forgetting Afghanistan,'' says Rashid to shouts of approval from the crowd. ''They're deceiving Muslims everywhere -- here and in Bosnia.''