Panjshair: from `garden valley' to rubble

Now that the Panjshair Valley, north of Kabul, is fully in resistance hands, thousands of internally displaced Afghans have been streaming back. For nearly nine years, the 70-mile-long valley bore the brunt of Soviet and Afghan government offensives. But efforts to crush the region's guerrilla front, led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, the ``Lion of Panjshair,'' have failed.

Still, the Panjshair - once renowned as a ``garden valley'' of villages surrounded by terraced wheat fields, vineyards, fruit orchards, and mulberry groves - is little more than a wasteland of ruins.

According to aid representatives who visited the Panjshair at Mr. Massoud's request, the lower, main portion, of the valley has been worst hit.

``You could see vicious, wanton, and quite vindictive destruction of every form of human activity possible,'' says Douglas Saltmarsh, a British agriculturalist. ``You get the impression that the Soviets wanted to eliminate all possibility that any life could ever again exist in the Panjshair.''

``What we saw was basically a total destruction of civilization,'' adds John McGill, an American surgeon. ``Not only buildings but every means of economic survival. The irrigation canals were in many places destroyed, which resulted in dessicated fields, skeletons of trees that had died from lack of water, and other areas where whole fruit orchards had been chopped down.''

As elsewhere, the Soviets have also left the land littered with mines.

Despite the dangers, thousands of families, who fled to escape the bombing in the early 1980s, are reportedly returning - in buses, trucks, cars, and tractors, on foot and on horseback, and even in Kabul taxis. The returnees are rebuilding homes, and have set up several schools and clinics. Aid workers say they are impressed by the civilian administration that Massoud has put in place. Aid agencies in Peshawar and Massoud's ``council of the north,'' a grouping of several regions, are drawing up plans for a recovery operation for Panjshair. But the difficulties - including a shortage of food and lumber - are enormous.

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