Afghans in US look homeward. Soviet pullout arouses hopes, wariness - no indifference
Afghan refugees in the United States are watching intently. Soviet troops that have occupied their homeland since 1979 are scheduled to begin pulling out on Sunday. These refugees have established themselves here, but they have also kept strong ties to their country because of the conflict. They are waiting to see what will happen and to decide what their own future will be.
Amanullah Haiderzad, a well-known Afghan artist, wants very badly to return home. Abdul Karim, who owns a restaurant in Flushing, won't return until there is a ``new-fashioned government.'' Student Najib Jalili says he will be one of the first to go back - as soon as all the Russians are gone.
The refugees' loyalty to their country is apparently unfaltering. And refugees in New York speak willingly of their distress over the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, heightened by the signing in Geneva of the peace accord last month by Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and the Soviet Union.
But while most refugees say they wish to return home when all the Soviet troops and advisers leave, they are divided over who should govern the country and whether they can trust the peace accord.
Mr. Haiderzad, who designed the emblem and flag of Afghanistan before the war, came to the US a month after the invasion began. Formerly the dean of the College of Fine Arts at Kabul University, he now creates clay reliefs commemorating the suffering of the Afghan people. He says he is afraid ``there will be no room for artists if the fundamentalists take over'' in Afghanistan.
Haiderzad suggests an acceptable government after the Soviet pullout would be one led by deposed King Zahir Shah, who is currently living in Rome. ``If he returns, many educated people would go back to Afghanistan,'' he says. ``He is a man that can manage the people.''
But if King Shah cannot return, Haiderzad says a loya jorgha, or national assembly, which meets only in the time of emergencies, might be able to unify the people and determine who could rule the country effectively.
Mr. Karim, who also came to the US right after the invasion, has different ideas about what will follow the pullout. There will be an Afghan government, he says, but things will probably be ``bloody in Afghanistan for two more years.'' Karim has been sending monetary aid to the mujahideen, or freedom fighters, in the country. On the wall of his Kennedy Fried Chicken eatery, a sticker proclaims ``I Love Afghanistan.''
``We are mujahideen,'' Karim says. ``We wish to return, but it has to be a Muslim country and a new-fashioned government.''
Mr. Jalili is a 19-year-old student who has been living in Flushing for 14 months. But he says wants to go home when the Soviets leave. ``I love my country,'' he says.
Habibullah Mayar, chairman of the Afghan Community in America, an organization dedicated to helping Afghan refugees here and in Afghanistan, is a kind of mayor of the so-called Little Afghanistan section of Flushing. In addition to sending clothing and medical supplies to refugee camps, he welcomes and houses recent refugees in his two-bedroom apartment.
Mr. Mayar says there are about 7,000 Afghan refugee families living in New York. Other large refugee communities are in California and Washington. US State Department figures estimate about 20,000 Afghan refugees live in the US.
Mayar has been here since 1971 but still feels loyal to his homeland. `All of Afghanistan is my family.'' he says.
Mayar says he wishes for a ``nonalignment government chosen by the Afghan people.'' Doubting the ability of the seven mujahideen parties to form a governing body, he too advocates a national assembly as the best way to determine a proper ruler for the country.
But Saifur Rehman Halimi, director of the Afghan Mujahideen Information Bureau in Flushing, says the seven parties should be the ones to rule after the Soviets leave. ``The seven parties were able to fight against the Russians and make them believe that they must go back to their homeland,'' he says.
Mr. Halimi, who is also a representative of the Hezb-i-Islami party of the Mujahideen, a resistance group based in Pakistan, says that despite the Soviet pullout, the struggle is not over. Having arrived in the US just last fall, Halimi says Afghans in this country who believe the mujahideen cannot rule ``emigrated before or just after the beginning of the invasion. Those people did not participate in or see the hard fighting.''
David Khalilzad did see the hard fighting. Mr. Khalilzad, who lives in Manhattan, came here in 1982 after waiting a year for a visa in Pakistan. He misses his homeland, he says, but will not return until at least after law school, which he hopes to attend in the fall. He says he thinks at least 95 percent of the Afghan refugees will return; and at least 90 percent of the Afghans support the mujahideen and wish for an end to the puppet government in Kabul.
Not everyone agrees that most refugees will return home. Louis Dupree, a senior research associate of Islamic and Arabian Development Studies at Duke University, suggests that many Afghans in the West ``will simply stay, because they won't fit into any kind of government that will be set up in Afghanistan.''
Dr. Dupree, who has studied Afghanistan for nearly 40 years, says that ``most [refugees] have families established here, but they will support a government that comes into power.'' The Afghans are very loyal people, he says, ``but they do have a way of surprising you. They held off the Soviets and turned this war into a victory. So maybe they will return to their homeland.''
Mayar has taught his children to understand the situation in his homeland. His two youngest children were not born there, but they speak of Afghanistan in the home, read newspapers, and watch videotapes depicting the atrocities of the war. Ali Mayar, 11, does not know whether to believe that the 115,000 Soviet troops will pull out on May 15, because ``that's what they said a couple of months ago.''
``It's a piece of paper,'' says his sister, Zlaikha, 12, of the Afghanistan accord. ``They have to mean it.'' She says she hopes someday to visit Afghanistan. ``I've seen pictures,'' she says. ``There are lots of beautiful flowers and it is supposed to be peaceful and quiet.''
But now Afghanistan ``is all messed up,'' Ali says. ``New houses and highways need to be built,'' but that can't be done while the Soviets are still there, he says.