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1979 fault lines in Afghanistan

While candidates wait for vote results, Muslim and communist enmity rises.

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The Berlin Wall still separates East and West. A faltering Russia and rising China still form a united communist threat against the West and its allies. And communists - card-carrying "godless reds" - still control the key ministries in Afghanistan.

It's 1979 all over again in Khost. Though this worldview may seem as outdated as leisure suits, it's one shared by many of Khost's 91 parliamentary candidates and their supporters.

"In the last three years, the communists have tried to blackmail the mujahideen; they call us Al Qaeda," says Maulana Hanif Shah, one of a number of former mujahideen in this southeastern Afghan province who decided to run in the Sept. 18 elections in order to keep former communists from taking power. "We are a Muslim nation, and we will destroy them step by step," adds Mr. Shah, a mujahideen commander in the Soviet-Afghan war.

As UN election workers begin to count the estimated 6 million votes, old grudges such as these could turn violent. UN internal reports warn of everything from assassination to attacks on the vote-counting centers themselves, as it becomes clear which of the 5,800 candidates are chosen for the 249 seats in parliament and 420 seats on provincial assemblies. Many of these grudges will be personal, but in war-torn provinces like Khost, they will probably split along 25-year-old lines of mujahideen vs. communists.

"It's true that our people don't care for communism; we fought against communism," admits Khost Governor Mirajudding Pathan. "It does have an ideological flavor that we don't like."

Yet Gov. Pathan notes that one former communist minister, Gulab Zoi, has traveled around Khost freely during the campaign. He shrugs. "We are a generous people."

Shah says the Islamist parties that toppled the communist government of President Najibullah in 1992 declared an amnesty for Afghan communists.

"At that time we could have killed all the communists, but we didn't do that. We wanted peace," he says. Parliament will be a tumultuous place, he admits, saying "lots of chairs and tables will be broken." But he says the mujahideen will "work patiently."

One of Shah's supporters, former mujahideen fighter Dalil Khan, disagrees with this softer approach.

"This is our slogan: The communists should be killed and the philosophy of communists should be killed." He adds, "I will not let Gulab Zoi walk into parliament. He killed 1.5 million Afghans."

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