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Analysis: US Afghans seek bombing halt

By HIL ANDERSON   |   Oct. 17, 2001 at 8:30 PM   |   Comments

FREMONT, Calif., Oct. 17 (UPI) -- Although the largest Afghan community in the United States outwardly appears to support the American military effort in their homeland with jingoistic flag displays, a closer look finds that there is strong sentiment for an immediate halt to the bombing campaign that they see as pointless and cruel.

About 40,000 expatriate Afghans live in the San Francisco Bay area and a large percentage of those reside in Fremont, a bedroom community on the other side of the bay closer to San Jose. The area is surrounded by mountains and is not entirely dissimilar to Afghanistan in topography. Some have been in the United States for as long as 30 years. "Little Kabul," named for the capital of Afghanistan, is a parochial stretch of businesses on the main street in the town of Fremont.

Driving down the block, one sees U.S. flags prominently displayed. There are T-shirts in the 98 Cent Plus store spouting "Osama bin Laden: Wanted Dead or Alive" slogans and photos of bin Laden in the middle of a bull's eye along with "I Love New York" shirts. A sign in the store says, "The Afghan community wants bin Laden out of its country and will not take the blame for terrorism."

The Centerville School's marquis reads, "Centerville Students Stand United" while Muslim men in their traditional garb walk the streets in a cavalier manner, unmolested by strangers.

The owner of Salang Pass Restaurant, Wahid Andesha, said he told CNN cameras to "get the son of a bitch out of the country," referring to bin Laden. He told United Press International, however, that he now fears the Taliban for openly having given his opinion.

"I'm in fear. Everybody hates me. I don't know what they're going to do to me now," lamented Andesha, "but I could become a target of the Taliban."

Salang Pass Restaurant appears to be a gathering place for the Afghan community where patrons huddle together over dinner of spicy beef kabobs with yogurt sauce and flat tasty Afghan bread and strong tea. But when Andesha, 54, wearily sits down at a table after the ABC News camera crew and on-air talent have departed his restaurant, his demeanor changes. His voice lowers. His face appears worn. Seated about five feet from an antique Afghan musket and dagger on the wall, he nervously settles himself at the table. The room becomes quiet. Only a radio station in an Afghanistan dialect can be heard. The only words that can be ascertained are "Osama bin Laden."

The dark-eyed restauranteur says the fallout from Sept. 11 has forced him to think in terms of being an Afghan after 30 years in the United States. When asked what should be done with bin Laden, he definitively states: "I would not give up bin Laden; he is a guest in Afghanistan and I would give my life to make a guest happy. He has given a lot of money to the Taliban, who are very orthodox Muslims who were once great."

"If you are fighting bin Laden, it is too much war. It is embarrassing to the world," declares Andesha, an architectural engineer who immigrated to the United States in 1971. "Stop bombing the Taliban. They're a bunch of poor 14-year-old children. When you're bombing the Taliban, you're bombing poor orphaned children. War is not the solution."

Other Afghans in the restaurant joined in Andesha's furtive pleas to stop the bombing of their homeland and the opening of "a dialogue" with the Taliban.

"We cried to Clinton for eight years and no one came to help but maybe he didn't bomb Afghanistan because he was smart," suggested one man. "Bush is only making more enemies."

Some individuals said they feared that Pakistan would use their nuclear weapons. "God talks about this in the Koran and in the Bible."

The talk in the restaurant is also of the severe stress the Afghan people residing in the United States see themselves living under, even if they haven't lived in Afghanistan in decades.

"It is not the wish of people to come here. It is all negative here. There is no more room at the cemetery here for Afghan people. People are dying of stress in this country. I am working 14-hour days just to survive. America got all the smart people out of Afghanistan early on and now they have the second wave of people who are not as welcome," said another man who did not wish to give his name.

Andesha admitted that although he has had broken windows in the past at his restaurant, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers he has had only friendship from Americans. "I have had a lot of hugs. I'm not Arab and I'm not Taliban. People have come here to give me sympathy."

As if on cue, an American couple, in their 70s, grasp Andesha's hands and inform him of their efforts to promulgate the "stop-the-bombing" message.

"We're going to be at El Camino and Embarcadero again between 5 and 6:30," they told the restaurant owner, "to protest the bombing."

Andesha embraces them warmly and thanks them for their stalwart efforts.

Around 400 Afghan leaders, many of whom fled during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, were expected to meet Wednesday evening at a nearby banquet hall to discuss a possible course for their war-scarred country. Afghans from around California were expected to attend, including representatives of the rebel Northern Alliance and the exiled King Mohammad Zahir Shah.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Pakistan for talks with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for discussions of an interim post-Taliban government for Afghanistan.

Powell is attempting to insure the shaky peace between India and Pakistan holds. The Afghan residents of the Bay Area are hoping that defusing the long-running tensions in Central Asia will allow them to go back to the peaceful lives they have built for themselves in the United States.

Andesha said, "At one time, you called us the uncivilized world, but now the United States is doing the kind of thing that a civilized nation should not do."

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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