'A part of war' Village to receive aid for rebuilding

Sunday, August 25, 2002

KHAK RAIZ, Afghanistan -- Asadullah watched the nightly explosions last year, looking down from his grape and pomegranate orchards in the hills as U.S. bombs gradually shattered his town.

The airstrikes on Taliban and al-Qaida forces holding out in the area nearly destroyed this hilltop village, flattening houses, shops and the Muslim shrine that still draws hundreds to pray.

Yet few here resent the Americans, who are now offering to help bring the town back to life.

"Whoever helps rebuild my country, I'll be happy," said Asadullah, a farmer whose family has lived in the area for generations.

On Friday, Gov. Gul Agha Sherzai announced a $1 million project to construct new schools, a hospital and a clinic for the area, plus rebuild the shrine and mosque that were wrecked in this village 40 miles northwest of Kandahar.

An additional $300,000 in aid was promised by a U.S. delegation that visited the area earlier in the week.

"Al-Qaida and Taliban are responsible for all the damage in Afghanistan, not the U.S.," said the governor, who won U.S. backing after providing fighters to help the Americans track down Taliban and al-Qaida fugitives. "Americans are helping us to rebuild our country."

Only rubble remains of the mosque. The Shah Agha Shrine is little more than a shell. But it still draws up to 1,000 faithful every Friday.

Under the reconstruction project, which is already under way, a new 12-foot dome will be built over the shrine and white marble will be laid on its floors. The village's rebuilt mosque is to have 16-foot ceilings and a minaret, and there will be landscaped waterfalls and manicured flower gardens.

"There was a lot of propaganda that the Americans just wanted to destroy Islam," said Abdul Mohammed, the engineer who is in charge of the project. "But this is a joint venture between America and Afghanistan that shows Americans respect our religion."

Villagers say they don't blame the United States too much for the devastation of the bombing. During the 10-year Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Khak Raiz was bombed 33 times.

"This was a part of war," said Noor Mohammed, 38, who brought his 10-member family Friday on their weekly outing to the shrine. "All sides did bad things. But at least now we have peace and stability."

That sentiment was echoed by other pilgrims who came to pray at the shrine.

"In 15 years, I've visited this shrine only once. Why? Because of lack of security. In the last two months, I've been out here four times," said Ubaidullah, 45, who walks with crutches because he was beaten badly by Taliban militiamen during their regime. "Americans have given us that security. Now we are waiting for their development work."

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