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Sept. 11: One year after

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For many Afghans, it's a date without meaning but a year when history was made

By Charles J. Hanley, Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan Through an archway hung with musty drapes, in a gallery of photographs from a distant place, Afghan visitors sit in quiet solitude and record their thoughts about Sept. 11.

"Tears came to my eyes," a man named Mohammad wrote in the guest book, recalling images of New York skyscrapers in shards. "They'll remember this for 100 generations."

Outside in the dust and noise of an avenue called Aysme Watt, across from Kabul's little National Gallery and its "Ground Zero" photo exhibit, the pushcart peddler Faqir stood beside his mounds of raisins and looked puzzled.

"No, I haven't heard anything about buildings falling down," he told an inquiring foreigner. "No, `September 11' doesn't mean anything to me."

For this country's illiterate millions, a numbered box on a calendar, a tragedy befallen people far away, has little to do with their daily struggle to survive. But all Afghans -- know it or not -- can trace the birth of a new Afghanistan to that day, the 20th of Sanbula on their calendar, and to the horrible deaths of strangers one morning a half-world away.

Even Faqir didn't miss the American jets that showed up in Kabul's skies 26 nights later.

"At first I was afraid," he said, "but then we saw they were just bombing their targets, the Taliban, and we weren't afraid anymore."

Today Faqir and anyone else can see the changes a year has wrought on Kabul's teeming streets: the burqa veils lifted from many women, the pious Muslim beards shorn off many men; the vast street bazaar of televisions and other once-forbidden pleasures; the sexes studying together at the university; the old king back in his palace; the American flag waving once more over a U.S. Embassy hidden behind a new steel-plate fence.

In the countryside, too, a born-again Afghanistan is there for all to see, along the rough, bruising roads from Pakistan, where Afghan families in their hundreds of thousands are journeying home from years as refugees; in the checkpoints of local warlords vying for a cut of local power; in the sudden raids on suspected enemies by secretive U.S. forces.

That American military role here, a year after Sept. 11, is an increasingly sensitive subject for many Afghans.

"Until al-Qaida is completely finished, they must stay," Sofia Kabir, an unveiled English-language student, told a visitor to the Kabul University campus. "And after that," her classmate Wahida added, "they should go back to their country."

On the 20th of Sanbula a year ago, with early word of the hijackings and destruction of the World Trade Center towers, some Afghans sensed immediately it would mean upheaval for them.

Kabir watched the frightening scenes unfold on TV at her family's home-in-exile in Pakistan, and heard American suspicions voiced about Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida, the terrorist corps sheltered in the Taliban's Afghanistan.

"I was afraid for our country, because the Taliban belonged to al-Qaida," she said.

In Kabul, medical student Karim Hanafi, 20, heard the news from New York on short-wave radio. "I knew only Osama bin Laden could have done this."

He thought of American military might. "I imagined my country next might become like Iraq or Vietnam."

Word of the New York and Washington attacks flashed quickly through Kabul that night and next morning, and within hours well-connected Afghans were passing around videotapes recorded from illegal satellite dishes.

But many were kept in the dark. "Our teachers didn't talk about it," remembered 17-year-old high school student Mohammad Azim. When the bombs started falling, "they told us, `Don't worry! God is kind!"'

Sipping tea in a shabby restaurant looking out on a bustling Kabul thoroughfare, a middle-aged Afghan businessman recalled his thoughts a year ago, and how good, in his view, has flowed from evil.

"I was in Pakistan and saw it on TV, and after a while I realized that if Osama bin Laden hadn't been in Afghanistan, no one would care about our country," said Nassar Ahmad Husiny.

Through the 1990s, the world had cared little as Afghan factions bled their country in civil war. Then came Sept. 11, and all that has followed -- the bombing, the toppling of the Taliban government, the U.S. military presence -- has helped his Afghanistan, Husiny said.

In busy, urban Kabul, sentiment a year ago ran strongly against the rural Islamic zealots of the Taliban. A bitter Husiny said his brother once was seized for what amounted to ransom by Taliban agents. At the university, a group of medical students scoffed at the memory of the turbans and "national dress" the Taliban forced them to wear.

"They wanted us to be like them," said Hanafi, in baseball cap and casual shirt. "It was impossible for us to be like them."

But the biggest difference, these young men agreed, has been the opening of the university to women, after five years of harsh anti-female discrimination by the Taliban.

"It's very difficult to study without girls," insisted a smiling Abaceen Rommel, 20.

Sofia Kabir, an "old" freshman at 23, seems overjoyed with her new role as a student. She plans a career as a teacher. "The most important thing in life is education," she said.

A year on from Sept. 11, the list of most important things for the new Afghanistan is a long one: to resettle up to 2 million refugees coming home to a land laid waste by 23 years of war; to rebuild the roads and bridges, the schools and hospitals, the waterworks and irrigation canals, the power and communications systems; to reunify the nation, to find the political formulas to bury the ethnic and regional animosities that outsiders -- and ambitious insiders -- have used to keep Afghanistan divided, weak and at war.

Why has it all happened? He may not have caught all the headlines, but Faqir the peddler thinks he knows why. "The Americans came because the Afghan people weren't free," he said -- free of the authoritarian Taliban checking that his beard was sufficiently long, his public prayer sufficiently punctual.

Rommel the student, like many educated Afghans, is more ambivalent. He complained of America's support for Israel, American military footholds on the Arabian peninsula. "America's policies were the main reason for Sept. 11," this young man said. But he also sounded unsure of when he wants the Americans to leave their foothold here. "The Taliban would come back."

A year later, the striving people of Afghanistan will have little time to spare to reflect on the events of that day, the morning some 3,000 died in places called Pennsylvania, Washington, New York. New Yorker or Kabuli, the heart lies at home, and here at home they have miles of ruins, a nation of ruins, to reflect upon, after a generation of war that has left more than a million of their fathers and sons, mothers and daughters dead.

A group of Kabul hospital workers visited the "Ground Zero" exhibit, viewing the blow-ups of collapsed towers, the American faces full of shock, and entrusted one of their hardened band to record their thoughts. "It reminds us of our own wars," he wrote.

Another visitor was more direct.

"I have seen the ruins of the World Trade Center," this man, Abdul Qadir Raofi, wrote. "But Afghanistan has been damaged 100 times more than that."

Today's news:
Ceremony at Ground Zero
Mass. remembers victims
Silence, tears mark day at Logan
Under alert, Mass. carries on
Bush faces day with resolve
World remembers attacks in US
Memorial in Shanksville, Pa.
Updated wire coverage

Photo galleries:
Families mourn, remember
Ceremony at Ground Zero
Ceremony at the Pentagon
Ceremony at Pa. crash scene
Remembrances worldwide
Remembrances in Boston

NECN RealVideo:
Moment of silence observed
Ceremony at State House
Gettysburg Address read
Procession at Ground Zero
A somber travel day at Logan
Images of Sept. 11, 2001



Preparing for the worst
Security has become the new norm in Greater Boston.


Fear and children
Children's responses may shed light on human anxiety, resiliency.


Muslim minds
The US effort to win over Muslim hearts and minds is failing.


Science vs. terrorism
New chemical, biological threats spur nation's top minds.


For those deported after Sept. 11, the losses are wrenching.


A special Magazine issue
A Sept. 11 narrative by former Massport chief Virginia Buckingham, plus an essay by Christopher Hitchens.

A special Arts section
How culture has changed since Sept. 11, including a gallery of art inspired by the attacks.

A special Focus section
A look at how the lives of six Americans were altered.

Everywhere USA
Terrorism comes to God's country.


Where is Al Qaeda?
How have bin Laden and his terrorist group eluded US forces?


Two cities
New York and DC one year later.


America remembers
The US looks back at the terrorist attacks.

Victims and survivors
A year later, still hurting.

A time for bells and remembrance
A clash of views on terror
Limited damage to the economy
Families build support system
NYC's healing process
Finding comfort in the kitchen
Bailey: A day of atonement

From the Associated Press:
Tribute paid with tattoos
Charities changed by 9/11
White House calls home
9/11 stole innocence, love
Man escaped earthquake, 9/11
Update on 9/11's famous faces
Firemen still burying dead
A mother's note to a lost son
9/11 created heroes in death
Voice mails bring comfort
Little things hold memories
87th floor survivor copes
Sampling of 9/11 memorials
Pentagon survivors move on
Moments of silence on Sept. 11
Survivors try to move forward
Families cling to chances
Sept. 11 widow trying to forgive
Widow becomes an advocate
Workplace response varies
Graphic: Funds offer relief

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