PASHTUN tribesmen from across the Pakistani border region of Baluchistan, both Afghans and Pakistani, are flooding into Afghanistan to answer the Taleban’s call for volunteers to fight in a “holy war” against an American attack.
Hundreds of Afghan men who arrived in Quetta, the provincial capital, as refugees in recent days have crossed back into Afghanistan to volunteer for battle after delivering their families to safety in refugee camps or relatives’ homes.
They are answering a call from senior Muslims to defend their country if the United States starts a military offensive to find and capture Osama bin Laden.
Many are ordinary citizens who have never fought for the Taleban before, but, as Afghans, feel compelled to take up arms to defend their homeland amid the threat of war.
Gul Ahmad, an Afghan shopkeeper, arrived at Quetta’s dusty bus station two days ago after fleeing from the Taleban stronghold of Kandahar with his wife, their three children and five other members of his family. After settling the women and children at the home of family friends, however, he, his younger brother and their father set off back to the Afghan countryside, where they will meet other new recruits to the growing Taleban Army.
“We are not afraid,” Mr Ahmad said. “We will fight to the death to defend our country. We will face the American aggression.”
Torjhan Adhul Halis, a bus driver, who plies the route from Quetta to the Chaman border crossing, said that he had ferried many other Afghans on their way back to fight in Afghanistan.
“Yesterday there were 20 busloads of Afghans who went back to the border,” he said. “I drove one of the buses and all the men on it had left their families and were going back to fight.”
He said that almost the same number of buses had also left for the border carrying members of the so-called “Pakistani Taleban”, fundamentalist Muslims who share the same tribal ethnicity and radical ideology of Afghanistan’s leaders. Many already have years of experience fighting in Afghanistan’s long civil war.
The legendary fighting spirit of the fierce Pashtun tribesmen will be a key weapon in their arsenal. The Taleban know that they will be quickly outgunned by the Americans, but, nonetheless, they appear to be girding for war.
Refugees crossing at the Chaman Pass have reported new deployments of heavy artillery on mountain- tops around the border area, in anticipation of airstrikes or a ground assault across the border. Nearby Quetta is home to a large military base and airfield and would be an obvious choice for any assault on Afghanistan launched from Pakistani soil.
Most of the refugees crossing here have fled from Kandahar, the home of the Taleban leadership, believing that it is likely to be among the first targets.
“There are many anti-aircraft guns and cannon mounted in the hills above the border,” one man who had arrived from Kandahar said. “I have been in that area many times, but these weapons were not there before.”
Other refugees reported seeing large tank patrols along the road from Kandahar to the border.
The number of new refugees arriving from Afghanistan was slowing yesterday after Pakistani officials moved to try to stem the tide, closing the border to all but those with official Pakistani identity papers or able to afford to bribe their way through. Border guards said that in the past few days more than 35,000 people have crossed the border, although officials estimates are much lower.