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Swiss-based Afghans support US bombing

Zemaray Hakimi says Switzerland's Afghan community supports US strikes swissinfo.ch

The Afghan community in Switzerland is firmly behind the US strikes against Afghanistan, according to a representative of the community. The strikes are in retaliation for last month's terrorist attacks in Washington and New York, which left nearly 5,600 people dead.

This content was published on October 11, 2001 - 09:30

Zemaray Hakimi, who has lived in Switzerland since 1972 and runs the Afghanistan Institute near Basel, told swissinfo: "The Afghan people in Switzerland think the bombing is good, as the US is fighting the terrorists and they are happy about it."

The 52-year-old engineer from Northern Afghanistan added that the Afghan community has not forgotten what happened in New York and Washington.

His friend and colleague, Afghanistan-expert Paul Bucherer-Dietschi, who founded the institute in the small village of Bubenberg near Basel nearly 30 years ago, agrees.

"The Afghan people know that they alone are not in a position to do something against these terrorist organisations, which are based in their country," he says.

Turning to former king

At a press conference, Bucherer also said the former Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, was the only person who could find a solution for Afghanistan.

"The king seems to me the only person, who has no blood on his hands and who is respected by many people," he said.

The king, who has lived in exile near Rome for almost 30 years, was overthrown in the summer of 1973 while he was on holiday in Italy. Since that day he has not set foot in his former country.

The bloodless coup was led by his cousin, Sardar Mohammed Daoud Khan, who had been the king's secretary of state.

Though he was viewed as a rather uninspiring leader during his time, the Afghan people look back fondly to Zahir Shah's era, according to Bucherer.

Hakimi is also convinced the king could make a difference. "I am sure the king could play a very important role in Afghanistan. Under his reign people were happy."

But Zahir Shah, who is reputed to enjoy a lot of loyalty among the Afghan people, has already reached the age of 84 and time might be running out.

Bucherer, however, is not worried about the king's health at all. "I only saw him a few months ago and he was in very good health. Furthermore I know that his family has a very long life expectancy."

The first time Bucherer visited Afghanistan was in 1971, when Zahir Shah was still in power. He was also there shortly after the communist coup in April 1978.

"During this time there were great hopes for the beginning of a new age in Afghanistan," he said, however, these hopes were dashed by subsequent events.

Two Talibans

During the press conference, which was organised because of news events in Afghanistan, Bucherer said there were two groups of Taliban in Afghanistan.

"There is the Afghan Taliban and the international Taliban", he said. According to Bucherer, the international Taliban consists mainly of non-Afghan Muslims, who come from countries like Tunisia, Algeria, Pakistan, Sudan and even the Philippines and work for Osama bin Laden.

"The international Taliban have the money and the Afghan Taliban need the money to survive", he explained.

When Bucherer once asked young Afghan Taliban soldiers why they were following the extremist Muslims, they said: "You see, we are the only ones here in Kabul who have two warm meals per day."

Work of the institute

The institute, which was founded by Bucherer and his wife in 1974, is an unusual sanctuary for Afghanistan's cultural heritage. Situated ten miles south of Basel, the institute is accepted by both Afghans and Unesco as the official safe house for Afghan works of art.

The museum features treasures dating from 2,000 BC, which are on loan on the understanding that they will be returned to Afghanistan, once it is safe to do so.

The institute receives donations anonymously or from people who drop in and donate their treasures.

With the current international situation, Bucherer is worried that many artefacts could get lost as they could be sold to the art markets for a lot of money or be destroyed by chance during the bombing.

However, he added, the greatest danger is the destruction of cultural artefacts by the Taliban, which has demolished antiquities that are not Islamic.

by Billi Bierling

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