For families, an uncertain future

Imagine Osama bin Laden and his associates were hiding in the mountains in Pennsylvania, and you have relatives there.

The United States is dropping bombs and running air raids over a broad area of the state, hoping to take out the terrorists and destroy their communication and military infrastructure.

Innocent Pennsylvanians might be killed even your relatives.

Thats a little how Fred Attai feels. The Afghan who moved to the United States in 1987 after fleeing repression in his own country has not heard from his aunt and uncle who live in Kabul, the capital city.

A week after Sept. 11, Attais aunt called his mother. “She thought she might get killed in bombardment and they might not see or hear [from her] again,” Attai said.

His aunt reported there was no way to leave the country because Pakistan and Iran had shut down borders. “I dont even know if theyre alive or if theyre dead,” Attai said.

Attai and other Afghans here are worried about civilians in Kabul and other areas of Afghanistan, people who have suffered all their lives and dont even know what New York City looks like.

Attai, 34, doesnt think war is a solution. “Every country is doing things to benefit themselves. Nobody cares about humanity,” he said.

Attai lives in Stafford County with wife Fatima and two daughters. He worships at the Manassas Mosque and works in auto repair, but recently closed his shop because he was losing money.

Attai was born in Kabul and left Afghanistan for Pakistan at age 15 with his family in 1984. He moved to the United States in 1987.

As a boy in Afghanistan, Attai lived a normal life, going to school while his father ran an auto repair shop.

Several years after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, when Attai was 10, fighting moved closer to Kabul as the mujaheddin, rebels fighting the communist government, attacked the capital.

“It was not safe,” he said. “If you were an innocent civilian in the middle, it was hard to live. Your life was on the line every day.”

His life was not the same after the invasion. There were government officials monitoring schools and students had to be careful about what they said.

When Attai was about 11 or 12, he remembers an uprising in Kabul against the Soviets. People marched down streets in groups to protest.

Police opened fire on the crowd, and everyone ran.

Later in the evening, Attai and his younger brother crept out of their house to look around.

“There were bodies laying all over the place,” he recalled.

No one else was around, except the dead. “We just ran back home,” he said.

Three of Attais older brothers were able to leave Afghanistan. Young men were at risk because they were being drafted and forced to fight against the rebels. He and his father tried to leave when Attai was about 15.

They drove in a car from the city of Kandahar, heading east toward the Pakistan border. Military officials at a checkpoint asked them where they were going. They knew Attai and his father were not from the area.

Attai said he was going to a wedding, but the troops knew he was lying. They sent him to a military recruiting officer.

Attai showed his ID, pleading not to be drafted into the military because he was too young under the law.

“You think you might never see your family again. Who knows where theyre going to send you,” he said.

He doesnt know why, but the soldiers let him go. They werent interested in his father he was too old.

Two days later, he and his father tried again. They got on a passenger bus from Kandahar headed toward an airport.

The bus was checked by the same soldiers who detained Attai two days before. He told them he was going to the airport to take a flight home to Kabul.

Attai and his father got off the bus in the middle of the desert before it reached the airport. They had no bags or possessions with them.

A full bus headed toward Pakistan with older men and women on it stopped. Attai and his father got on, standing.

As the bus neared the border, the people on board told Attai and a few other young men to lay on the floor. The passengers put blankets over them and crowded around.

As soldiers began boarding the bus to check it, the passengers told them to let them by, saying it was a holy day and there was nothing on the bus.

Attai was able to cross into Pakistan, where he lived for about 3 1/2 years.

* * * *

Like Attai, Shafi Kushkaki, 40, of Centreville, was born in Kabul.

He lived in Afghanistan for 19 years, going to school there.

After the Soviet invasion, Kushkakis father, Sabahuddin Kushkaki, was put in jail as a political dissident.

He was a former official in the government of King Zahir Shah and ran a daily, anti-communist newspaper called Caravan that was not under government control.

Kushkakis father was in jail for two years. When he was released, the family left their homeland. Kushkaki followed his father to Germany.

As a boy in a French school, Kushkaki learned from teachers and Western movies how people outside Afghanistan lived.

In college there, Kushkaki studied medicine, hoping to become a doctor, until he was forced to leave. He later studied in Germany, but did not earn a degree.

“I never got a chance to reach my goals … as far as being a doctor and to be active somehow in the political life of Afghanistan,” Kushkaki said. “That was my hope as a teenager to have my country in the same condition as we have here.”

He drives a cab for Manassas Cab Company and builds and remodels homes. Hes trying to build enough experience for a general contractors license.

Kushkaki lived in Germany until about two years ago, when he moved to Arizona to work as a construction company supervisor. He, his wife Diba and four children moved to Centreville a few months ago, where his father lived before his death last year at age 67.

Although he speaks fluent German, Kushkaki is still learning English and carries a dictionary with him in his cab.

On Sept. 11, he listened to news of the terrorist attacks on the radio in his car.

“As an Afghan, I was almost crying because these bombings and these kind of damages, I saw with my own eyes when I was in Afghanistan,” he said. “I couldnt believe that this tragedy could have anything to do with my country.”

The current events in Afghanistan are painful to him, because he hoped that the country could become modernized and have a stable government.

Afghans and other Muslims continue to be concerned that Americans will equate their faith with the Taliban or terrorism.

Many Afghans remember Americas help against the Soviets, who withdrew from the country in 1989. Thats what makes todays situation so ironic, they say.

“I couldnt believe that a country like USA … will bomb the poorest country in the world,” Kushkaki said.

Kushkaki wants to make clear, however, that his opposition to U.S. airstrikes is because he is against killing civilians. “When you start talking against the bombing, they are putting you with the terrorists,” he said.

Last week, Kushkaki saw a mouse running in his home. He called a pest removal company, and they didnt destroy his house to catch the rodent. They sent someone who installed traps.

“The USA should be that smart, to do something like that,” Kushkaki said.

Staff writer Patrick Wilson can be reached at (703) 368-7449.

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