The other side:   What happened in Koram

At  5:00am Sunday, October 14th, IslamOnline's correspondent left the city of Peshawar from the Valley of Khyber Road, heading to the city of Jalalabad, the first Afghani city on the Pakistani-Afghani border.

There was one aim for this mission:-   to find out what really happened in Koram after U.S. bombs hit the village on the night of October 11th.

The Khyber Pass is the main gateway into the South Asian peninsula. Coming from the opposite direction, this valley leads to the Torkham gateway taking you to Afghanistan, the graveyard of tyrants and empires, as Afghans choose to describe their country.

On October 16th, Torkham gateway was reopened for those coming into Afghanistan from Pakistan. Thousands of trucks loaded with flour and foodstuffs waited on the Pakistani side of the border for permission to enter Afghanistan.

On the side of the road were four ambulances waiting for the arrival of injured from Afghanistan's interior.

A man injured on October 7th was carried by an ambulance to a hospital in Peshawar.

After crossing the gateway, there were tens of trucks carrying apples and grapes waiting to enter Pakistan to be sold in the markets. However, there are hardly any stores open in Torkham's markets on either side of the gateway, except for the odd coffee shop here and there.

The gateway's closure has caused a severe drop in the number of people visiting the marketplace.

Upon reaching Jalalabad, the correspondent was on his way to the demolished village of Koram. Koram, in the Pashtun language, means "low place", suiting the place perfectly, as the village lies low among the surrounding mountains.

It is an isolated village in Sarkhrod province, and lies among the high mountains of Torgar (the Black Mountain), 40 kilometers away from Jalalabad.

The village includes 25 to 30 homes, built primitively with rocks, and is inhabited by families of the Pashtun tribe "Naser", who are cattle breeders.

The Naser tribe is poor and does not own farmland or participate in trade activities. There is not a single tree in the entire village, and all they own is a small water spring from which they and their cattle take turns to drink. They get most of their foodstuff from other villages in the nearby plains, and most of them eat cornbread year-round, because it is cheaper than the corn itself.

They obtain what they need of life's necessities from the money they receive from selling sheep, their wool, as well as firewood, gathered by the women from the mountains.

At around 5am, and once again at 6am, the village came under heavy attack from U.S. planes and bombs, resulting in the death of nearly 200 of the village's residents, the injury of 17, the demolition of the entire village and the perishing of nearly 1,000 head of cattle, according to Taliban officials and villagers who survived the attacks.

Koram did not attend Friday prayers and heard no azan (call for prayer) that day.

One of the village residents, Taza Jil Bin Sayed Rahman, lost 13 members of his family, including three children. He said, "There are many villagers who are missing till now, we fear that they may be under the ruins of the houses and caves around the village to which people ran to for shelter during the attacks.

"The search for bodies still continues by the help of the youth of nearby villages."

Taza Jil said that he found the body of his 70-year-old mother a day after the attack in one of the caves, under the dust and ruins.

The remains of Koram and its land are filled with animal carcasses and pieces of yet unidentified flesh: is it human, or animal? The air of the village has turned putrid, driving people away.

Thamar Jil, a composed, seemingly educated, man, one of the distinguished members of the Naser tribe who also lost a large number of relatives and friends in the attack, spoke of Koram:

"There are only 48 members of the village remaining, 17 injured and the rest have moved to nearby villages. The number of martyrs has reached 201."

His eyes wander round, and he continues: "Five American planes attacked the village twice with a number of cruise missiles. The inhabitants of nearby villages came to rescue the injured and to carry the dead. Some of them were injured during the second attack."

Thamar Jil fears that other nearby Naser tribe villages will also become victim to attacks in the future. There are 13 Naser villages in the Torgar Mountains, he said, adding that there were only eight cows and 40 goats left now in Koram. In the past, each family owned nearly 60 to 80 head of cattle.

With sorrow, Thamar Jil complains about the Muslim countries complying with U.S. policies, and who are not attempting to investigate what really happened in Koram. "We have no means to defend ourselves and our country against the U.S. strikes. If the United States wants to face us, let them send their ground troops so we shall remind them of the lessons we gave to the British and Russians. We shall fight America with our strong faith and beliefs. For Islam, we can sacrifice not just 200 lives but two million and more, because we believe in the hereafter and the eternal bliss in Heaven."

Thamar Jil added that they dug a big hole where torn-off limbs are buried.

"We were unable to even bury our women. Nearby villagers helped us carry the martyrs, including women, and to bury them in their villages."

Speaking about the reasons for the attack, Thamar Jil said, "There is not an Arab or Arab training center here. We were under attack only because we are Muslims."

He angrily criticized the Pakistani government for cooperating with the United States in its attacks against Afghanistan and for providing its airports and military bases for the U.S. He asked Pakistan to send American ground forces to Afghanistan to be fought against.

Nearby, inhabitants of the villages of Qala No and Banda left their homes fearing future U.S. strikes.

In Jalalabad's hospital, one of those injured in Koram Lala Jil said that five members of his family were killed and eight injured.

Another injured person, Stan Jil, said: "We were fourteen members in the family. Twelve were martyred and only my wife and I are remaining injured in the hospital."

Among those injured was a six-month-old child, and among those who died from injuries sustained in the attacks was a one-month-old child.

Sipping green tea, the people of Jalalabad are now trying to use their experience with the Soviets to make sense of what is happening now in Afghanistan, and to interpret recent events.