I want to return to my homeland, says exiled star

War on Terrorism: Culture
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Nelofar Pazira, the exiled Afghan star of the film Kandahar, which opened to great acclaim in London last night, says she has been thrilled to see women in Kabul leaving their homes and lifting their veils, but admits she has a foreboding she cannot shake.

The Taliban edict that women covered their bodies from head to toe was a seminal image of the film, made by the Iranian director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The veils symbolised the oppression suffered by Afghan women. Now, their lifting has become a potent symbol of the demise of the extremist Taliban.

"I should say that I am happy to hear that the women are able to go about their lives normally again in Kabul and in other areas, if you can call life there normal to any degree," Ms Pazira said in an interview with The Independent yesterday. "They are getting a taste of freedom again."

Like all exiles from Afghanistan, Ms Pazira, who left her native land when she was 16 and has since lived mostly in Canada, cannot suppress a little excitement about what is happening. Her friends and relatives, she says, are beginning once again to talk about when they might return to their lost country.

For Ms Pazira, there is a double incentive to go back. If the liberation of her country from the Taliban is completed, she will want to see the changes for herself. "To actually be able to sense it, to feel the atmosphere and to satisfy my curiosity," she said. But she also has someone she needs to find.

In Kandahar, the central character, played by Ms Pazira, enters Afghanistan trying to locate a sister who is threatening to commit suicide. The germ of that story came from Ms Pazira herself. Three years ago, she received a letter from a friend living in Kandahar indicating that she was desperate under the Taliban regime and was contemplating ending her life. She has not heard from her friend since then.

"Of course, I would wish to go back to Kandahar. I would love to be able to do that," Ms Pazira said. "If my friend had left the country, I would have heard from her. I feel she must be there somewhere."

But all of this may have to wait. The war is far from over. The Taliban still control pockets of the country and the old tribal rivalries are beginning to resurface as the search begins for a new coalition to govern the country.

"My friends and relatives, they see that maybe there is a prospect for going back to our country, but nobody is rushing in," Ms Pazira said.

She recalled events in 1992. The exile community rejoiced that year after the fall of the communists, but then grieved as they saw arrangements for a coalition government quickly disintegrate into a civil war and awful bloodshed.

"There is so much hatred between the ethnic communities. There has been a civil war and no one has dealt with the anger and the frustration and the problems on the ground that the war has left.

"The different groups despise each other so much and we have seen warlordism continue," Ms Pazira said.

She is angered, meanwhile, that the international community and the United Nations have not moved much more quickly to try engineer a political solution inside the country.

Indeed, that effort is only getting into high gear today as the Taliban crumbles. "They have always been so slow. I mean what is so new about this situation now? They should have done this before they started the bombing operation."

As for the war itself, Ms Pazira remains convinced that, with enough outside pressure, a solution could have been found for Afghanistan without resorting to bombs and aggression. "The West wants to believe that this war has been so effective, but I personally don't think so."

And she betrays a distrust of America. "Remember, the military campaign was not for the good of Afghans. It was to serve the American purpose."

Her point is a powerful one. When their mission is completed – driving Osama bin Laden and the al-Qa'ida network from the caves and the mountains – the Americans will leave Afghanistan.

And then what? Even if a coalition government is found, how long would it be able to rule before tribal rivalries fractured it again?

"We feel very hesitant about returning, because we just don't know what is going to happen," Ms Pazira said.