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Monday, November 12, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Fleeing Taliban left Pakistanis in Mazar-e-Sharif

The Washington Post

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan — When Afghan rebels came racing into the ancient city of Mazar-e-Sharif, they discovered how quickly Taliban fighters had fled.

According to accounts from Northern Alliance commanders and residents in the city, Taliban soldiers retreated so swiftly Friday they left behind hundreds of Pakistani volunteers who recently had come to fight with the Taliban. The Pakistanis were abandoned near the city's central blue-tiled mosque.

Fired with the zeal of the call to holy war, they had arrived in Mazar-e-Sharif just two days ago. When their Taliban commanders left them behind, "they didn't know the city, and they didn't know where to go," said Mohammed Hasham Saad, the Northern Alliance envoy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, who received detailed reports from the embattled city.

The trapped Pakistanis tried to hide, taking refuge in two buildings on opposite sides of the grand square that serves as the city's center. One was Sultan Razia, a girls' religious school. The other, ironically, was the mansion of a former rebel commander.

Outside, the streets were filled with the shouts of Northern Alliance soldiers who were searching for Taliban stragglers, according to Khair Mohammed, 23, who runs a small telephone service in the city.

"In every street, the Northern Alliance soldiers were yelling, "Stop, stop!' to anyone they thought was a Taliban," he said by telephone Saturday. "And they were very happy. Guys who went to the mountains three years ago (when the Taliban captured the city) returned to their homes for the first time. Their families are delighted to see them."

Habibullah Anvari, an officer with the forces of Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum, one of three Northern Alliance commanders who led the raid, said enemy stragglers either surrendered or were killed. "Those who did not fight against us surrendered by raising their hands. Those who did not surrender were killed," he said.

"There are bodies laying on the roads here," he added. "I think about 200 Taliban died. I don't know the exact number. We didn't collect the bodies."

The grim pattern of Afghanistan's long wars is one of bloody revenge. But the Northern Alliance forces know they are in the international spotlight and have been warned not to take revenge.

"We didn't want to kill them. We surrounded the Pakistanis and waited for them to come out," Saad insisted. "We took them to jail. Our courts will deal with them."

However, Dostum offered a different version. "Some were captured, and some were killed," he said.

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