One Step Beyond – Afghanistan – Shomali Plain
Shomali Plain is a plateau north of Kabul. It is approximately 30 km wide, and 80 km long. The region was an enormous battleground for almost all of the 23 years of continuous war in Afghanistan. During the Taliban dictatorship, fighting was relatively sparse. But the plateau was maintained as a fighting frontier by Ahmed Shah Massud – one of the last resisters of the regime. The valley – fertile and rich with water – was once Kabul's garden: fruit and vegetables were cultivated here, and Kabul's residents picnicked here on weekends.
Today, the Shomali Plain is a desert. The destruction on this former battleground is almost absolute. There isn't a single house or a single tree – hardly a bush was spared: anything which might have served as a cover was removed.
Over a length of about 60 km, a 10 meter wide strip runs uninterrupted to the left and right side of the road – its stones, which are painted red, indicate a minefield. Here, if you step out of your car, you only have to stoop down to collect bullet casings, metal fragments, or – sometimes – a well-preserved dud.
The landscape is furrowed with trenches, tank-wrecks, cars full of bullet-holes, and shipping containers torn apart by a hand grenade, their sides now bulging outward.
The three-hour drive through this former paradise leaves us with the most profound impressions of our trip.
Although the UN Mine Action Center says that the Shomali Plain is one of the areas in the world most contaminated by mines and duds, in some places one finds faint stirrings of life: people returning home, who couldn't find another place to live in their devastated country, people exhausted by their eternal journey/odyssey, people, who – in spite of the risk – want to live at home again.
Two boys are playing at the edge of the road, within the marked mine strips. They are tugging at the wreckage of a military vehicle destroyed by an anti-tank mine. Dr. Shah Wali – who works for OMAR, and is our guide – speaks to the boys: don't they know that this is a minefield? The children acknowledge this, but, they say, here there are only anti-tank mines, and they won't explode if someone steps on them. Besides, that car has already been destroyed by a mine, so nothing more can happen.