Afghanistan's 'museum to jihad'

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Media captionSheikh Abdullah shows BBC News around the museum and tells his story

On a hilltop on the outskirts of Herat sits a circular building covered in white and blue tiles. On them are inscribed names of some of the Afghan men and women killed in the decade-long war which started with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

The building is surrounded by a garden where some of the Soviet weaponry captured by Afghan fighters is on display, including a Soviet attack helicopter, a MiG fighter jet and a tank.

Back then, jihad was seen as a just struggle against foreign occupation. The mujahideen (those who waged jihad, or holy war) were seen as the good guys, armed and financed by the US and Saudi Arabia through Pakistan.

The fighting lasted 10 years. The Soviets were forced to withdraw, largely defeated, in 1989.

They left a devastated country behind. A decade of fighting had left an estimated one million Afghans and 15,000 Soviet troops dead.

The US subsequently lost interest in Afghanistan. Afghans were left to pick up the pieces.

Afghanistan descended into a civil war, further destroying what was left of the country.

But the museum doesn't deal with that uncomfortable part of Afghanistan's recent history. It only focuses on the war against the Soviets.

Image caption One of the commanders depicted is the "Lion of Herat", Ismail Khan

Hall of fame

Displayed inside glass cases are Russian-made guns like AK-47s, ammunition, grenades and the various kinds of landmines which maimed so many Afghans.

The main attraction is a diorama displaying reconstructions of how the Afghans fought the mighty Soviet military.

To get there, you pass through a "hall of fame" of portraits. It's a corridor with rows of portraits on both sides of leading mujahideen commanders, tough-looking bearded men with turbans, sometimes carrying guns on their shoulders.

These were the Afghan heroes of the 1980s, fighting a "holy war" to liberate their country from foreign occupation. Prominently placed in the museum is Ismail Khan, an influential warlord and the former governor of Herat.

Image caption The museum aims to keep memories of the war alive for future generations

Painful past

Upstairs, grisly war scenes are depicted by figures engaged in still-life combat. Through its audio-visual effects, the exhibition tries to bring war to life: bloodied bodies litter the floor, lights flash, you hear gunfire, bombardment and screams.

The narrative is clear: it seeks to glorify the courage of the Afghans and paints the occupying army as ruthless and a loser.

The museum authorities say they want to preserve the horror of war so future generations can learn from the country's painful past.

But in Afghanistan, you don't really have to visit a museum to get a sense of what conflict is like. The country has been at war - with itself and with foreign armies - for decades.

Its effects are everywhere. Most Afghans have been touched by it one way or other.

As Western interest in Afghanistan once again seems to dwindle, there are genuine fears about the security and stability of the country.

"Afghans carry the pain of war in their hearts," says Sheikh Abdullah, an assistant at the Jihad Museum. "I don't think anyone would like to see their country destroyed again."

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