Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 63

“Khowar! I hear your daughter and daughter-in-law listen to a radio. It is time you stopped them. It is a sin to listen to the radio.”

Moallem had purchased a pocket radio from Kabul. He gave it to us as a gift. It ran on big and ugly looking batteries. The batteries were scarce. Your aunt and mother would switch it on and listen to music once or twice a day as they sipped tea in the winter sun. I would sit by the window to look out for any approaching relatives or villagers. I feared if they found us listening to music, they would say bad and horrible things about us, and call us names. I thought no one knew.

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Your great aunt from Hotqol visited us that winter. One day, while staying with us, when it was all quiet, she pulled me aside to speak to me:

“Khowar! I hear your daughter and daughter-in-law listen to a radio. It is time you stopped them. It is a sin to listen to the radio.”

I was startled. I mumbled:

Aghay, that may not be true. Who told you that?

She did not even pause:

The village is talking about it. They fear you might become kufri.

It was that bad. The mullahs, some of them my own nephews including Basir, Hashimi, Mahdawi, Rizwani, Hakimi and others made the decisions for everyone. They were like Taliban. They were disgusting people themselves, but they wanted to make the decisions for others. Most of the village followed them. We did not.

 

 

*khowar/aghay = sister
* kufri = infidel like

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 33

Thangi Uthla is a few hours drive from the village. It is a narrow gorge that connects the mountains to the plains. People have been traveling through that gorge for ages, since my childhood, since the days of my forefathers and before. As far back as I can remember the Thangi has been infamous and bloodied. Even in the days before all the new wars, my parents told me stories about people who disappeared there or were found dead in the gorge.

 

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In the days before cars, people had to travel through the Uthla Gorge to get to Ghazni and Kabul. They traveled on foot, with their food and water on their backs, for over ten to twelve days. Some of them went to buy merchandise, food or medicine. Other men passed through the gorge to get to Kabul for their compulsory military service. If they didn’t show up for the compulsory service, the King’s poloos would arrest them, imprison them, and make the families or even the whole village pay a lot of fines. That was a fate more horrifying than risking your life on a trip to Kabul, and serving in the military for two years. Many many people, hundreds of people have been killed in that gorge.

 

The trip to Kabul was like a death sentence. First they could be killed at the gorge. Second, the Kuchis could kill them on their 10 or so many days walk to Kabul. Third, they could be shot while doing their service in very far away place. Fourth, they could get sick and die without their families finding out for up to two years. Fifth, they could be killed on an equally dangerous return trip home at the end of their service. The farewells were always difficult because people knew that there might be no return.

 

Some people who made it through, spoke of hearing cries for help, people screaming to be saved. At other times, they said they come across dead bodies. They found people’s clothes and shoes left on rock slabs and roads. God knows who the killers were. They were bandits, Kuchis, or both.

 

That was a long time ago, but things have not changed much. Those killers are still there, and they still come out to harm people passing through the gorge. They take away whoever they want, demand ranson, or kill them. If the vehicles do not stop, they shoot and kill everyone in it. Now we have a name for those killers, they are the Taliban.

 

We passed through the gorge on my trip last year. As we approached it, we saw the Taliban positioned near the entrance to the gorge. They live close by. They don’t even try to hide. Most of them weren’t even covering their faces. There is no government, or police or any other power to stop them. We spotted them from a distance, but did not stop or turn around. If we did, they would have chased us on their motorcycles. They were armed with Kalashnikovs hanging on their shoulders.

 

Many Taliban sat in the shadow of a big rock. All of them carried guns. A couple of them approached the road, waved at the car and ordered the driver to stop. All of us in the car fell dead silent. The driver read his prayers; we all read our prayers. I was terrified. Those murdarkhor could decide the fate of our lives.

 

One black-bearded white-turbaned Talib approached the car. He bent by the front window, and peeked inside. He saw that there were mostly women in the car. He turned around, and looked at the other Taliban sitting by the rock. They yelled something at each other in their own language. The one with the white turban then waved at the driver, as if instructing him to drive on. The driver read his prayers again, and began driving. We drove on and for a long time, no one said a word. We drove out of the gorge, and slowly, life returned to our bodies. We began talking, and smiling because we had made it through, and were then in Hazara territory.

 

Had there been many men in the car, they would have stopped us, searched the car, and interrogated the passengers. God knows what would have happened then. The driver had warned us that there might be Taliban on the road, but even then nothing prepared me for that amount of terror in my heart. If not through Thangi Uthla, the car would have had to go through Dasht-e Qarabagh. That is even more dangerous. On that road too, the Taliban stop the cars frequently. They also plant road-side bombs there, and blow up carloads of people. We are surrounded. Regardless of which road we take, we will be at the mercy of the Taliban. It was like that before, it is still like that.




 

*Thangi = Gorge
*Poloos = Police, Government agent
*Murdarkhor = Dirt eaters
*Dasht = Plains

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 23

The Soviets sent their tanks to Jaghori to take back Sang-e-Masha. There were hundreds of them. We climbed on our roof-top and could see the column of tanks roll into Sang-e-Masha. There were airplanes and helicopters, and other vehicles that I haven’t seen anywhere else. The helicopters fired bombs the Mujaheddin positions on the mountain tops behind Tameer. Some of the bombs were called Parachute bombs. They started with a gentle fall, and then flashed towards the Mujaheddin posts. We could hear the bang and see the flashes of fire. The tanks rolled into the markets, and then rolled into the hills towards Chil-Baghtu. Later they turned around and returned to Lomo, and stayed there.

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The people of Sang-e-Masha fled. They arrived in their hundreds, may be thousands. Hundreds of them came to our village. Many stayed, some kept walking further into the hills, towards Haydar and Pato. Families, the young, the old, children, they kept arriving across the Jaar Pass in large groups. Some of them stopped to ask for water and food. We shared with them what we had, but there wasn’t much. It appeared that there was no one left in Sang-e-Masha. The tanks had scared away entire villages

We never anticipated it, but as the explosions, firing, and soldiers got closer to the village, we, too, had to flee. Every time there was plane in the sky, we ran out of the house and hid under the trees. We ran up the Akhta valley to hide in Ghar-e-Laalaye. To our surprise, we found most of the village already in the cave. Other families had already run up the valley the previous night. At the one end of the cave sat the families from the village, at the other end were families from Lab-e-Darya, and other villages in Sang-e-Masha. The cave was full, but people kept coming. More people were cramming into the cave when Moallem-e Jaar arrived. He screamed:

For God’s sake, leave. We are too far up the mountain. The cave can be seen from Tameer. They have binoculars.

We panicked. People forced their way out. Some rushed further up the hill, others flocked down the hill. It was chaos.

Moments later, something whizzed over our heads and slammed against the Jaaba rock face. Plumes of smoke rose from the top of the mountain. Then there was another. Then more shells whizzed past the hill. Aabay Rasheed and the rest of us screamed down the hill and hid in the trees. Some hid behind the big rocks. We were afraid. Parents forgot their children, husbands their wives, nobody knew or cared where the other person was. We thought that was it. We thought we would all die. Then it stopped. It was all quiet. We didn’t dare move. We stayed put until it was dark. Then some returned to get food, others stayed out in the open.

Khadim, Dr Ghulam Hussain’s father, was killed in Qondolqash. He thought that the tanks had left, and he returned to his home. He was shot. He crawled around his house leaving behind a blood trail. He bled to death. It was rumored that he was killed by his communist cousin who was accompanying the Soviets at the time. Another man was shot on the road to Hotqol. Ghulam Abbass from the village had been captured by the soviet soldiers:

Using gun-firing gestures they asked me if I was a Mujaheddin. I shook my head. Then the soldiers drew lines in the soil like a farmer. In their gestures they wanted to know if I used a shovel and was a farmer. I nodded and using my legs and arms acted out farming and irrigation. They let me go. I didn’t move. They pushed me, and pointed at the road. I began walking but I thought they would shoot. I walked on and on. They stood there and did nothing.

The tanks stayed in Lomo for one winter, and the fighting continued. They fortified their positions and mined the hills. After the winter, they returned to where they came from. It was months of waiting before the people returned to their homes. People just could not believe that the soviets and their Iron forts were gone.

Now that I look back and think, the Soviets were not nearly as bad as the groups that come after them. The civil war worse than the war against the Soviets. When our people turned on one another, they committed atrocities hundreds of times worse than that of the Soviets. It was the Mujahedin, then came the Taliban, and now they say there is a new group called Damish or Dashi or Daish (ISIS) or Doshi. Those despots are killing people on TV all the time. I hear they don’t even spare children. Let’s wait and see what new calamities they bring upon our people this time around.

*Ghaar = Cave
*Tameer = Central market in Jaghori

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 21

Prologue: As barbaric as the treatment of prisoners and minorities at the hands of groups like ISIS is, it isn’t new, or even unusual in the recent history of the geographic and cultural Middle East. What’s unprecedented is the detailed coverage of these crimes in the social and news media. Cases in point in Story 15 and here in 21:

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In the year they killed Ali Madad Khan, your uncle was still too young to attend school, and your father worked in Tameer. It was just after Shorawi had left the area, and the factional war had only begun.

Ali Madad Khan was a tribal noble. He was old, pious but open minded. Unlike the ones before him, his generation of nobles were good people. They were educated, they had traveled the world, and knew a few things about how the world worked. They helped bring in new equipment for agriculture, introduced new crops, and set up proper schools for girls and boys.

The educated children of these nobles rebelled against the old way of life. They became teachers, doctors, engineers and officers. They spoke against the Shorawi and the mullahs. Yet they were only a few in number, and were almost all killed in the wars. Some of them were taken away and killed by the government, others were killed by the Mujaheddin and mullahs.
They mullahs issued a fatwa calling for the death of Ali Madad Khan and all the their opponents called Tanzeemi and Sholayee. The mullahs accused them of receiving support from the infidels of the USSR and China. They had introduced these slogans at school:

The USSR is worse than the US, the US is worse than the USSR, China is worse than both.

They told the people that Ali Madad Khan had strayed from the right path, and was organizing dance and music parties in his castle. They accused him and his allies of being communists, atheists and apostates, and by decree called for their death.

They besieged his castle and shot their way in. The thick walls of his castle were said to have tunnels in them, and the Khan had hid in there. The old man was chased in those tunnels, dragged out and killed in front of his young daughter. Following the execution, the mujaheddin molested his daughter, his only child at home at the time.

The Mujaheddin used his execution as a show of power and as a way to terrify their opponents. They did not let his family bury his dead body. When his daughter tried to approach his body, they Mujaheddin soldiers groped her under the pretense that they were searching her for concealed grenades and weapons. The Khan’s body lay in the open for many days. After the body had decomposed, and had been mauled by jackals, the Mujaheddin allowed his brothers to bury his old body.
Those responsible for his murder were the mujaheddin, including the commander who later tried to kill your father accusing him of apostasy and being a Sholayee. They killed everyone who opposed them. They were no better than the people they had fought and deposed. They were worse. They came from different parties. Some were called Nasri, some Nahzati, others were in Hezb Islami, and still others in Shora.

 

 

*Shorawi = Farsi for the USSR
*Mullah = Islamic clergy
*Mujaheddin = Islamic fighter; Collective noun for Islamist factions fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan
*Tanzeemi = A member of Tanzeem – nationalist faction active in the central highlands in the 1970s and 1980s
*Sholayee = A member of Shola-e-Javed – A Maoist party active in Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s
*Nasri/Nahzati/Hezb Islami/Shora = Islamist Parties active in Afghanistan in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.