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.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 19

Your father fled first. He went into the mountains on the outskirts of Jaghori before making his way to Pakistan. We were left behind.

After your father fled, the commander’s men picked up Aatay Ali Jan. Your father had left his gun with him to hide. Someone had informed the commander of that. He was detained and interrogated. When he returned, his face was barely recognizable. He took off his shirt and showed me the marks. His skin had turned purple, there were bruises and scars all over his back. His skin looked like leather. He had been beaten beyond recognition, to the point that he had fainted, and given them the location of the gun:

“I was blindfolded. The commander’s men took turns to beat me up. They brought in bundles of fresh tree branches and broke them all on my back. One would get tired and call over the other to continue.”

They managed to get the gun but your auntie hid the bullets on a belt around her waist. They had failed to get it.

Next they picked up Moallem-e-Jaar. Your father had given him some bullet magazines to hide. He was locked up for 15 days and beaten up:

Ammay, they blindfolded me. Then they put my hands on a pile of sticks made of tree branches. They threatened that unless I told them where the weapons were, they would break them all on my body.”

He gave them no information. The commander’s men then visited his home. They lied to his family that I had asked for the weapons. They gave it up.
Your uncle was a fragile teenager. He was my baby. I worried about him. Following all the torture, I thought there was no way he could take a beating and survive. At first, I would send him to Jaar to sleep with the children of Aatay Younis, hoping that he wouldn’t be identified there. I feared that if our house was raided at night, they would take him away and beat him up.

Eventually, I spoke to Aatay Ali Jan to get him out of Watan. Your uncle, an adolescent boy, walked across the mountains to Pato, and then to Rasna, walking for many days. I had to sent my baby to Pakistan to keep him alive.

 

 

 

*Ammay = Maternal auntie
*Watan = Homeland

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 16

10410815_345163149021874_1430725723564559355_nYour late baabaie once took me for a pilgrimage to the Dahmarda shrine. The shrine is a reminder of the Kuchi-Hazara wars. He and Aatay AbdurRahim pointed at different hilltops as they recounted the battle for Dahmarda.

The Kuchis had better guns and were more numerous. They had pushed us back into a narrow gorge. We were lost and desperate, so much so that the women of Dahmarda tied their trousers on sticks and raised them on their roofs. This was either to shame the Kuchis or to confuse them, or perhaps to remind their men that their honor was at stake.

The Kuchis had almost overpowered us when a horse-rider emerged from the spot where the shrine is. The rider wore black and rode a white horse. The rider rode straight into the Kuchi lines and broke through it. In the ensuing chaos, their lines faltered, and we gained our confidence. We were sure that the higher powers were with us; may be the Kuchis believed that too. They ran away.

It was the first time that the Kuchis had been beaten back. Before that, they had been taking over Hazara land all around Dahmarda. If not for that battle, they would have taken over Dahmarda as well. The Hazaras of Rasna, Nawa, Jhanda and other places were dispossessed. They either fled into the mountains or to Pakistan and Iran.

On the way back, passing through Rasna, we ran into an Awgho on a horse. He told us off,

Off the path, Hazara!

We all had to move off the road to let him pass. He was proud and arrogant. He rode on without even taking a second look at us.

Under the Taliban, the new Kuchis returned. They brought their cattle to graze on our farms. The villagers had asked them leave. In their arrogance, they had laughed:

Relax, Hazara kafir. We will return next year, and become next-door neighbors.

The next year, they didn’t dare return. The Americans saved our people. Bless the Americans.

*Kafir= Arabic term for infidel, unbeliever; Derogatory term used for a non-believer
*Baabaie = Hazaragi for grandfather
*Awgho = Slang term for Afghan; a term Hazaras use to refer to Pashtuns

Disclaimer: While these anecdotes may be based on actual events, they’re by no means meant to invoke prejudice, hate or love, support for one community or another. Read with context and time in mind.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 14

Hadi jan, many years before you were born, we were ruled over by a despot. I don’t remember his name, but I remember that he was ruthless. People said he was a communist supported by Shorawi (Soviet Union). He had overthrown the king, and forced him to run away. Everyone prominent, and anyone who had ever sided with the king was taken away, and then shot dead or buried alive.

 122Aatay Zia-e Sirqol, Akhund Karblaye of Kosha, two sons of Usta Rajab, two sons of Raees Abdullah Khan, Sima Samar’s husband, and countless others were taken away. They never returned. Their bodies were never found.

Aabay Mansoor lost her husband:

He was asleep. They came for him at midnight. He walked out wearing a perahan. It was cold. He asked to be allowed to change and kiss his children goodbye. He wasn’t allowed to. They took him away. He never returned.

They took away Qareedar Babai. They were in a convoy driving to Ghazni when it was ambushed. The soldiers fled. Qareedar and others were freed.

The people rose up against the governor and the King. From the mountains they attacked the governor in Tameer. They attacked all night. The government soldiers were besieged inside their fort in Tameer. The sounds of bullets and bombs, and the flashes of light kept us awake all night.

The next day, I met Aatay-GhulamLi. He was jubilant:

Congratulations! The Mujahideen broke through their defenses.The soldiers fled into the farms. They were chased and killed.

The government sent their jets to avenge the governor. The dropped big bombs, mostly into the mountains and hills. They avoided the villages. We had two visitors from Haydar. I was serving them lunch under the mulberry tree when the jets attacked Tameer. We saw the bombs drop, and smoke shoot up the sky. The explosion was so huge that I dashed for home thinking everything was falling apart. I lost my headscarf, but in fear I did not dare turn back to get it.

There was a huge fire, which lasted for days. I thought everyone was dead and turned into ash. Later we found out that the planes had hit the fuel depot and all the fire was from the burning timber.

*Shorawi = Farsi term for the Soviet Union