Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 72

In the days of the revolution the mullahs and their supporters used to do exactly the same things that the Taliban are doing today. They attacked schools, punished teachers, forced people to keep their children away from schools and education, beat up women and girls, and persecuted the open-minded and educated people. When we first enrolled your uncle into school, the mullahs, some of them my own nephews and people from our own village, opposed us openly and loudly, they spoke out against us, and tried everything to get us to enroll him into the mosque instead. We refused, and they continued opposing us and harming us for as long as we lived in Watan. In those days everyone who attended a school was called an kafir.

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At the time we feared the mullahs like the people fear the Taliban today, and the mullahs were as ruthless as the Taliban are today. Mullahs opposed the new changes in the same way that the Taliban fight against the new changes today.

The mullahs divided people into Nasri, Nahzati, Hezb Islami, and they fought all the time. The called everyone else infidels. In the days just after the Soviets left Jaghori, Ali Madad Khan, the old tribal noble from Sang-e-Masha and a frail and white-bearded man at the time, was attacked upon, chased, dragged out and killed at his home near the Sang-e-Masha bazaar. Ali Madad Khan was declared an infidel the mujahideen in Sang-e-Masha. They surrounded his family fort and then forced their way in. The old man hid inside the tunnels in the massive walls. They found him there, dragged him out, stood the old man against the trees on his own farm and then shot him. They then prevented anyone from burying his corpse. His young children tried to retrieve his body and prevent it from being eaten by foxes and jackals. The mujahideen beat back the boys and groped the girls saying they were searching them for grenades. The old Ali Madad Khan lay in the open for days and nights, and jackals took bites off it before they allowed his brothers to bury his old body.

Ali Madad Khan, although the son of a Khan, was one of the nobles of Jaghori who had done some good things for the people. It was mainly because they were educated, and they had traveled the world. They introduced the people to new machinery for their farms and to new crops; they also set up schools for girls and boys. But all of this was short-lived. The new kings in Kabul opposed the nobles and the mullahs issued religious decrees against them and the changes they had introduced. The Khans and their educated children were either captured and killed by the kings of Kabul or by the mullahs.

The same mullahs and the commander later tried to kill your father. They called him a Sholayee, and declared that the Sholayee are liable to be killed because they were kafir. Your father was able to escape but others were not so lucky. Today it is the Taliban who are doing the bad things and the mullahs are pretending to be the good people.

 

*Watan = Homeland
*Kafir = Infidel
*Mujahideen = Islamic holy warrior
*Sholayee = Maoist

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Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 40

Sometimes the difference between a smart person and stupid person becomes clear when they have to face change. The same applies to a people, and a tribe. Our people have usually been stupid. They made stupid decisions. We are still paying for it.

My parents told me many stories about Hazara elders who were taken away, pushed off a cliff, or stoned to death. The elders were taken to jails run by the kings’ men. They were put face down on the ground, covered under a shawl, and then pelted with rocks by tens and hundreds of people. One of your ancestors, not sure which one it was, was taken away by the king’s men. They made him dig a hole in the ground, and then buried him in it chest high. They pelted him with rocks until he was covered in blood and wounds and dust. He was buried under a pile of rocks. They assumed he was dead and left him out in the open to be consumed by wolves and jackals. The man was alive. He must have been very blessed. In the darkness of that night, he crawled out from underneath that pile and escaped into the mountains. He lived, and made his way back to the village. He was the only survivor the old villagers knew.

 

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Every year the king sent polooss to the villages. They brought with them orders, tax demands, and a lot of terror. The polooss stayed in the best house in the village, and only the bravest men in the village went to speak to them and serve them food. The people had to comply with his orders and demands – an entire village surrendering to a single polooss, that was us. There was usually one tax on the harvest yield, another to pay for polooss’ journey, another for each head of cattle, and another if the king was at war somewhere. The tax was rarely collected in currency, and usually in the form of butter, wool, jewellery, cattle, crop-yield, and other valuables. If a village refused to pay, the king sent more polooss armed with sticks and guns. A visit from the polooss forced villagers into the hills. Some families hid in their homes, many just picked up everything they could and run up the nearest mountain. Our hills and mountains have always been our protectors.

Years passed and the king was deposed. A new king came to power. There was a change. The king’s men came into the villages to open schools. They made it compulsory for girls and boys and men and women to go to school. The people complied. The mullahs preached against it. They said the schools were there to turn people into communists and non-Muslims. The mullahs kept preaching against education for women and girls. They preached that girls were being sent to school to be turned into prostitutes, the boys to be made into communist soldiers.

The people believed the mullahs and turned against schools. They bribed the polooss to keep their children out of school. I know of a family in the village who handed all their wheat-yield for the year to the polooss to keep their son out of school. We were afraid. I buried a Quran in the fields because the government was taking away people found with Quran. In some areas the villagers burned down their schools and killed the teachers. In other areas, they declared jihad against the government. People said they would rather die than send their girls to school. And in some places they did that – they died but did not send their girls to school. Instead, many sent their girls and boys to the mullahs. Some of the mullahs then mistreated, assaulted and raped their girl students. Interestingly, those few who were too poor and weak to take their children out of school were lucky. Their children became teachers, pilots, engineers and soldiers.

What was the result of all of that! The result was that many generations of our people, all of us remained illiterate and uneducated. We did that to ourselves. We had no access to schools for a generation and more. We burned down the schools, we killed and chased away the teachers, and brought in the mullahs. Our world was confined to the valleys of the mountains. We turned our backs to change and to the rest of the world. Our people became stupid. We suffered for those mistakes. We are paying for those mistakes.

 

*Polooss = Police

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 – 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

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 11

At noon we reached Lashkirai, a small dusty town controlled by the Hezb-e-Islami group. We were afraid. We were also carsick; so carsick that we almost forgot we were afraid. We had tea. I got better, and afraid again. We journeyed on. We spent the night in Moqor waiting for a caravan of large trucks to travel along to escape the bandits, the Kuchis and the Mujahideen.

The following evening, we stopped by an isolated mud-house hotel by the road. The late Qambar Ali asked if we wanted to eat. We didn’t want to eat, and for that sin the hotel owner didn’t let us in. We had to spend the night sleeping over one another inside the crammed car. Qambar Ali and Qadeer stood outside and guarded the car all night. At day break, we hit the open plains and the car jumped up and down and swayed from side to side as it crept towards the unknown.

That evening, just as the darkness fell upon us, the sound of bullets cracked from all directions, our vehicle was being shot at. We screamed and hugged one another. We were told to keep our heads low. The car sped up. It raced through the open plains as fast as it could. The crackling died down and we survived. Qambar Ali pointed at a far away light: “Those are Kuchis. They wanted us to stop. They would have shot us either way”. We journeyed on.

At noon the next day, along a narrow pass, the car was stopped by an armed Pashtun man who stood straight in the middle of the road, guns blazing. He demanded that we let him travel in the car or he would kill us all. The man from Sabz Chob jumped out of the vehicle, raised his rifle and challenged him. They yelled at each other a few times before the Pashtun man let us go. As the car left, the guns remained blazed and ready to shoot. We were scared. Nothing happened.

At dawn the next day, we arrived at a little green wadi rich with vegetation and rain water. It was close to the border. We stopped, all got out of the car, and laughed at one another. We were covered head to toe in white soft dust and looked like ghosts. We had evaded death, we were homeless but we were happy that we had survived.

 


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“If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden.”
Haruki Murakami