Up north and personal: Behind the barricades

The writer is moved by the graphic recollections of a young woman from Bamiyan.

Zahrah Nasir October 16, 2011

Amina and I sit cross-legged on a traditional Afghan takht sipping green tea, the cool evening air of Kabul swirling around us as stars wink in the sky. Amina is beautiful; her story is not.

On the threshold of puberty when the Taliban marched into her Bamiyam village, she and her mother, two younger sisters, grandmother, various aunts and female cousins, were forced, at gunpoint, to bear witness as the invaders lined up all the men and boys of her extended family and one by one shot them in the back of the head. Amina’s recollections are graphic. Her stricken voice pierces the darkness and her depthless eyes seem to be witnessing a private hell as she unfalteringly narrates how, after an endless procession of executions, the women buried their dead. Petrified, shattered by grief, they huddled in their homes through the long night which followed. Morning brought another deluge of horror.

Having ransacked the mud-brick homes of the village and failed to find a trace of arms, the Taliban surmised that guns must have been buried with the male bodies so dug them up, tossing the remains hither and thither in the process. They found nothing. The women buried their dead again that morning. The Taliban dug them up again the following day. The women repeated their heartrending task. The following morning saw a repeat. Three times they buried their dead; three times the Taliban dug them up. The fourth time, as far as Amina knows, the bodies were finally allowed to remain buried … she isn’t certain about this as the women and children fled in to the inhospitable mountainous region the moment an opportunity arose.

The crime the villagers were systematically shot for was, quite simply, that of being Hazara and, therefore, Shia.

The small band of women and their offspring hid out in the rugged terrain for about three weeks before hunger drove them to travel northwards towards Bagram where, they prayed, other relatives would take them in. Six weeks later, they made it and, three months down the line, were evacuated by representatives of the Aga Khan Foundation and transported all the way south to Karachi in Pakistan where the women were provided work in a fish factory and girls like Amina were sent to school.

After approximately six years of life in Karachi, the family was given an opportunity to return to Afghanistan and they took it.

Amina was around 12 years old when the Talban entered her village; she recalls the puzzled fear of having her first menses the night after they took to the mountains. She was 18 years old when they returned to the land of her birth and now, at 23, she is lucky enough to be employed as a cook-cum-maid in the comfortable home of a wealthy Afghan who treats her as a daughter and confidante rather than as a servant. She has her own room, luxurious by most standards, complete with a large-screen television and anything else she might need. Female guests and an endless procession of children are allowed to sleep over and entertain themselves at will. They all have the run of the house and Amina takes her meals at the polished dining table, mingling freely with guests.

Amina does not currently see marriage as a prospect although, like all young women her age, she wears make-up and perfume when going out, files and varnishes her nails on a daily basis and is a dedicated follower of fashion which, in the strife-torn, very tense Kabul of today, includes leg-hugging lycra leggings and ‘filmi’ churidar pajamas with equally tight tops……all covered by a short jacket and headscarf or dupatta when she ventures out in public. A far cry from the once ubiquitous blue burqas that used to be the norm.

She does, naturally, dream of marriage and children and a home of her own. But, for now at least, this is just a dream since Amina is partially crippled. A catastrophic fall, when she was a baby, resulted in a smashed hip and upper thigh. Medical treatment was not available to the family so she grew up with serious mobility problems. Slowly she learned to walk but only with a rolling, lopsided gait which has, on numerous occasions, caused her to fall over, further damaging the bones.   Her endurance of the mountain flight and journey is thus even more miraculous, as the terrain through which the women fled is difficult to traverse. During her years in Karachi, she did undergo a series of operations in the Aga Khan Hospital but took another bad fall, just a few months ago. She now waits to be flown to New Delhi for major reconstructive surgery some time during the winter months, thanks to the personal generosity of her employer and some of his close friends.

Despite the massive trauma in her young life, Amina manages to be bubbly and gay, singing along to Indian songs as she conjures up traditional Afghan food in the homey kitchen or plays with the household’s black spaniel which is perpetually glued to her side and even sleeps underneath her bed. She has, however, one all consuming fear: that the Taliban might come back.

Her fear is not without foundation. In recent months, Taliban insurgents have carried out a series of brazen daylight attacks, in the heavily fortified city of Kabul. The assault on the Inter-Continental Hotel gained the most publicity and notoriety while other, smaller incursions largely passed uncommented on by the world at large.

As Amina winds down the tragic story of her life, she shrugs her shoulders, tosses back her tinted brown and blonde hair, gestures towards the house and says, “I am very lucky but…I am still Hazara.”

Two days later, a well-coordinated insurgent attack on the American embassy compound, close to the house where Amina lives and just one part of a four-pronged manoeuvre, rekindles her fear. A week after this, the assassination of Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, just around the corner from Amina’s residence, takes place and resurrects all her fears — and those of others in the Hazara community — in full force. This fear should not be ignored.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 16th, 2011.


csmann | 10 years ago | Reply

and these taliban are heroes of many pakistanis

Ali | 10 years ago | Reply

Taliban should give up. They should accept their defeat after fighting for more years than they had ruled in Afghanistan.

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