Rough justice

Koga doesn’t seem to be lying when he says he is too scared to cross the Kabul river and return to his hometown.

Riaz Ahmad August 05, 2012

Lend an ear to the story of Ibrahim Koga who could never have thought introducing himself as one of the feared Taliban militants would backfire on him the way it did.

For some people, the chance to spend a few hours on the banks of the River Kabul in Sardaryab, Charssada is something they look forward to. It’s quite a romantic spot and a great chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. You also might get the chance to sink your teeth into some Sher Mahi, a delicious and rare river fish much loved by the discerning palates of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa residents.

In the good old days local Hakeems advised their ailing patients to live in sheds on the bank of the river for a few weeks as they believed that the air coming from the river had healing properties. That alone is worth the proverbial price of admission.

But I wasn’t here to heal myself, watch the river flow past or munch on fish, no matter how yummy. I was on a mission to find a chronic drug addict and alleged thief called Ibrahim alias Koga. Thus far, he had proved to be as elusive a catch as the Sher Mahi itself.

Why was I looking for him? Because this otherwise unremarkable man had been at the receiving end of the Taliban’s rough ‘justice’. More specifically, the militants cut off both his ears. To discover why that happened, read on.

Having been unable to find him in his native village of Angor Kor, I went to the village of Bela Mohmandan where Koga had fled after the ear-cutting incident only to discover that he had left that village some seven months back. Apparently he now lived in the Sardaryab area with his brother-in-law and that’s what had brought me to this particular riverbank.

Finally, lady luck smiled on me when a college student named Naheed Khan recognised him — not by his name but by his missing ears. Khan led me on an unpaved road to a one-room ‘house’ made with concrete blocks. This was where Koga’s brother-in-law lived and worked as a share-cropper on a nearby piece of land. Koga himself has to satisfy himself with a threadbare tent erected nearby.

This area was once a fairly peaceful spot, but about five years back it became a hub for Mohmand agency based militants who established a firm foothold in the Bady village of Michni. While a military operation ‘cleared’ the area, the militants still maintain a strong underground presence, one that Koga fell foul of.

Koga then told me his version of the story, saying that about eight months back he was wandering in a forested area close to his village when he was accosted by two local men.

“I had taken some [intoxicating] pills and was heavily under their influence and I didn’t know what was going on,” he says.

The two men, who lived nearby, began asking him who he was and what he was doing there. Despite (or perhaps because of) the drugs he had taken, Koga thought the best way out of this situation was to try and frighten them away.

“I may have told them I was a militant just to get them to let me go. Instead they phoned the real militants who came immediately and took me away,” he recalls.

Unfortunately, for Koga, he didn’t quite realise who these masked men were.

“These masked men also asked me who I was and I told them that I was a militant to try and scare them off.  I had taken a bunch of pills and had also drunk a lot of tharra (moonshine) and I wasn’t thinking straight. Then they started saying I was giving them a bad name by demanding money from people by pretending I was a militant.”

That’s when things really started going south. Koga was beaten for a day and a night before the militants let him go. But as a punishment for his trespasses, they cut off both his ears first.

“They wanted to make me an example for others so that no one else could repeat such a thing,” says Koga.

When the unfortunate man returned to his village, the news of what had happened to him spread like wildfire. After the incident was reported in a local paper the police paid him a visit and registered an FIR against the people who had handed him to the militants. Those men, Sabzal and Jamroze, were promptly arrested.

But they had a somewhat different story to tell. They told the police that Koga was a thief who had broken into their house in the middle of the night.

“They told us that when Koga entered their house they woke up and searched for him. He was finally found hiding in a chicken coop along with the hens,” says a police officer on condition of anonymity.

“The two men then called the police, but the local cops refused to come to such a deserted area so late at night. That’s when Sabzal and Jamroze called the Taliban to confirm if Koga was really one of them. They showed up immediately,” he reveals. The police officer also said that they wanted to produce both the accused before the court but then Koga and his family dropped the charges.

“We were informed that Koga and his family had received Rs25,000 and settled the dispute in a local jirga,” says the official.

Once again, Koga and his family have a different version of events.

“One of my married sisters lives in the Michni area of Mohmand Agency and her husband was told by the militants to settle the dispute peacefully through the jirga or else they would kill me,” claims Koga, saying that he was forced to drop the charges in order to save his life and those of his family members.

Most locals say that Koga is lucky to have escaped alive, but this whole story also brings into focus the way that the rise of militancy, and the subsequent military operations, are used to settle scores in this area.

“People are conveying incorrect information about their opponents to the military, police or Taliban just to have them arrested, tortured and even killed and this trick is working well,” says a local elder.

He claims that many people have been killed by the militants after being falsely accused of working for the authorities. Similarly, people have also been wrongly accused of being militants and then arrested.

“Both the militants and the authorities need to stop relying solely on such claims as 90% of the time, the accusations are fabricated,” he says.

But whatever the truth of the matter, Koga certainly doesn’t seem to be lying when he says he is too scared to cross the Kabul river and return to his hometown. This time the militants just took his ears. Next time, they may take his very life.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, August 5th, 2012.