By Sahar Saba
Sahar Saba is the spokesperson for Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)
For rest of the world, victims of Afghan war remain nameless and faceless. Not for us in Afghanistan. I myself have mourned number of such victims including my real uncle (father’s brother). Three weeks back, there was yet another suicide blast which killed only the bomber and his accomplice. Reportedly, the suicide bomber was on his way to ambush German troops in north of Afghanistan. He was being driven to the possible scene of action on motorbike by his accomplice. On their way, at a police check-post, they were asked to stop for search. Instead of stopping, they attempted to escape and were fired at. The biker lost the balance and both fell setting off the explosive filled in the suicide jacket. Both died on the spot. Either the accomplice or the suicide bomber was my cousin, Abdul Latif. He was 22.
When incident was reported on TV, hardly anybody in my family noticed the name Abdul Latif even if we knew that he sympathised with Taliban and used to support suicide bombings. Since many bear the name Latif, we did not think it could be the Latif we knew. We came to know about his death only as his parents got suspicious when he did not return home for a week. Since he would often go missing for couple of days hence his absence was not marked initially. A week-long absence was, however, unusual. When his father contacted the authorities, he was arrested and had to spend a night in the lock-up. ”The police were angry at me that I did not tell them about my son’s plan to blow himself up,” my uncle later told the family members when his release was secured through tribal connections. Though Latif’s parents knew where his sympathies lie yet they were not ready to hand their son over to authorities. Afterall, one hears about the torture techniques employed at notorious detention centres run by Americans in Afghanistan. However, Latif’s family particularly his mother used to beg him to give up his association with Taliban. He would never argue. His only answer used to be: ”I am seeking paradise.”
His strong conviction in entering paradise was inculcated into his mind over a period of 12 years he spent at a madrassa in Pakistan where our respective families migrated during Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan were in practice run by Mujahideen even if UNHCR officially managed their affairs. In these camps, education of girls, music, TV, or any liberal pursuit was banned. Women had to wear burka. My father wanted me to go to school. Rawa, an Afghan women organisation, was running underground schools for girls as well as boys. This is how my family came in contact with Rawa. Not just me, all my brothers enrolled at these schools as boys had no choice either but to go to madrassa. Over a period of time, supporters of Rawa were able to set up an entire refugee camp of their own where fundamentalists could not influence. Life in this camp was in sharp contrast with the camps run by fundamentalists.
Latif was not born in Rawa camp. He grew up in a camp under Jihadis’ control and attended a madrassa where the primers were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines. These textbooks were, ironically, developed in the early 1980s under a USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) grant to the University of Nebraska (USA) and its Centre for Afghanistan Studies. This fact was brought to my notice by a friend during a visit to the USA soon after 9/11. This friend showed me a report run by Washington Post saying the USAID spent $ 51 million on this ”education programs” in Afghanistan from 1984 to 1994. Latif was one of those who became lettered through such textbooks. His death therefore stirred strange feelings in me who being Rawa spokesperson has been, during Taliban rule (and perhaps still am), on Taliban’s hit list. It felt as if Latif himself has been a victim, a victim of US-sponsored intellectual terrorism perpetrated through textbooks issued from Nebraska University. Or perhaps, I was sad for a youthful death.
I was constantly thinking about Latif’s mother who received only three bones to bury in our village’s sprawling graveyard. Since his death, I have been thinking if Latif (and youth like him) had the chance to go to good school, he would never had such suicidal ambitions. The readers may wonder why he did not go to Rawa school? Because of the fear of fundamentalists and the threats his father got from them. The father was told by fundamentalists, if he tried to educate his children at co-ed Rawa schools, either he would face dangerous consequences or would have to leave the camp. The words of Latif’s elder brother, helping his father in running small shop, have also been constantly ringing in my ears. On hearing Latif’s death, elder brother said: ”Good that he killed only himself. Think if he had been sent to explode himself where he would have killed dozens of civilians. Imagine the tragedy he would have wrought”. I have been wondering, since hearing these words, how Afghan society has been brutalised where we don’t even know if to mourn or to celebrate the deaths of our dear ones.