Musings on Migration, Labour, Politics, Dissent etc.
First published in Aliran Monthly, December, 2010, Malaysia
Why have the Taliban been able to “rise from the ashes” and engulf Afghanistan again? Bonojit Hussain visits Kabul to find out for himself.
On the morning of 8 September, as we approached Bagh-e-Bala in Central Kabul, the air was reverberating with angry cries of “Nara-e-Takbir – Allah-O-Akbar”. There were around a thousand people outside a mosque. As we sluggishly passed the crowd, our driver suddenly yelled, “America No Good, Pakistan No Good. Russia Good, Hindustan Good”. It was only then I learnt from my young Afghani interpreter that people had gathered outside the mosque to protest against the plans to burn the Koran on 9/11 in the United States.
Pastor Terry John of the Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainesville, Florida had announced that his church would hold an “International Burn a Koran Day” on 11 September. Had it not been for the global outrage against his plans to burn the Koran, this obscure pastor from a church with 30-odd followers would have gone ahead with his “International Burn a Koran Day”, which would have had detrimental effects across the ‘Muslim’ world.
But it seems that the damage has been done in Afghanistan. Even though Pastor John had put his plans on hold, demonstrators took to the streets for the fifth day across Afghanistan on Monday. Armed with flags, banners and stones, the demonstrators shouted “Death to America” and “Death to the Puppet Karzai Government”.
On Friday, an angry crowd of around 10,000 people marched through the streets of Faizabad, the capital city of Badakhshan province in north-eastern Afghanistan. The angry demonstrators gheraoed (surrounded) the Nato base and one person was killed when Nato soldiers opened fire in retaliation. On Sunday, around 500 protestors marched towards a group of Afghan security forces and pelted stones in Pul-e-Alam, the capital of Logar province in Central Afghanistan. The soldiers opened fire into the crowd of protesters, killing two on the spot and seriously wounding four people.
Rasheed, the driver
Abdul Rasheed, our driver, is a battle hardened Tajik from Pansheer province – the home of the legendary Mujahideen general and Afghan national hero, the late Ahmad Shah Masoud. Rasheed, himself, is a veteran mujadiheen who as a young 20-year-old took to the guns to fight the invading Russians (Soviets) way back in 1979. After the Soviets (Russians) made a retreat, he fought against the forces of Gulbuddin Hekmateyer for the prized battle of Kabul. Later he fought the Talibans under the command of General Ahmad Shah Masoud and remained a faithful mujahideen soldier until the fall of Taliban regime in 2001.
Now Abdul Rasheed is 50 years old and works as a security driver in Kabul. Not so long ago, he lost three fingers on his left hand to a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade while driving in Ghazni province.
It was well past noon when we were on our way back. And as we approached the demonstrating crowd again, Abdul Rasheed burst out into a song, “America no good, Pakistan no good, Iran no good, Afghanistan no good – Russia good, Hindustan good – good, good, good”. I could clearly sense that my colleague from Kyrgyzstan was annoyed as well as curious. Both of us exchanged glances and asked Rasheed, “You fought the Russians for 10 years, why do you say Russia is good?”
Rasheed keeps mum for a while and then angrily says, “I fought the Russians because they invaded my country. But they didn’t mistreat us like the Americans do. Whenever they arrested us, they treated us with dignity and we did the same.”After another pause, he says, “They didn’t bomb people”.
Rasheed remained silent again for some minutes and burst out again, saying, “The Russians were not like Americans when they use to move in a convoy on the streets.” Now, obviously, he was venting out his frustration as a driver and referring to the fact that today if an American/Nato convoy moves around, no vehicle can be closer than 50 metres; failing to maintain that distance could invite bullets. Now almost lost in his thoughts, he murmured, “And the Russians never burnt the Koran; Al-Qaeda doesn’t exist, America and Al-Qaeda are synonyms.”
While here in Afghanistan, I have been trying to find an answer as to why the Taliban have been able to “rise from the ashes” and engulf this country again. They have even penetrated provinces such as Badakhshan, which they never controlled or occupied in their heyday. Rasheed’s answer provided me with some clue.
What made him glorify the enemy he himself spent the best years of his youth fighting against? After all the Russians were no saints; their invasion also left hundreds of thousands dead.
That evening, I asked Danish Karokhel, the editor-in chief of the Pajhwok Afghan News – why a resurgent Taliban? He smiled and said, “Pakistan, Iran, civilian casualty in the ‘war against terror’; and stupidity (arrogance) of the Americans.”
The rest is for us to understand what happened in Afghanistan and in history.
This is an English translation of a short piece written in Assamese for the daily Asomiya Pratidin of Afghanistan.
Post-Script: Many more protesters got killed by armed forces later while protesting against the planned burning even after 11 September.