Knives, Guns and Ancient Feuds
It’s amazing what you learn when you take the time to ask.
I was chatting, through one of my terps, to the 2IC of one of my guard forces yesterday when he said something that struck me as unusual. It had to do with the Taliban and the north of the country, so I asked him to explain. It turns out this man, who I see and speak with daily and who, with his diminutive stature and wrinkled, benign face, looks like an old shop-keeper (or what I’d expect an old shop-keeper to look like), is a former mujahideen commander and, more recently, a commander with the UIF (more commonly known as the Northern Alliance).
None of that was much of a surprise – most of our senior men are former Mujahideen – but I was fascinated nonetheless so I pulled up a chair, pulled two ‘Cokes’ from the fridge and we got talking. He joined the ‘Muj’ in the late 70’s to fight the Soviet backed DRA and stayed on to fight the Soviets themselves after the invasion. “He say,” said the terp “that he kill many, many Russians.” “I’m sure he did,” I responded. “Yes, many with guns and many with knife,” added the terp and my skin crawled as I looked into the old boy’s glinting eyes. He and the terp rattled on for a bit then the former stood up and raised his shirt – which in itself was a startling thing for a conservative Afghan to do – and started pointing at the scars on his torso and back. Burns scars, frag scars, gun-shot entry and exit wounds.
After the ‘show-and-tell’ he sat down and rattled off for a while. I turned to the terp. “He say many, many Taliban also boss,” he said. “Taliban kills his family, wife, sons and daughter. Much plenty no good.” I turned to the old boy and we stared at each other as the terp went on. “So, *** make vow: kill Taliban’s wifes and childrens. Kill all Taliban.”
We sat looking at one another for a few seconds then the old boy nodded, gave me a thumbs-up and left the Ops Room. Sitting there, I finally realised that there will be no end to this war. When the west is gone and the people of Afghanistan are left to themselves, men like him and their sons and their sons’ sons and their nephews, brothers and uncles will fight on, avenging age-old injustices and tribal and family honour. They’ve been doing it since before Alexander crossed this land and aren’t about to change their ways now.
It is not something my sheltered, western mind finds easy to grasp and I’m feeling a bit out of my depth right now.