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.


~ by Centurion on July 22, 2010.

5 Responses to “Knives, Guns and Ancient Feuds”

  1. Absolutely fantastic post!

    I couldn’t agree with you more- I don’t think this is something that we’re prepared to grasp. The history of this region, the culture and it’s people, is unlike anything we westerners have personally experienced and as such, we have no frame of reference to understand it within. We lack the perspective to truly comprehend what’s going on here, because of our limited first-hand experience. And yes, there’s a sense of futility in that, which in and of itself is equally frustrating and difficult to grasp. We’ve been raised to believe that there’s nothing we can’t change, if we challenge it in the name of the greater good. In truth, there are things that truly are out of our control, and no matter how noble our cause, some battles cannot be won- because what equates to victory to you and I, does not necessarily mean the same to others.

    Sending my continued thoughts of safety for you and your men. Keep up the good work.

  2. Welcome to life in the Middle East, it`s too bad we rely so hevily on oil and that most of the accesible oil is in the Middle East.

  3. Just found your blog. Thank you for sharing. Having grown up in the Southeastern Appalachians, this doesn’t come as a shock to me personally. Tribal culture in Afghanistan is as it was (in some instances still is) in the mountains many years ago. Remember the Hatfields and McCoys? There are countless others. Civilized behavior just hasn’t caught up to A’stan yet. Their coming of age has been thwarted by violence for the last 30 or so years (strictly speaking of more recent times). During all the fighting the only thing the people have had to hold onto is a cultural identity defined by one of the many tribes/sub-tribes of Afghanistan. Good, bad, or indifferent, this is what makes them Pashtuns, Durranis, Hazaras, Tajiks, Nuristanis, Baluchs, etc. It’s all they’ve got.

  4. You can’t change the ocean, but you can learn the tides, waves and currents and navigate it to get where you need to be.

  5. Thank you for writing and sharing it with us. You do it well. And your words help us better understand what the hell is going on over there. Or they at least make us think more about it, which is important.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: