By Jamshed Malakzai
Jamshed Malakzai writes for Killid, an independent Afghan media group in partnership with IPS. By distributing the testimonies of survivors of war through print and radio, Killid strives for greater public awareness about people’s hopes and claims for justice, reconciliation and peace across Afghanistan.
In April 1987, Afghanistan ratified the UN Convention against Torture. But it did not stop the government nor its opponents from using torture to punish and extract information from political rivals. The crimes were never probed; the victims were never compensated.
Nayeem Jan, 46, a resident of Shewa district in Nangarhar province, was nearly beaten to death in a prison run by a mujaheddin commander. Death would have been an escape from the torture, he says.
He was the star pupil of his school, Sayed Jamaludin High School, and a good trader before the war came to Shewa.
“I graduated in 1977 (two years before the Soviet troops entered Afghanistan). I had many dreams like my peers. I wanted to join the government, and be a good officer, but luck did not favour me and I got into business like my father,” he says.
He continued to do business through most of the Soviet years. In 1988, Shewa district was captured by mujaheddin, and his life changed forever.
“I was sleeping deeply – it was 5 o’clock early morning that the war started in the district,” he recalls. “We thought of fleeing but nobody could move. The mujaheddin had already entered the district governor’s building,” he adds.
He had no idea which faction of the mujaheddin had captured the district, he says. At nine o’clock the next morning he saw the flag of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar hanging in one of the towers of the district building. “We were very fearful,” he recalls. “The mujaheddin were searching the houses and asking for guns. They kicked down the door to our house, and a group of armed people entered.”
Ruined by war
The next hour was going to be the most tragic in his life. “My 13-year-old sister was injured seriously. They took my elder brother, two uncles and me. They put my two uncles in a room full of hay and set it on fire, killing both. They said my uncles were communists. Both of them were teachers,” he says, sadly.
The mujaheddin commander kept Jan in a private jail in the Mohammad Gat area of Kunar province. During his two-months imprisonment guards tortured him to force a confession.
“They were asking me to confess (to being a communist), but as I had not done anything wrong I had to deny. They kept beating me till I fainted. I had heard terrible stories of torture of communists, but the torture by this commander was unimaginable. You can still see the marks on my body,” he says.
Jan’s family had a good name in Shewa district. “We had good flocks (of sheep and goats) and business, we had a bus. But the armed men took everything.”
The family left Shewa district for Jalalabad city and later Peshawar, where Jan bought a horse and drove a buggy. “My brother started work in an iron factory and my father was working as a daily labourer wherever he could find work,” he says.
One more move and eight years of poverty later, Nayeem’s parentls had both died, now making him head of a family that included his much younger sisters, and his own five children.
When the family returned to Afghanistan in 1999, “The country was hell,” he recalls. “There was nothing but war. So we went back to Pakistan, and we became vegetable and fruit hawkers. We would push a cart the whole day,” he says.
In 2003, he heard about the new government in Kabul on the radio. He heard stories of how people were being rehabilitated. Almost overnight the family packed their bags and pnce again returned to Afghanistan. Jan hoped he would get a “good job”. But it was not to be so.
Now his sons and he eke out a living as daily wage workers. “I wish there had been no revolution,” he says.
The Najibullah government at least was giving food rations to all its officers, Jan remembers. Today, “No one is giving us anything…”
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