By Noor Wali Sayeed ShinwaraiNoor Wali Sayeed Shinwarai writes for Killid, an independent Afghan media group in partnership with IPS. By distributing the testimonies of survivors of war crimes through print and radio, Killid strives for greater public awareness about people’s hopes and claims for justice, reconciliation and peace. For this testimony, Shinwarai interviewed Iqbal Jan, who lost most of his family in in 1989 in a rocket attack on his house. Jan believes a mujaheddin commander deliberately provoked the attack.
Iqbal Jan is from Haska Mina district in Nangarhar province, bordering Pakistan. Under the communist government of Mohammad Najibullah (1987-92) it was a centre of jihadist groups. They were entrenched in its villages to target government forces – a tactic of war that is used now by the Taliban. Caught in the cross-fire, many civilians perished.
Jan’s family was killed in an air attack, he says, after Hezb-e-Islami forces led-by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar took up position behind his house. “A commander of the Hezb-e-Islami was firing at the (government) security posts from behind our house. I begged him not to fire from the village but the commander would not listen. The Russian (Soviet) helicopters levelled my house,” he remembers.
“I remember very well. It was a very cold winter day. At 3 O’Clock the Russian helicopters came and made a doomsday of my house.”
Nearly the entire family was wiped out. Iqbal Jan’s wife, two sons, his brother’s wife, a nephew and niece, a son, daughter and granddaughter of his uncle were all dead. “My uncle, his wife, his son, and I were seriously injured,” he says.
Jan says the commander was seeking to punish him because Jan refused to give him food when he requested it. “We had nothing. I told him so. He was so incensed he screamed, ‘I will kill you because you have become a communist’.”
Burrying the dead
“There were no government officials in our village to help us. Villagers who escaped injury immediately put the wounded on mules and transported them to hospital in Peshawar (across the Khyber Pass in Pakistan). The neighbours buried the dead in the night.”
It was not what Jan envisioned when he and his brother decided to move their famillies back to Afghanistan after years of living as refugees in Pakistan.
A few years before, at the start of the war between government forces and US-armed mujaheddin, the brothers had joined the tens of thousands of Afghan civilians who feld across the border into Teera in Pakistan. “It was a very dark night, and bitterly cold. My wife suddenly called out that the baby swaddled around her bosom was dead. We had nothing to eat, or keep warm — we should have died,” he says. “My lovely son was buried in the graveyard at Teera the next day. Then we moved to Kohat.”
In Kohat city in Pakistan’s Khyber Paktunkhwa province, the brothers worked as coolies (head-load workers) in the vegetable market. When Jan’s uncle visited them a few years later, he begged them to return to Afghanistan, saying the war had ended.
Having survived hunger, loss and hardship as refugees in Pakistan, the brothers returned for a new start in Haska Mina, only to see their families die in the rocket attack on their new home.
For a while, the remainder of his family – two of his own sons, a nephew and niece who also survived – lived on charity. Neighbours gave them food so they would not starve, a friendly shopkeeper would give them free fabric to make new clothes for Eid.
Fifteen years ago he remarried, and built himself a new house of stones and mud. But over two decades after the attack, he struggles to find closure.
For a devout Muslim like Jan, praying at the graveside on the anniversary of a realtive’s death is an important ritual – one he can’t perform. “I don’t know who is buried where in the unmarked graves,” he says.
“God has given me four daughters and two sons,” he says piously. “But I still dream of my martyred relatives who were buried in the dark by our neighbours.”
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