War has ripped apart a majority of families in Afghanistan. Those who were lucky migrated to the West. Uncle Ismail’s family lies buried in a graveyard in Nangarhar. What Follows is a testimony**
One night bombs dropped from the sky, killing 16 members of Ismail’s family. “The war took some people to Europe and America, but it destroyed my family,” Ismail, who is universally addressed as “uncle”, says. From Haska Mena in Nangarhar, he says his parents insisted he go to the only school in the district, in Shpole Baba. The times were tumultuous. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, and Babrak Karmal was installed the leader of the government in December 1979.
The new government’s opponents set fire to Ismail’s school. He remembers going up to the roof of his house to watch the flames. “The fire destroyed my hopes of studying, and being a great man in the future,” he sighs.Ismail started to help his father on the land. “People in our village were surprised that I switched so quickly from being a school boy to a farm worker,” he remembers, a soft smile on his face.
But the war was to change things again for Ismail. He remembers his father and he were ploughing the fields when six Soviet helicopters appeared. They circled the area three times, and then suddenly, started firing. “They shot people in cold blood. Everyone was running helter-skelter. Our bulls broke free of the yoke in panic. My family was sheltering in the village mosque. My grandmother who refused to leave was the only one in the house when I got there.”
One sister and a cousin survived, he adds. “My sister’s leg had broken in three places. My uncle’s daughter had a wound in her neck. When we poured milk in her mouth she could not swallow. No one could be taken to hospital, but they survived. Now they are both married. They have children but they have never recovered. They suffer from depression and other mental problems,” he explains.
No one knew why their village was bombed. Ismail wondered if it was because one of his uncle’s was a military officer in the Daud Khan government. Daud Khan was the first president of Afghanistan, from 1973 till his assassination in 1978. “The Russians were bombing our villages based on incorrect information. We had nothing to do with politics. We were just farmers,” he asserts.
The village was targeted again and again. “At the mere sound of a plane we would run for our lives. I made a bunker for my grandmother and father. I used to hide them there,” he says. “One day the Russian aircrafts stopped visiting our village, and the mujahedin brought their war to us.”
Ismail left, like tens of thousands of Afghans, for Pakistan in search of a livelihood. He did all kinds of hard, manual work. “I did not take my family. I was working as a daily wageworker. Sometimes I would be a guard, other times I would push a wheelbarrow, and break stones. My hands would get cut and bruised. I would wrap them up in cloth,” he recalls without emotion.
Part of the money he earned was sent home. His father wanted him to rebuild the village mosque. He also renovated the family home where he now lives with his family along with his half-brother and family.
His old school in Shpole Baba was rebuilt. Now Ismail’s son studies there. “He is in seventh class. He always stands first. My brother says that even if we die of hunger we will make him finish his studies!”
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