THIS is the story of a Taliban member Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef who was born in 1968 in Kandahar when it was hub of activity with tourists from Iran initially stopping at Herat before passing through the south in Kandahar or for Quetta or Peshawar. Kandahar was known as “a gentle oasis” and “a thriving commercial and budding industrial centre”. Hippies from Europe and America would congregate in Kandahar at one time.
Zaeef was lucky to have parents who sent him to religious and secular government schools. When not busy studying or helping around the house, Zaeef made up games, playing ‘soldier’ with his cousins in the alleys and vineyards surrounding his house. He was exposed to the basic institutions of Pashtun social life at a young age.
His father was the primary officiator at funerals, so Mullah Zaeef saw his fair share of these. The Afghan institution of jirga or shura was known to him, though the role that religious families played in these tribal consultative bodies at the time was minimal. The mullah would recite a few verses from the Quran before the proceedings began but had relatively little to contribute to the decisions that followed.
Zaeef’s father was the key figure at the daily prayers held in the village mosque and was occasionally called to mediate between conflicting parties.
Zaeef was 11-years old when Soviet troops entered Afghanistan. His family lived at Sanzari, a medium-sized village west of Kandahar. Small local guerrilla groups had begun to fight against the communist government. Communist ideological influence was seen during King Zahir Shah’s reforms in 1964. Thus the rise of Soviet influence was part of a wider international influence in the country. At the same time, America’s influence began with the agricultural infrastructure project in Helmand in 1945 and soon US assistance increased, with the Americans trying to be one up on the Soviets. As an ideology, communism held no popular appeal here. Introduction of substantive land reforms by the Taraki government impinged on the rural society, leading to resistance on a small scale in 1979. Aggressive suppression of local figures of authority led to dismemberment of tribal influence. A small rebellion led to arrest of many people in Panjwayi village. Over a 100 villagers escaped to Pakistan and then started a guerrilla movement against the government with the entry of the first Russian convoy into Kandahar city. This led to massive flow of Afghans into Pakistan in 1979 and 1980. Zaeef’s family also fled to Pakistan.
In the 1980s there started the war against the Soviets. This war created strong friendships, alliances and enmities that exist to this day. Many of the Mujahedeen who fought in the villages are still alive.
However, questions which continue to trouble one are: How much longer will foreigners who are unable to understand Afghanistan and its culture make decisions for the Afghan nation? How much longer will the Afghans wait and endure?
(Hachette India, 612/614, 6th Floor, Time Tower, MG Road, Sector 29, Gurgaon – 122001.)