Law & Order: Taliban Style
TESTIMONY: Abdul Saeed, Peshawar, September 12, 1997

I was a modest vendor who despite all hardships was up to quite recently living in Kabul. During the past years I had a small wooden stall in Qalai Najara, Khairkhana (northern part of Kabul city) where I sold groceries. Throughout my life I had remained an uninvolved spectator to the devastating power struggles of different political, religious and ethnic factions who were fighting over Kabul and destroying it in the process. My main concern was to see to the needs of my family; the hardships of life did not allow me the luxury of indulging in any alignment or activity beyond mere survival. But like everybody else anxiety, stress and uncertainty had become a part of my family’s life.
Last year at about this time, the Taliban poured into Kabul. Within days, rounding up of people on different pretexts began. Horrifying tales of torture and Taliban atrocities began circulating in the city. We poor people who were struggling to eke out an existence listened with dread to the wild tales that grew by the day, but felt safe and uninvolved as throughout the past years we had maintained our distance and ‘neutrality’ towards all parties who came and went and were reassured in the belief that the Taliban did not have anything to do with humble people like us who minded our own business and did not dabble in politics. Life for us continued as in the past, a continuum of hardship, stress and bleakness.
Around midday on 9th Sonbola 1376 [August 31, 1997] I closed up my stall for the afternoon and came home for lunch. I was feeling very tired and was just beginning to stretch out when suddenly some ten fearsome Taliban armed with Kalashnikovs poured into my house and spread out in the small courtyard. One of them asked fiercely "Who is Abdul Saeed?" I was very scared and replied in a frightened voice that I was Abdul Saeed. I was told to get going. I asked where to and for what reason? The armed Taliban growled "You will soon see where and for what reason." My wife and children let out a horrified wail of anguish and terror. My children ran after me and implored the Taliban not to take their father away. All members of my family were frantically trying to convince the Taliban that I was a poor breadwinner who could not possibly have done anything against their interests; my children fell at the feet of the chief Taliban present there pleading my innocence and imploring him to tell them at least where they would be taking me. All to no avail. The only response they got was the Taliban hounding me with orders to hurry up and get a move on. I had no choice but to comply. I came out of the house with them. Outside my gate there was a large powerful vehicle with darkened windshields and windows. I was made to get in and we moved on to an unknown destination. After some minutes the vehicle came to a halt and we alighted in front of a beautiful building in Charahi Haji Yaqoob, Shahr-i Nao, which was formerly used as a hotel. It was now the Scouting Headquarters (Riasat-i Kashf) of the Ministry of Defence.
On entering the compound, I noticed three large locked metal containers [of the type now standard all over the world for transporting merchandise.] The Taliban took me towards one of these containers, unlocked and opened the door and pushed me inside. I was in a daze and benumbed with terror. I took some moments to find my bearings. Around me there were some 30 other ravished men of different ages. My eyes needed more time to adjust to the nearly pitch darkness inside the sealed container. It was quite a while before I could see their gaunt faces all bearing tell-tale bruises. I trembled in apprehension. All of them had marks of beatings and torture. Many had visible injuries on their faces, heads, eyes, hands, arms and legs. They were all in a piteous condition. I asked "Brothers, what is happening and what is going on? Why have you been brought here?" One of them whose name was Qayum and who had a leg injury spoke up: "There is no need to tell you. Tonight you will find out everything for yourself." We remained there in silence, each one immersed in his own horror and dread of what was to come. At prayer time we asked to be allowed to perform prayers. We were told that we did not have permission to perform prayers as we were not Muslims. Later a hole which had been made in one of the walls of the container opened and a voice cried out "Prisoners, take your suppers." A few small plates of rice which had just been boiled in water were passed in. But even if it had been the most sumptuous feast in world, I myself and most of the other wretched human beings in that container were too benumbed by fear, pain and worry to feel any hunger or need for food.
It was around 10 o’clock in the late evening when the door of the container was opened and someone outside cried out "Who is Abdul Saeed? Step out." I rose and followed the man who had summoned me. I was taken to an interrogation room which was furnished with a beautiful carpet. There was no one in the room but an impressive desk was placed at one end with comfortable couches and armchairs against the walls in front of it. My heart was pounding, but I tried to remain calm so I silently sat down on the edge of the nearest chair. After some moments a dwarfish figure with a hideous face and a bushy beard wearing a white turban entered the room. He was followed by some twenty men who filed in after the dwarf and filled the room. I rose in greeting and gave the customary ‘Salaam alaikum’. My greeting was not acknowledged. The dwarfish leader strode up to the desk and sat down behind it. He croaked an order: "Bring the report!" A piece of paper was put in my hand. The leader told me "This is a report that has reached us concerning you. You illegally have in your possession six machine guns, one vehicle, one pistol, six carpets and assorted household articles." I remonstrated, "Maulawi Sahib [a title of respect used for senior members of the Islamic clergy], I implore you to go with me to my house and search the house as thoroughly as you wish, ask the neighbours about me. I swear in the name of God Almighty that I know nothing about what you are saying!" The Maulawi flew into a rage and said "Very well. You will soon find out what you do have and what you don’t. It is just a matter of a few minutes." He then motioned towards his men. Two of them stepped forward and threw me onto the floor. They bound my feet with rope and with one standing on each side of me pulled so hard on the rope that I felt my bones crushing. A third man bound my hands. A wild-looking man whom they called ‘Diwana’ [the Lunatic] stepped forward towards me and clasped my mouth shut with both hands while a fifth brought forth a thick piece of cable wire used for conducting high voltage electricity and laying underground telephone lines. He began slashing at my feet with the cable. I felt the searing pain of the first few strokes, then I became numb all over and passed out. I came to after a few moments and saw another wretch being meted out the same treatment. The hideous dwarf, seeing that I had come to, approached me and said "OK now; are you ready to confess or would you like another dose of the cable?" I replied piteously "Maulawi Sahib, if I knew anything I would have already told you. There would have been no need for me to suffer this kind of punishment. What can I say when I have nothing to disclose?" Shortly afterwards, my hands and feet and those of my companion in misery were loosened and we were taken back to the container and another pair of miserable wretches were summoned for the night’s questioning.
To the best of my understanding, each night some 20-30 individuals are taken from the containers for this kind of ‘interrogation’. That night I passed in extreme pain. I felt myself sliced from head to foot, and the chill of late-summer Kabul nights competed with pain and fear in keeping sleep away from me all through the night. I was not alone. There were quite a number of others who had received doses of the cable and were moaning in pain throughout the long night. The following day passed in un-attenuated pain and apprehension. That evening at around the same time, an old man from Panjsher, an ethnic Hazara called Ali Reza and myself were called out again to the posh torture chamber. We had no sooner sat down on one of the couches when the Maulawi (whose name I now understood to be Maulawi Sattar) turned to me and said "The arms, the vehicle and the other articles mentioned in the report you have to return to me, otherwise you will forfeit your life under the cable." I could only repeat what I had said the previous evening. Maulawi Sattar’s ready fury was rekindled. He turned to his myrmidons and motioned to them to begin. Again my hands and feet were bound and the beating began. I was frantically thinking of finding a way to appease this wild beast and save my life, whatever the cost. I suffered a dozen or more strokes or more and knew I could not take anymore. I bellowed "Stop! I can’t take anymore. I will tell you all you want to know." They unfastened my hands and feet and allowed me to crouch in a corner. They began their fiendish work on Ali Reza. Under the will-crushing blows of the cable Ali Reza was screaming. "For the sake of Allah and his Apostle, let me be. I am a poor man, the only thing I own is a small stall where I sell insecticides. I do not have nor know of any arms!" His remonstrations only increased the ferocity of the blows raining down on him. "Liar! Where have you hidden the Stinger missiles?" Shortly afterwards, Ali Reza could scream no longer. He moaned in pain and asked for some water. Maulawi Sattar winked at Diwana and told him to give the man some water. The Lunatic hitched up his long shirt, unfastened his baggy trousers and pissed in Ali Reza’s mouth. All laughed in derision at this ‘entertainment’. Maulawi Sattar screamed "Mess up this f------ Hazara! He would drive six-inch nails into our heads, would he?!" [an allusion to the allegations that Hazara chauvinists drove nails into the heads of live Pashtoons in inter-ethnic conflicts in Kabul, particularly at the beginning of the ‘victory of the Islamic Revolution’ in 1992]. They fell on Ali Reza once again, raining kicks and blows on him from all sides. The Lunatic enjoyed himself by repeatedly hurling himself wrestler-style from his full height onto Ali Reza’s abdomen. It was not long before Ali Reza expired. Where they took his body we do not know, but we were taken back to our container.
On the way back to the container I approached Mullah Qayum, the head guard of the containers. I promised to pay him five million Afghanis (approx. $200) if he could contact my family and arrange that I meet one of them. He readily accepted and the next day I had the opportunity of meeting with my family who had been allowed to come to visit me. I told my family to sell every scrap of what we had and ask for contributions from anyone who could help to pay for what was demanded. This was done forthwith; the ransom was paid and I was set free. I could in no way live in Kabul. With the barest belongings left to my family and me we moved to Pakistan.


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