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The Killid Group, February 12, 2013

A man’s account of the 1992-96 brutal inter-fundamentalist fighting: Candles are lit once again in our house

It was not easy to flee Kabul either because everywhere warlords had set up barriers, which could be crossed only on paying a toll

By Noor Wali Saeed Shinwarai

There is not one Afghan family that hasn't suffered in the decades of fighting in the country. Farid Ahmad was a child when his father, badly injured in a rocket attack, stopped working. Life was harsh. A testimony*

"When I was born the country was in the control of Russians. Then the parties (mujahedin groups) got power and nobody could go out of the house. The war among the parties was going on every day. Unarmed civilians were being killed. Kabul city looked like a graveyard," said Farid Ahmad.

He was 10 years old when his father was seriously injured. Schools had been closed for a long time because of the war between fighters of Shura-e-Nezar (the group led by Ahmad Shah Massoud) and Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum. The war, which started in 1993, was called the "hard war" in Kabul. Rockets fell through the day and night. One fell on a factory building in Qasaba where Farid's father, Marjan, was at work as a welder.

"My father was not a political person, he was just a welder," said Farid. "He got such serious wounds that no clinic or doctor in Qasaba would treat him. My father had become blind," he added.

The family lost their sole breadwinner, and no relative offered to look after them. "The people in our tribe help in hard times but my uncles in Laghman did not help us, nor did our aunts in Jalalabad ask about us," he said.

Families take refuge in old building in Kabul in 1992
1992: Families who lost their houses and belongings take shelter in a mosque in Kabul. Fundamentalist gangs had taken over many civilian houses and then killed the men, raped the women and looted the property. (Photo: RAWA.org)

The family starved for nine days. Every night they went to bed hungry. There was no money to buy food or candles. "We spent night after night in the dark," he recalled.

It was not easy to flee Kabul either because everywhere warlords had set up barriers, which could be crossed only on paying a toll. Anyone caught sneaking across would be beaten or killed.

Hard times

But early on the tenth day there was good news. The war was stopped for 24 hours. Rival sides had agreed to a ceasefire. The family loaded their few belongings in an old truck, and left Kabul for Jalalabad. "My brothers and sisters were all younger than me. My father, who had not got any treatment, was lying on the floor of the truck. We got to Jalalabad with difficulty," he said.

In Jalalabad, the 10 year old took his father to the public hospital, and his siblings to the house of an aunt. He went to the city's Hesar Sahahi refugee camp where many thousands of families were sheltering in tents. In a corner of the camp, Farid made a make-shift shelter out of waste. The family was brought to live there. "The weather was hot in the day. There was no water as well. We would eat once a day. My father slowly recovered, but not his eye sight," said Farid.

The camp would be their home until 1996, when the Taleban pushed the mujahedin out of Kabul.

"Believe me we didn't know what Eid was. We could never afford to celebrate. I remember very well one time my younger brothers found a handful of henna for Eid," said Farid. "A school was opened in the camp. While I worked as a labourer (daily wage worker), my brothers and sisters were going to school. Day after day I would leave very early to find work," he added.

Signs of hope

Like so many others, Farid, though still a teenager, had become the breadwinner of the family. He said there were times when he wanted to cry and scream loudly out of frustration but he was careful not to upset his parents. "My father was enduring the pain of blindness. Everything was dark for him. I felt that I too should endure the pain and go to work," said Farid.

In 1996, the family moved back to Kabul but life did not get any better. "Till 2002 when the Taleban fell and Karzai assumed power nobody in the family knew whether we would have tears for dinner or vegetables," he said.

Things have gradually improved over the last decade. Farid has found work with a nongovernmental organisation. His brothers have reached university. "One can read and write four languages - Dari, Pashto, English and French," he said, proudly. "I had not seen a smile on my mother's face for years. Now she smiles, and my father has reconciled to being blind."

Three years ago Farid, who had saved enough money, got married. "God has lit the candles in our house once again. My daughter is one and a half years old, and my son is one month old. My father put his hand on his face and named him Sulaiman."

** The testimonies of survivors of war crimes are our contribution to creating greater public awareness about people's hopes and claims for justice, reconciliation and peace. These life stories are distributed internationally by the news agency IPS-Inter Press Service and are the basis for a radio drama that is being broadcast by seven Killid radios.

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