Copyright © by Hideo Asano
We all sat on the carpeted floor as a single light bulb shone brightly
upon all our faces. The room was filled with many men and young boys. They
were in their traditional clothes. The men wore brown apple pie hats. The
young boys had shaved heads. Most of them were staying in this
second-floor room of a concrete apartment in a dusty ancient town of
Pakistan. They were resting from their long and ferocious fighting in
Afghanistan and some were receiving medical treatment for their wounds. In
the hallway, outside the open door, several young girls, wearing colorful
peasant clothing smiled broadly, as they looked into the room. They didn't
dare come in.
The room had no furniture. The only display, or
decoration, was a large board of a wall-mounted collection of ammunition
samples: bullets, bombs, steel fragments of shell casing, peculiar
assortments of jagged metal and a piece of very thick glass from the
window of a soviet jet bomber. They were proudly displayed like the
trophies of a great sportsman.
A large old-fashioned fan circulated slowly on the
ceiling, fighting a losing battle against the heavy heat. Outside, it was
almost dark. Through the window, you could hear the sounds of the horses'
hooves pulling the carriages at trot.
"My brother's son's leg cut by German doctor here in
Peshawar. In this city there are two or three legs cutting everyday. Even
more arms cutting up. I also lost many relatives and friends," Jawad
spoke. He was the leader of a small band of mujahideen. He had been
fighting the Soviets for more than six years, since the day the Soviet
Union invaded his country. Both he and his two brothers were proud to be
rebels fighting against the Russians; they were also inordinately proud to
be the grandsons of a man who spent his entire life fighting the English,
who likewise had grand designs of conquest on Afghanistan in another era.
"Is there any way to keep Russian prisoners alive
instead of executing them?" I asked through my interpreter.
"We have no choice," said Jawad. "One day we shot
down helicopter gunship. Pilot escaped with his parachute. We gave him to
Pakistani government. But two weeks later, they gave him back to Soviet
"Pakistani government scared to make Russian
government angry. So they return him," added Raz, showing his badly
stained teeth as he spoke.
"We are busy all the time and no way to watch
prisoners. So only way is to kill them," said Jawad.
"We don't like kill people, but Russians kill us,"
"When we catch enemy, I order my men tie their arms
and legs to pole. My men then kill prisoner how they want. I love it and
don't stop it." Jawad's lips curled slightly into his cheeks, in what
seemed like the beginning of a smile. "Last summer we shot down one more
helicopter gunship and two Russians pilots survived with their parachutes.
One woman and one man. When they come down slowly into village we wait
with knife, sword, sickle and stone. My men finished them like goats."
"Russians are scared. They cry and scream because
they don't believe in Allah. If you don't believe in Allah dying is
horrible," Raz showed his bad teeth.
"And you," I asked, "are not afraid to die?"
"No, I am not scare to die. It is respect to die for
cause. We enter heaven when we die. So just before I attack Russians, I
call, 'Allah, I'm coming to you.'"
"Do you think you're going to win this war?"
"Oh, yes," replied Jawad. "We fight until we win or
killed to go to heaven. You can win if you have heart. No matter how
strong your enemy is. If you are scared, you will not win. No matter how
good your training is."
"That sounds very fundamentalist...and dreamers," I
"We are dreamers. We cannot be slaves."
"No," said I. "I understand that."
Jawd put his fist down so as to emphasize his
feelings more energetically. "It is better to be lion for one day than
chicken for thousand years."
"We love freedom," said Raz, showing his teeth.
"And Allah," added Jawad. Raz nodded. "I don't know
politics. I'm only fighting to kill our enemies." He smiled.
Just then the light bulb spluttered and went dead.
The room was thrown into darkness.
Jawad broke off and said something to someone in a
strange-sounding language and that person then left the room, presumably
to fix the lighting.
He continued in the darkness, "If you are not
Afghan, it is very difficult to fight in our mountains. Sometimes the snow
up to our necks in winter. That's why Russians sure lose."
"You sound sure of what you say," I responded.
"Even though Russian prisoner told me Russian
soldiers are very happy with snow because they think their homeland." A
young boy came in holding a brightly shining kerosene lamp. His face
appeared in the light. "Even hard for us."
The boy seated himself beside me. The lamp heated
"Do you still remember your country?" I asked the
boy, who was listening attentively.
"Ooh, ooh, ooh," the boy replied. He smiled, looking
right at me.
"He want to fight," said the leader.
"How old is he?" I asked.
"You would let him fight at his age?"
"Next year." Then Jawad said something to another
The boy quickly went out of the room. He returned
holding a small box and handed it to Jawad who opened it near the bright
lantern. He showed me many black and white and faded color photos that
were taken inside Afghanistan.
"This is thirteen." He pointed to a boy who was
holding a Kalashnikov standing among the rebels in a photo. "He is
sixty-five years old." He pointed to one in the same photo.
The room suddenly brightened as the power returned.