Sitting cross-legged in a modestly furnished guest-room adorned by brilliant Afghan colours in the Eastern city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, the empire is busy planning its witch hunt. The host is a former resistance commander, locally known as â€˜the teacherâ€™. â€˜The teacherâ€™ was well known for his moderate approach to certain issues during the war against the Soviet occupiers. The guests are many but one among them is the odd one out â€“ an American dressed in Afghan traditional garb. â€˜The teacherâ€™ and the American knew each other very well from the 1980s, when the latter was â€˜accompanyingâ€™ the teacher and his fighters in the eastern mountains. When I entered the guest room the teacher was in the middle of a heated conversation with the American. As soon as the teacher saw me, after many years, he stopped the conversation and gave me a very welcoming hug. The teacher excused himself for a few minutes to continue the conversation with the â€˜foreign guestâ€™ or â€˜Khoregiâ€™. The teacher continued
â€œ …. you see my friend; I have a problem with your definition and concept of enemy and friend. In early 1980s when you first came to Afghanistan, you also introduced Osama [Bin Laden] to me, saying he was a great man and would be very useful to me. I always mistrusted foreign fighters in my country, I was told from all sides to accept Osama and his other lunatic friends. Then your best friends were also the likes of Hekmatyar, Rabbani and others. If you remember I told you they were very dangerous people. Your then best friends are now your worst enemies and you are asking me to do the impossible, keep following your chain of thought. Now you are asking me to help you get rid of Haji Ghafoor, who has done you or anyone else for that matter no harm and you tried to kill him once before for no reason.â€
I recognised all the other players of the Afghan drama played on the corpses of millions of innocent Afghans for more than a quarter of a century, but failed to recognise the new player, Haji Ghafoor. Without giving it much thought, I asked â€˜who is Haji Ghafoor?â€™. My question was ignored and the Khoreji guest was rather uncomfortable to realise that I understood their conversation. Impatient, I asked again â€˜but who is Haji Ghafoor?â€™. Then I asked in Dari (Persian) and a distant cousin who knew Haji Ghafoor and the incident very well promised to tell me later.
Haji Ghafoor is the head of Kantiwa community, one of five main communities- Kantiwa, Kamdesh, Paron, Waigal and Wama in Nooristan province Eastern Afghanistan. Nooristan is one of the remotest and least developed provinces even in Afghan standards. There are hardly any clinics, roads, schools, electricity, potable water facilities or such things that every where in the world is taken for granted. Travel inside and outside the province is by foot and measured in terms of days rather than miles or kilometres. Death from very ordinary and curable diseases is very common in the province. When someone falls ill and s/he is finally taken to the nearest clinic, a treacherous journey lasting 20-30 hours up and down a very harsh terrain, the whole community prays for the illâ€™s soul. The odds are that the ill may not return at all, usually the ill dies before reaching the nearest hospital/clinic.
Kantiwa is built on top of the mountains, the villages seem to be hanging from the cliffs. The terrain is rather harsh and full of pine trees. It served as a refuge for the various resistance groups during the numerous Soviet onslaughts in the region. The then blue-eyed boys of the empire, Gulbudin Hekmatyar, Masood and their likes used to frequent Kantiwa and other parts of the province. It was that time when Haji Ghafoor became friends with Hekmatyar and took up arms along with his community against the Soviet occupation. The US military and other assistance to anti-Soviet rebels was highly correlated with the degree of fanaticism- the more fanatic the group the higher the assistance from the US government. Hekmatyarâ€™s Hezb-e-Islami and Rabbaniâ€™s Jamiat-e-Islami (the latter with commanders like Ahmad Shah Masood and Ismail Khan) received the lionâ€™s share of US assistance and the rest, relatively moderate groups, got whatever was left, about 20-30 percent of the total US assistance. Therefore, anyone who had to take up arms against the Soviet occupation had to belong to one of the fanatic groups. Haji Ghafoor and many others like him had no other choice but to join the ranks of Hekmatyar or Rabbani, while the fanatic groups spearheaded by the two named gents systematically wiped out any group or individual posing to be moderate with the guns and money from the US and unlimited help from the Pakistani army.
Haji Ghafoor was disenchanted with Hekmatyar and Masood (Rabbaniâ€™s lieutenant) following their murderous onslaught on Kabul between 1992 and 1996, when the two men and their friends managed to kill an estimated 55,000 people in Kabul alone and turned the city into rubble. Masood, by the way, got a medal for it â€“ a national hero- and his lieutenants became â€˜uncle Samâ€™sâ€™ foot soldiers. However, Hekmatyar is now enemy number one after years of relentless support made him a monster out of an invisible germ.
Haji Ghafoor preferred to stay out of the Afghan political quagmire and refused to take up arms with or against the Taliban or Masood. This infuriated Masood, while the Taliban left Nooristan to its own fate and could not be bothered to interfere much in that region. The fall of Taliban saw Haji Ghafoor unmoved, but Uncle Samâ€™s foot soldiers were still angry with him as he had not obeyed the orders of Masood to take up arms against the Taliban. Emperor Bush the sonâ€™s professed doctrine â€œyou are either with us or against usâ€ is literally applied in the field. Any one not being with the empire in its murderous quest for control over worldâ€™s resources is marked with the Al-Quaeda stamp. Haji Ghafoor not only refused to be drawn to the empireâ€™s witch hunt but was also stamped â€˜Al- Quaedaâ€™ and an old friend of Hekmatyar by the empireâ€™s foot soldiers settling old scores like in many other occasions.
One early autumn day last year, a couple of American agents along with about 20 of their local foot soldiers went to Kantiwa, pretending to be doctors working for an international NGO. Haji Ghafoor gave the â€˜doctorsâ€™ a very warm welcome and provided them with food and lodging in his guest house, the only guest house for the whole of Kantiwa community. The â€˜doctorsâ€™ insisted on administering â€˜an important vaccineâ€™ to their host, the latter politely declined. Failing to drug the old man and snatch him away, the â€˜doctorsâ€™ reverted to â€˜plan Bâ€™, Uncle Samâ€™s preferred method â€“ the use of force. When one of the villagers saw the Americans frantically talking on their satellite phones, he rushed to inform Haji Ghafoor. The latter dismissed any speculation and said they might be talking to their families or headquarters, after all they are an NGO. Minutes later, Uncle Sam showed up from the skies, gunship helicopters with huge light beams illuminating the whole area and began shooting and bombing the village. Haji Ghafoor managed to escape and ordered his community to defend the village. The helicopters shot and bombed for a while, running out of ammunition they picked up their â€˜medical teamâ€™ and left the area.
While on their way back the helicopters destroyed the few pick up cars that had brought the â€˜medical teamâ€™ to as far as the head of a road. Haji Ghafoor declared that â€˜all NGOs are our enemiesâ€™. A French NGO was busy building a much needed dirt road in the neighbouring Kunar province, as a revenge for the night before the Kantiwa youth shot and killed two young Afghans working for the NGO. A sacrifice in the name of Empire, but one is not sure whether the two dead Afghans knew about their sacrifice. Recognising that things went horribly wrong for no apparent reason, the CIA operatives reverted to old Afghan traditional means of settling disputes, Jirga or council of elders from various communities. What the American spies failed to recognise was that any dispute has two sides, while Kantiwa and Haji Ghafoor had no dispute with Washington, while the latter came all the way to murder an innocent man and his community in the name of a sacred profession. The Americans convinced heads of various communities in the neighbouring Kunar and Ningarhar provinces to speak with Haji Ghafoor to make peace with the people who attempted to murder him and ruin his village. The Jirga began and the issue was raised, Haji Ghafoor pointed the obvious- why did the Americans want to kill him and why is the Jirga asking him to make peace while he never started any war for or against anyone? He asked the Jirga members if anyone had seen him outside Kantiwa or siding with anyone of the warring groups â€“ Masood, Hekmatyar or the Taliban. The fact is that everyone knows Haji Ghafoor has not been involved in any political or military operations since the Soviets left the country.
Haji Ghafoor wanted to know only two things-
i. why the Americans wanted to kill him in the first place and if they do not have a good reason for killing him he would want an apology,
ii. an assurance that the Americans will not try and kill him or anyone from his community again.
The Jirga realised that they were wrong to go to Haji Ghafoor in the first place and that they were on a nearly impossible mission. One of the Jirga members told me that when the Jirga conveyed Haji Ghafoorâ€™s message to the Americans in Jalalabad, the answer was â€œ donâ€™t worry we will get himâ€. This would, of course, mean a second, perhaps more devastating attempt to murder an innocent man, for reasons best known to Uncle Sam. â€˜We will get himâ€™ is part of the plan the CIA agent wanted to hire â€˜the teacherâ€™ in Jalalabad. I am sure the American dollars will buy another hired gun in a country marred with extreme poverty and desperation. These tactics may even make Al Capone shiver in his grave.
Since this incident, no NGO or UN can go to the area to work, while people continue to die of very simple diseases. Nooristan continues to live in the middle ages with no electricity, no roads, no schools, no medical care and no contact with the outside world or even within the province. Conditions in the rest of the country are not that different either, while Uncle Sam continues to spend millions of dollars every day on his never ending witch hunt. The victims are almost always innocent people. Haji Ghafoor is not alone, the empireâ€™s witch hunt targets anyone who actually or potentially could stand in the way of the empire.