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My cousin, the suicide bomber

by Sahar Saba, 01 Jan 2010, Communalism Combat

A brutalised Afghan society does not know whether to mourn or to celebrate death.

For the rest of the world the victims of the Afghan war remain nameless and faceless. Not for us in Afghanistan. I myself have mourned a number of such victims, including my own uncle, my father’s brother. Three weeks back there was yet another suicide blast which killed only the bomber and his accomplice. The suicide bomber was reportedly on his way to ambush German troops in the north of Afghanistan. He was being driven to the potential scene of action on motorbike by his accomplice. On their way they were asked to stop at a police check post. Instead of stopping, they attempted to escape and were fired at. The biker lost his balance and both fell, setting off the explosives packed into a suicide jacket. Both died on the spot. Either the suicide bomber or his accomplice was my cousin, Abdul Latif. He was 22.

 

 

When the incident was reported on television, hardly anybody in my family noticed the name Abdul Latif even if we knew that he sympathised with the Taliban and used to support suicide bombings. Since many bear the name Latif, we did not think it could be the Latif we knew. We only learnt of his death after his parents became suspicious when he did not return home for a week. Since he often went missing for a couple of days, his absence was not initially marked. But a weeklong absence was unusual.

When his father contacted the authorities, he was arrested and had to spend a night in the lock-up. "The police were angry that I did not tell them about my son’s plan to blow himself up," my uncle later told family members after his release had been secured through tribal connections. Though Latif’s parents knew where his sympathies lay, they were not ready to hand their son over to the authorities. After all, one hears about the torture techniques employed at the notorious detention centres run by Americans in Afghanistan. However, Latif’s family, particularly his mother, had begged him to end his association with the Taliban. He would never argue. His only answer was: "I am seeking paradise."

His strong conviction about entering paradise had been inculcated into his mind over a period of 12 years which he spent at a madrassa in Pakistan where our respective families had migrated to during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In practice, the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan were run by the mujahideen even if the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) officially managed their affairs. In these camps, the education of girls, music, television or any liberal pursuits were banned. Women had to wear a burkha. My father wanted me to go to school. RAWA, an Afghan women’s organisation, ran underground schools for girls as well as boys. This is how my family came into contact with RAWA. It was not just me, all my brothers enrolled at these schools too, as boys had no choice but to go to a madrassa. Over a period of time supporters of RAWA were able to set up an entire refugee camp of their own where fundamentalists had no influence. Life in this camp was in sharp contrast to the camps run by fundamentalists.

Latif was not born in a RAWA camp. He grew up in a camp under the jihadis’ control and attended a madrassa where the primers were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines. Ironically, these textbooks were developed under a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) grant to the University of Nebraska and its Centre for Afghanistan Studies in the early 1980s. This fact was brought to my notice during a visit to the USA soon after 9/11, by a friend who showed me a report in The Washington Post which said that USAID had spent $51 million on such "education programmes" in Afghanistan from 1984 to 1994. Latif was one of those who became lettered through such textbooks.

His death therefore stirred strange feelings in me, who, as a RAWA spokesperson, has been on the Taliban’s hit list during Taliban rule (and perhaps still am). It felt as if Latif himself had been a victim, a victim of US-sponsored intellectual terrorism perpetrated through textbooks issued from Nebraska University. Or perhaps I was saddened by a youthful death.

I thought constantly about Latif’s mother, who received only three bones to bury in our village’s sprawling graveyard. Since his death, I have been thinking that if Latif (and youth like him) had had the chance to go to a good school, he would never have had such suicidal ambitions. Readers may wonder why he did not go to a RAWA school. Because of the fear of fundamentalists and the threats his father received from them. His father was told by fundamentalists that if he tried to educate his children at coed RAWA schools, he would either face dangerous consequences or else have to leave the camp.

The words of Latif’s elder brother, who helps his father run a small shop, have also been constantly ringing in my ears. On hearing of Latif’s death, his elder brother said: "Good that he only killed himself. Think if he had been sent to explode himself where he would have killed dozens of civilians. Imagine the tragedy he would have wrought." I have been wondering, ever since I heard these words, how Afghan society has been so brutalised that we don’t even know whether to mourn or to celebrate the deaths of our dear ones.

(Sahar Saba is a spokesperson for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, RAWA.)

 

 

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