04 January 2007

An Irreligious Holy Warrior in Afghanistan

We saw a young boy drawing water and Abdul Haq threatened to kill him. The boy cried. Then Abdul Haq laughed and said, "I drove over the edge of this road three years ago, in a jeep. We crashed into the ditch where the boy is whining. The other six people in the car were killed. But I was thrown over a wall and survived because God loves me."

An hour later we had to cross the Hari Rud. I took off my boots and overtrousers, tied them around my neck, and waded into the cold water. The river—which in a year of normal rainfall would be impassable without a ferry boat—was now barely two feet deep. Without speaking, Abdul Haq stopped on the bank and stooped, and Qasim climbed onto his back. Then Abdul Haq stepped into the stream, roaring like a bullfrog with delight at his strength and the shock of the cold. Having deposited Qasim on the farther shore, he returned and Aziz clambered on. Midway across, Aziz dropped the sleeping bags. Abdul Haq put him down in the water and charged after the bobbing sacks. When he caught them, he spun and danced on the shore like a paper puppet caught in the wind, shouting, "Man Ghaatar Hastam" (I am a mule). On the flats ahead, a camel loped easily across the sharp gravel.

I opened a packet of Iranian orange cream cookies and offered them to Qasim. He took one, sighed heavily, said, "Allah-u-Akbar" (God is Great), and put it in his mouth.

Abdul Haq looked at me and winked. Qasim, the oldest and least open of my three companions, was also it seemed the most religious. Abdul Haq described himself as a Mujahid, a holy warrior, and his leader, Ismail Khan, had fought an Islamic crusade to expel the atheist Russians before implementing Sharia law in Herat. But Abdul Haq was not very religious. In Iran young city types had talked to me about Nietzsche and said they were atheists. I never met an Afghan who called himself an atheist and Abdul Haq had never heard of Nietzsche. But during the time I was with Abdul Haq, he never prayed, never fasted, never paid a religious tithe, and had no intention of going on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Generally I only heard him refer to God when he fired his Kalashnikov. Then he would sing "Allah-u-Akbar" like a full-throated muezzin in the dawn call to prayer.

Abdul Haq took the packet of cookies from my hands, tipped it out onto a cloth to encourage us to eat more, and threw the wrapper over his shoulder. It was the only piece of trash on the desert plain and the silver foil glittered fiercely among the gentler colors of the soil.
SOURCE: The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart (Harcourt, 2004), pp. 76-77

No comments: