Asadullah is bitter and, on hearing his story, it is easy to understand why he, and many like him, are totally against the Karzai regime in Afghanistan and are increasingly against the presence of all foreign occupation forces too.

“Before the Russians invaded my country back in 1979, life was hard but good in the eastern mountain village that was once my home” he explains. “Like our ancestors before us, we primarily depended on agriculture for our livelihood: we traded excess produce and animals for the other things we needed. We were not rich, far from it, but we never went hungry or cold and while the village school did not offer much in the way of education, we did at least learn to read and write and had hope of a good life to come. Our parents, along with other elders, were content and life went on in the traditional way.”

White haired now and grizzled beyond his years, Asadullah was just 18 years old when the Soviet invasion took place and, within a few short weeks, he, along with his father, three uncles and four brothers, the latter both older and younger than himself, joined their local resistance force and became proud members of the ‘Freedom Fighters’ who were soon to be known, worldwide, as mujahideen.

“We were very proud and excited to follow the leadership of our commander” he recalls. “This man, also from our village and also our Malik, was exactly like us but older of course and respected throughout our area for his wise decisions when disputes had to be settled or other local problems solved. The Malik did not inherit his position but was, as our tribal code of honour decrees, chosen for his knowledge, wisdom and balanced opinions and it was only natural that, when he called us, we all followed him to fight against the Russian forces who were trying to take away our country, our livelihoods and our very existence. Our land, our culture and our tribal brotherhood was our inheritance and we refused to surrender it to them or, as history has proven, to any other invader either.”

The war was long and hard and cost Asadullah’s family dear. “At first we fought with just the ancient weapons we had to hand” he reminisced. “Then our Malik agreed to join with a larger mujahideen group whose name I will not take for fear of repercussions. I will not name our area of operation then either for exactly the same reason as the man who was once our Malik, he still is if the truth be told as it should, is very powerful now and he would have me killed for saying what I am about to tell you.”

As the Malik moved up the ranks, his ‘elevation’ made possible by the valour of his fighting men, ancient guns were replaced by modern weapons like Kalashnikovs, hand grenades and mines and in the following years of horrendously destructive war, Asadullah lost one brother after another and then, to his mother’s and his own despair, his father as well.

“After five years of very hard fighting, I was the sole supporter of my mother, my three young sisters, my wife of just two years and my own baby son” he narrates. “Like so many thousands of others from our home region, they had been forced to flee to Pakistan where they lived in a refugee camp and where, when I could, I visited them and tried to support them as best I could. Survival was difficult for us all and I prayed daily that I would live to care for them and to see my own son grow to manhood when, as all mountain mujahideen prayed, we would have achieved victory over the Russians and have returned to a good life on our ancestral lands.”

This, however, was not to be as, even when the Soviet Union admitted defeat and withdrew, complicated chaos followed, with the disastrous mujahideen occupation of Kabul being followed by the Taliban rule and that, in turn, by yet another foreign invasion, this time from the west.

“We, those of us from our villages who survived, still followed our Malik although he, as with many others like him, had suddenly become a rich man and had moved his family to a western country in which he too lived for some years while we here struggled to survive” Asadullah says, pain filling his anguished eyes. “When he returned to Afghanistan we expected, as our leader, that he would help us rebuild our lives but, any aid from our own government or from foreign organizations, just goes in to his own pocket to support his extravagant lifestyle. We, his people, have nothing at all. Our families are still refugees in Pakistan where things are very tough and getting tougher all the time. Our homes are still in ruins from the Russian war. Our valley has no school, no medical unit, no electricity, no road and no work. Our agricultural and water systems were destroyed long ago and are not repaired even though foreign money was given to the Malik for him to do this. He was once a good man, or so we thought. But power and money corrupt and he is heartless and bad now. We gave all we had for our country and yet many of our countrymen, those who live in cities like Kabul, have turned they backs on us too. We are treated worse than dogs and our daily meal has only one ingredient – despair.”

The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban.    Email: zahrahnasir@hotmail.com