Dark Days of a Soldier; Taliban’s Mortar Took the Life of Shakar’s Only Son

Time passes more slowly and calmness disappears in war. Instead of shooting stars at night in war zones, the light of bullets illuminates the city. Only the remnants of the war can be seen from the sunken and cracked walls of the city. From a child who wakes up and looks at his mother’s empty place, and from a mother who, in the absence of her child, finds herself alone. Khalid Hosseini wrote in a part of the book “Kite Runner”: “Many children live in Afghanistan. But they live less as a child and do not have a good childhood.” These are not the words of a writer; they are the lives of thousands of children in this land. Children who have lived in war have forgotten to laugh. One of the hundreds of children killed in the war is Sharif, who a few days before Eid by a mortar. He no longer looks at his mother and does not ask her for anything.

After repeated falls of the provinces and districts at the hands of the Taliban, when Almar district, one of the 14 districts of Faryab, fell to the Taliban, many families were displaced, lost loved ones, and families.

Sharif was still a child, far from the worries of the times, he lived as a child, he enjoyed the flight of a bird, he accepted his mother’s caresses with all his heart and he enjoyed playing by the spring. He was small and had brown hair and black eyes. The spring of 2021 was the first spring of his eighth year. His mother’s name is Shakar (meaning sugar). As sweet as her name is, her life has been bitter. About 30 years ago, when Shakar was 21, she married Yassin. In the beginning, they preferred to live in Kabul, because Yassin was serving in the ANA as a soldier, and only a few months after their marriage, his duty changed from Helmand to Kabul. When their first daughter (Tala) is born, Yassin is again forced to go to the front lines of the war in Helmand. He was a soldier, like hundreds of other soldiers who like to live with their families, like to see their wives, and like to enjoy the growth of their children. But Yassin and 20 other soldiers left the house that night and went to Helmand. The next day, Shakar and her daughter is sent to Faryab with all their belongings, Yassin’s father’s house. About four years have passed and Yasin comes home after a few months of leave during all this time, and sometimes he calls his wife and daughters remotely by phone. After four years, Shakar and Yassin have three daughters and are expecting their first son. Early in the autumn, on a relatively cold day when the leaves of the trees were ready to roll and fade, the wheat was reaped and the young plants fell asleep without leaves or fruit for several months. That morning, like all other days, Shakar braids her golden hair, when suddenly Yassin’s father enters the house with a distraught face. Troubled hair and worried eyes break Shakar’s face. He was Yassin’s father and most importantly, the father of a soldier who was always ready for painful news. He sits quietly and puts his hand on his knee and says, “Woe to us, Yassin is gone.” He holds his head between his hands and weeps. Shakar is still holding her braided hair. When she hears the news, it is as if her brain is emptied and numb. Yassin was killed in the war, he died as a soldier but he had not seen his son, and Sharif was born a few months after his father’s death. Instead of his father, he sees for the first time his military uniform, which is present in his father’s absence.

These are the narrations of Shakar. She is both the mother and the wife of a soldier. She spoke in a Kabuli accent, and as she recounted her memories; it passed before my eyes like a movie.

For months, some Afghan provinces have been in war between the government and the Taliban. A war in which the victims are the people. People are either killed or displaced. Almar district of Faryab province is one of the districts where the war has been going on for nearly two months and it fell to the Taliban in the month of May. The unhealthy situation of this district can be well understood from the language Shakar’s family. After Yassin, Shakar becomes the head of a family of five. Yassin’s parents moved to Pakistan a few years after his death, and Shakar stayed with her three daughters and son in Almar district. The two-story house a few hundred meters away from the boys’ school in Almar district belongs to Shakar. When the war breaks out in Almar district, many families leave their homes and lands and move to safer places. As the head of the family, Shakar is afraid that her children will perish as they leave. They spent the night at the sound of bullets hitting the walls of their homes, and during the day they considered the only basement of the house a safe place to survive. The night that commemorates the soul of Yassin and the anniversary of his death, is the night that the war is in full swing and warn them of a terrible catastrophe. Shakar still remembers that night and told me the events one by one. “It was very bad that night,” she said. “We were all sitting in the basement and Sharif was reciting the Quran, I remember well. A few days ago, the Taliban came and dragged a few of our neighbors from their houses to use as strongholds. They left again and only we and a few other families remained.”

The next morning, as the weather wore on, the stars were suddenly disappearing and the sound of gunfire seemed less than ever, Shakar was asleep with her children, like many of Almar’s families. Suddenly, they wake up to the sound of bullets being fired and rush to a safe place in their home. Every day they think that the war has started, but unaware that the Taliban are announcing their victory with joyous fire. The voice of “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) can be heard from all sides. Shakar remembers those moments very well and says: “When they said Allahu Akbar, it was like an arrow hitting my heart. I was afraid of what would happen and what would become of my children. We went to the basement. Sharif, as always, would go recite the Quran when he heard shooting.”

When the Taliban secured control of Almar district, they fired mortars all over the city to show their power to the people. The mortar is fired fearlessly in every direction, regardless of whether someone’s house will be destroyed, or someone’s life will be taken, or someone’s loved one will die. With the sound of a mortar shell, Shakar rushes up to bring Sharif to the basement, but it was already too late. When she tried to set foot on the first step of the staircase, the ground beneath her feet suddenly shook and smoke and dirt were everywhere. She shouts and goes up. When she opens the door of the room, she sees that there is no window or wall and one side of the house has collapsed. She sees that Sharif has fallen to the ground next to the Qur’an and does not move. When Shakar lifts Sharif to hug him, she sees that his face is not like his son’s. Sharif’s face was beautiful and clean but now he could see blood and half of his head had been destroyed by a mortar shell. His eyes do not blink She looks at his hand and it does not move. Shakar once again wanted to hear her son’s voice and watch him laugh. No matter how much he looked into Sharif’s eyes, he did not open his eyes while the sound of mortar fire was heard louder and louder each time. Sharif dies with the arrival of the Taliban, dies with the Taliban’s mortar fire, and never reaches the age of nine.

Shakar still does not forget her honorable parting when she talks to me, and she constantly cries and says, “I will not forget his bloody face. It was not only Sharif who died with the Taliban mortar that day, but nine others died the same way with the mortar fire. One of the martyrs was a four-month-old baby.”