The grief of a Wakhani family: when war and poverty join hands

Zinat and her three brothers and grandparents struggle to make ends meet in Wark village of Wakhan district. She tells of how her father was killed and the resulting life of poverty and hardship over several years. Zinat lost her father twelve years ago in the war against the Taliban. She is now the head of a family of five. Finding bread in the impoverished village of Wark in the Wakhan district of Badakhshan is a difficult task. Zinat says that her father embraced her and her brothers twelve years ago in the last days of spring and went to defend his homeland, fought on the battlefields with the Taliban, came home several times, but never returned the last time he left. “One of our neighbors came home in the morning and said my martyred father had been brought in.”

Hearing this, Zinat’s world turns dark. “Tears welled up in my eyes, I had nothing more to say. I was just crying and waiting turned into a mountain of sorrow. I wished I could hug my father again, and tell him all the things I did not say.” Zinat’s father was both a mother and a father to his children, after their mother passed away.

At the age of 40, Qurban, Zinat’s father, was forced to join the security forces due to poverty, served in Herat and Kandahar provinces, and was eventually killed in Kandahar. Zinat recalls the days when his father joined the army: “I was in the first grade and went to school with enthusiasm and passion. The same year, my father got me engaged to my cousin. Still, I studied until the fifth grade.” The situation became difficult for Zinat when her army father was killed in a battle in Kandahar province. After this, Zinat was forced to drop out of school, go to a neighbor’s house to work, become a shepherd, and take on the responsibilities for her family of five. “I would bring vegetables and herbs from the mountains so that my brothers could sleep with full stomachs at night.”

Zinat says that after her father’s death, members of her fiancé’s family never bothered to check on them. “The only message I occasionally received from my fiancé’s family was that I should not work in a neighbor’s house,” Zinat says and adds that after being orphaned, she and her family members suffered a lot. Poverty has multiplied this grief. Zinat’s brothers and sisters have been waiting for their father to return for years.

Although this expectation is endless, the father of the family will never return. “I was in the 10th grade in Ishkashim district when the Taliban attacked my father’s checkpoint at 10 a.m.,” said Gulzar, the victim’s eldest son. “At that moment my father called me, I did not hear his voice. I called again soon after the call was cut but I never received an answer.”

Gulzar continues: “I wish I had heard my father’s voice for one last time. But alas, that was not to be.” Gulzar says that his father was a brave man who struggled to make ends meet and served in several Afghan provinces. “We still remember our father and have not forgotten the moments when he was alive.”

Gulzar’s account of the day his father was killed takes Zinat to the days before that incident. There are many regrets in Zinat’s stories. She says that whenever there was talk of war, her father would say that he would eventually lose his life. “I was small, my father was an Afghan National Army soldier, and he left the army several times but returned to make ends meet. He became a soldier for the third time. I wish he hadn’t become a soldier until I finished school.”

Mullah Mohammad, Qurban’s brother, went to a relative’s house in Ishkashim district four days after his brother was killed. Mullah Mohammad told Gulzar that he needed to go to Wakhan with him as his maternal uncle had passed away. Gulzar traveled with his Mullah Mohammad to Wakhan district, where they found another car carrying a corpse. “I asked my uncle that if my maternal uncle had died in Wakhan, whose corpse was this? To which my uncle replied with tears in his eyes that my father had been martyred.”

Gulzar says that when he heard this, he wept bitterly over the misery facing himself, his sister, and younger brother, who had endured the pain of not having a mother for years. “Father’s absence will never leave me.”

Years of war have made many families across the country mourn and grieve. Gulzar and Zinat say that their father is one of the thousands of victims from the army that have been killed across the country over the past 20 years. They say that although the Taliban killed their father, they are ready to forgive the group if they stop the violence and make peace.