Haji is my aunt’s son in law. He was born and brought up in a peasantry a few kilometres from Kabul. Inspite proximity to the biggest urban center in the country his family adopted a very rural style of life. He was brought up in a big family with a lot of brothers and sisters. Rural areas around Kabul resents urban culture than distant area as their style of life more threatened to change than distant peasantry. Most of the men in paghaman has some sort of none farm business and travel every day to Kabul. But Kabul culture of the seventies doesn’t; it weakens socio-family ties and disrupts the power of those who are the top of those hierarchies. With the soveit’s invasion Haji’s family immigrated to Pakistan where his sister married one of the most prominent Mujaheeden leaders, who was nominated for the prime ministry of the interim Mujaheeden government in Pakistan. The visible obstacle was the public perception; he went university in the states where he married an American to take on this job he needed to have an Afghan wife.
As a result of this marriage the entire Haji family was involved in his business life. It goes without saying that the family financially benefited a lot. There was close ties with the Saudi Arabia and the family was travelling there quite frequently; for conducting Mujaheeden related and private businesses.
Haji is a calm man who weighs around 100kg; he enjoys the nature and loves his home town for its beautiful landscape and appealing weather. He is a man of family, he is a medium size family. He has certain hobbies, he is quite strict when it comes to maintaining what he enjoys and wouldn’t give it up for quite a lot of things which matter for others. He is a good muslim. He exercises his religious obligation regularly. He is also a very influenceble man, his urge for his children education and life style is what he has been influenced by abroad in aristocrat families. The children were under extreme pressure to act like rich Saudi kids. They were named as them; the only one which crosses my mind right now is the oldest son whose name is Usama.
In November 2001 smiley faces, full of energy was sign happiness on peoples faces after the oust of Taliban. I was passing by one of the hotels owned by Haji and I decided to stop by and say hello. Haji asked me if I wanted a job with him and he offered me to manage his hotel. I accepted the job and started right afterward. It was very challenging; I established an accounting system and management. But it kept falling apart as I had no previous experience, and even if I did I doubt if it had worked in the chaos of the hotel. Haji wanted to have his own say, so did his brothers, one of whom was very self confident and perceptive. There was also all his closer relatives who saw me as an outsider and didn’t quite appreciate my presence and their competition was in the form of obstacle creation and disruption of my work and at best not being helpful. Unfortunately all of the hotel staff was Haji’s relative and they all had such an attitude. I introduced computer to do the balance of accounts, no one was sure of it’s capacity to do such job. One day haji said he wanted to talk with me and he told me with all due respect to my decision and he has heard a great deal about computers but he wanted me to the accounting in the old notebook style so he can also keep track of income and expenses. In the evening I was showing Arabic belly dance on the computer. At the beginning there was low turn out of the spectators and in the morning I was hearing some of the old man fussing about it. But the number of spectators increased substantially in a week and the computer room turned into a room for watching half naked girls by pious. Here is a story by one of the guests.
It wasn’t very long until Mujaheeden from nuke and corners of the country started arriving to Kabul to take their share of the government. They were old war time buddies of Haji and were expecting him to be their host. Haji told me we are going to have these guys in the hotel. He said we will never be like Mustafa hotel which was a place for foreign journalists and aid workers because we are rooted in the people of the country and we will please them. Besides it’s never going to happen; we are not doing the appropriate marketing and branding for the foreigners. I guess he was right, he didn’t believe in long time business investment. He wanted to cultivate and collect the fruit right afterward.
I said who is going to pay for this he said the government will pay for their accommodation and meals. I was not sure if it’s easy to get money which has been spent from the government. I have heard stories about how money and private property could disappear in government bureaucracy but I never thought I would have to deal with it. I’ve also heard how easy it was for others with the right connection to make millions and claim others property with some bribery which is a speck to the total gain. But this is the idea of investment in corrupt societies; you bribe the authorities and they will look into it might not happen your expenses counts toward your investment for having the connection inside and insurance to your own property.
Mujaheeden were arriving from different parts of the country in dozens, one of them was appointed as a minister or deputy minister. But the others were just there to accompany him and provide physical and psychological security.
They were relentless they wanted to hunt some property and take some part of government property into their own.
When talking these men they were always asking what kind of government job has the most income. They wanted to know how they can get their hands on some cash either from selling government property or in exchange for doing some favour for others. If cash was not available second class work was to be in logistics and secure part of the good which is for daily administrative function of the government.
If it wasn’t this then we were talking about material such as cars, property and money. I can’t recall an incident where we talked about ideas and thinking.
They only other thing they were talking about was religion.
This job was very stressful and I wanted to quit but it wasn’t easy one can’t quit a family business. Some of the guys have been working with Haji for over ten years. Haji some how heard about this and asked one of the guys to condemn my decision and I shouldn’t even think about bringing it up with him. This is an Afghan way of dealing with things first you are indirect by asking somebody else; secondly the person condemns the way you think so you start to feel guilty therefore sanction your behaviour and third the guy just give you some general reasons why not to leave the business. There is no listening or understanding, the relevance of your decision is not taken into consideration. The only thing which matters is the principal.
I found a very good job with nice people in an international media development NGO, but i couldn’t dare to tell haji that I was moving to another job. I told him that I was going to study he thought it was a good principal but he wanted me to secure all the money the government owes for hosting around 50 people, according to my calculation it was well over 50000 dollars. There was no way to get that kind of money from the government; I spent a couple of weeks running around ministries, but no joy. I was really frustrated and was under a lot of pressure, people were rude and polite, they were uncaring and inefficient, I was only 20 years old when doing all this at a point I was so frustrated that I didn’t want deal with any of the hotel related issues it turned into my nightmares, I was happy in the evening so I am done with it but mornings were sad.
Haji found a replacement for me and I was taking this guy to every hope I had to get this money so he can follow up on the hope and has an idea of who owes what.
I only got 2000 dollars and there was another over 48000 to get and it has been almost five years, but there is no money yet.
Among the state sponsored guests arrived around 25 boys from Hirat. Their only job was to accompany Mahmood Saddiq to snatch the ministry of women affairs. Mahmood is the son of Ismail Khan the notorious warlord from the west of the country. Khan is the minister of power and energy now, but back then he didn’t come to Kabul as he was considering himself above the state and any law. His pride and power columns were shaken down as he engaged in some fierce battles with a minority group and especially after national army was deployed in the west and government extended its control in his area.
The 25 group and Mahmood were all living in Iran under Taliban and this was their return back home. The second in command was an elder guy named Ahmad. Ahmad is around 35, a war veteran as a symbol of which he doesn’t have some fingers and some scars on the face. The guys were around 22 and they all respected Ahmad. Ahmad was to provide protection for the minister and the boys who will occupy civilian positions in the ministry of women affairs. Ahmad set up an HF long range radio in his hotel room to maintain communication with his headquarters. Despite my warnings of not carrying weapon inside the hotel. He was always armed.
Mahmood had picked 25 guys who have an educational degree from abroad and were never part of war and misery to come with him and help him deal with women. They seemed to be good in dealing with women than anyone else in the country. Of course except women, but it wasn’t yet the time to let women deal with each other without men supervision.
The guys talked about women usually and were dressed adequately. On the other hand Ahmad was picked by Khan to accompany them. He was not the much-loved man of Mahmood. He was the tough guy. He thought the guys are soft and at the end of the day what makes the real difference is a sweeping military power; his theory was endorsed by his life time experience. His perception might have been more satisfied after he saw that the majority of the group couldn’t either find their preferred job, or couldn’t do their job or it wasn’t what they were looking and returned back home. More dramatically he witnessed the assassination of Mahmood Saddiq who then was the minister of aviation and tourism by Khan’s rivals.
The group brought a lot of military gears, in case of a war occurrence in Kabul, which obviously couldn’t be accommodated in their rooms. I made a depot room available. The weapon included 20 brand new MP5 German manufactured sub-machine guns donated by Islamic Republic of Iran. The equipment was worth tens of thousands of dollars. Ahmad assigned 24 hour sentry for the depot, in addition I also had Jawad watching over all depots. The problem was none of the guards were taking their jobs seriously the guy from Hirat thought he is going to get some job in a ministry not sitting in a slum. Jawad never had a job to sit some where and to pay attention to what he is supposed to do, in a family business people feel entitled to certain things including the right not to do anything.
One night somebody broke into the place and significant amount of the equipment was stolen. The next morning four arrests were made and they were all locked up in a container for four days until they were bailed out by Haji and Ahmad. I was taken into the police station for questioning. I was accused of having an illegal AK47 in my office. I told them it belonged to haji, but of course they can’t bring him in. furthermore everyone in the country had one. This plus I was playing along with them helped to get out of there in three hours.
Hussein was arrested as a prime suspect who was the closest to the supply the three other guys were also hotel staff and they were arrested on the scene as they made some comments in order to be helpful to the investigators. Ghafar the cook was arrested because he showed them a window at the back entrance.
There are three rules when you are arrested by police in Afghanistan:
1. You have to play along. You are not supposed to smile, reason or question anything. If you do, they will require you to answer more questions and they are in the written form and every word you write will generate more questions. This will go on until you are exhausted. Once you start to play along then they can get what they want out of you, some money.
2. The public doesn’t know their rights and the investigators never explain. They kept the guys in custody for four days without any court authority. You don’t get a lawyer or public defendant. You get tortured as routine.
3. The poor and less powerful had to stay indefinitely. That’s why Jawad suffered more than anyone else, he was disabled after an explosion and he lost his parents in the early childhood. At the end he plays along better than anyone else or he will never make it out.
I went to Mahmood and Ahmad. I told them how equally it could be more the fault of their guard too and he is the one who should first be hold responsible for thievery therefore as the first suspect. While no one even think like that. Secondly, there are clear footprints and finger prints of the thieves and it’s easy to identify who it was, but this will inescapably result in identification of the thief and this is not what the police want. The police want to hold four guys and extract some money out of them. They also want to pop in every now and then and get some gain out of the hotel.
Eventually Ahmad went to the prosecutor and he said he believes the thief is an outsider and he should let the guys go and conduct the investigation in a more effective manner. The guys were released a few hours later.
It’s been almost a year after the burglary and I was working at Internews. For eight months during which I never went to see Haji. I wasn’t really missing him and I was happy to have a new start.
One day I was heading out of the office to get some lunch, outside the office I saw the prosecutor/investigator and Jawad.
I said “Hi” and wanted to get away,
Jawad said: ”we were actually looking for you.”
I said: “no shit. What do you want?”
The prosecutor said let’s go to police headquarter we will tell you there. I wanted to take my car. The prosecutor said no need; you are going to stay there for awhile. At the end of the street he had parked his vehicle; a taxi with a secret service driver. This was a very common technique of the secret service they were usually making arrests in the taxis. The secondary task of these taxi drivers was to talk to their passengers about politics. This was an easy way to trap a civilian for sharing his thoughts with a fellow citizen. As the voice was recorded they had hardcore proof of guilt. The passenger either had to pay some substantial amount or go to jail for a very long time.
This made the citizens highly suspected of taxi drivers and they never talked with them while riding. `
They took me to the police headquarter. In the car Jawad asked: “where the hell have you been?”
I said: “in the office, why should I tell you anyway?”
He said: “they have been looking for you?”
I said: “why?”
Jawad said: “they need to do a follow up on the Hiraty’s theft. They think they have got some new hints.”
Jawad and I were sitting in the back seat, the prosecutor, Mr. Sarnwal, was in the front, I asked him what was going on. He didn’t answer. I asked him again where we are going. He didn’t answer again. Jawad looked at me and whispered so the prosecutor could also hear: “don’t piss him off. Shut up!!”.
Mr. Sarnwal put on a very nasty face. He was sweating. His shaved, sweaty face was shining as the sun rays reflected on his face. A CD was hanging from the back mirror. The ‘safe journey prayer’ was written on it. It was bouncing around as we went down the bumpy road of Wazir Akbar Khan. It was reflecting sun into the driver eyes. The safe journey CD was definitely working by keeping the driver awake.
The driver was playing an old classic tape. I was not particularly enjoying it, but the other seemed to don’t mind.
We arrived at the station. Mr. Sarnwal dismissed the driver and took me and Jawad to a basement. It was dark with tiny skyroof fenced by strong steel bars. The glasses were broken some windows were covered by plastic. There were two big metal boxes in either corners of the room for storing files. There was some desks and chairs in the room. The wall was the actual colour of the concrete, grey with yellow stains created by leaking water. The room was situated in a long corridor with similar door on both sides. At the end of the corridor there was a cell. A small cell with one bed, it was very dark. The corridor was illuminated by the deem lights from the windows on the top of the doors.
As we entered the room, Mr. Sarnwal started beating me up. After ten minutes of beating he told me to stop smiling. I couldn’t help it, so he started again with a metal bar. It really hurt and I was in pain and I couldn’t smile anymore.
He said: “that helped you”.
He asked Jawad to sign a piece of paper and let him go. Jawad said good luck to me and left. After an hour I got bored and wanted to use my phone to call somebody to get me out of there. He saw me and he jumped and took my phone and all other belongings and locked them up in a draw.
He said “you are a major criminal and you are under prosecution. You can’t make phone call anymore and you can’t keep your belongings. He continued: “where the fuck have you been? son of a bitch. We have been looking for you all over”
I said: “Haji billed me out”
He said: “but he no more knows where you are, so he withdrew it. Now I have to put you in jail so I can have access to you all the time”
“why did you leave Haji? You have caused him great losses. You have to go back and collect the money the government owes him”
I had nothing to say.
then he handed me ten questions on five sheets and asked me to answer them. It took me two hours to answer them, as I was careful in what I was writing; his strategy was to use any word that I say against me. In this period some five or six other guys popped into the room and they asked him what I have done.
He was telling them: “this son of a pimp has stolen a lot of money and weapons, yet he refuse to come and see me. It’s like I am his fucking servant to find him”
all of the other guys were nodding the same way in agreement and saying “it’s a very bad boy”
I got it, the agenda was to show me that he was not alone on this and it’s a common practice and all his other colleagues would have done the same thing. The colleagues didn’t show the slightest respect, this is so I feel inferior and throw myself at the prosecutor’s mercy. I told one of the guys, who seemed nicer “Mr. Sarnwal has no reason to have me here. He hasn’t conducted any new investigation and he has no evidence for questioning me again.”
He said: “you are a very good boy but you should agree with Mr. Saranwal. There was another guy just like you, we brought him here. He had a pistol and he refused to answer any question and he wanted to phone somebody, but we put the questions in a way so he couldn’t answer and we got him and no one could help him out until he apologized and we let him go”.
Mr. Sarnwal said: “you know how I found him? He was on TV the other night and he was talking about journalists” they all laughed loud. During all this my phone was ringing in the draw of Sarnwal’s desk. He didn’t know how to deal with it or turn it off. He left the room and the other prosecutor gave me the phone to answer. It was Zalmai, a good friend of mine.
“where the fuck are you? I have unpacked and installed the computers downstairs. Do you want to check it out?”
“I am in the fucking jail dude”
“What? Why? What the fuck did you do?”
“nothing, it’s the Hiratys case”
Zalmai was also working in the Hotel for awhile and he knew all about it. He said:
“but it was a year a go and its fucking over. Ahmad give up on it and he withdrew any claim”
“I know but you have to get me out of here now”
“I am on it”
This is when Mr. Sarnwal walked in again and said: “get off the phone and turn that thing off.”
He locked it in his draw. I give him my answers and he was observing it carefully he didn’t find anything interesting in it. Then he walked to one of the shelves and found a form. He filled it out, sign and stamp it. He said:
“Look, stop asking too many questions! When I said go, you move. I’ve got more important things to do than answering your questions”
We went to a big office, the secretary said; “the boss is in a meeting, wait here for a minute”
after a minute the secretary let us into another room. There was the boss with a big picture of Massood hanging on the wall behind him and another one on his table. There was a big bouquet of colourful, fake - plastic flowers on his table; this is a common tradition in Afghanistan to keep all plastic flowers you received on your promotion to the new position.
Mr. Sarnawal walked up and said: “Sahib, there has been a major burglary in a Hotel and this guy is the prime suspect. It took us several months to find him; to be safe I suggest we put him under supervision in one of the cells, so he is accessible for questioning and proving the crime.”
“Sir, this stuff is not true, I am a very law obeying citizen and I train journalists” I showed him my internews ID.
He said: “so you are saying we are lying?”
I had this situation before, you can’t say NO because the boss will be insulted and merciless and I sure didn’t want that. If I say YES, then he will go ‘good, then you get what you deserve’. So I opt to remain silent.
The boss asked Mr. Sarnwal “Do you have the form?”
He signed it and Mr. Sarnwal said “lets go” I was walking down the stairs and I saw signs on the doors, they all looked different, they felt different, there was an emptiness in their words, there was despair and deception in what they tried to mean. “Department of Social Justice” “ISAF – Building Afghan police capacity project” I saw dozens of such signs.
We walked out of the main building walked a couple of hundred meters and I saw a big sign on a door guarded by eight soldiers ‘Kabul Correction House’ we walked in and made a turn, we entered the office. A police major was sitting behind the desk. Mr. Sarnwal walked up and put the form on the desk and said: “I want to put this guy in temporary custody, please sign the delivery form”
The major said: “we don’t take temporary custodies anymore. I am surprised how your boss signed this. The minister of interior issued a decree a few days ago. If you are finished with him and sending his case to the court then we can keep him. We can’t keep him for your questioning. The police station can keep him for awhile, why is he not there?”
Mr. Sarnwal said: “never mind”
We walked out and he said: ”I can’t keep you, you have to find someone else to bill you out”
“Let’s go to the office and I’ll give you, your belongings”
We went to the office three other prosecutors were drinking tea and chatting there.
Mr. Sarnwal gave me my phone; I turned it on and wanted to make a call
He said “who are you calling?”
“someone to bill me out”
“who?” I give him a few names and he asked what they were doing, I said they work at the ministry of defence. They should be reliable people; they will not lie or ignore their promise, they are professional soldiers.
Mr. Sarnwal yelled at me: “what the fuck is wrong with you?”
one of the prosecutors said: “if you call somebody at the ministry of defence then we really can’t put him in jail if he fail to bring you in. don’t you know a service shop, a store or a pharmacy owner. Let me tell you how it works, if you start to cooperate with us then we will cooperate with you and you are the one who will benefit”
I said “sure I do know, what shall I do?”
He gave me a form and told me to get my friend to fill and sign it. He told me to be there tomorrow at 1100. He sent a police with me.
I went to see Zamir a friend in downtown who was a professional calligrapher and painter. He was sunbathing and drinking tea; he saw me and said: “hey are you here to make a painting of yourself?”
I said “no” and I explained the situation.
He looked very sorry and did the form and gave it to the soldier. The soldier said I should go with him, I said I really don’t want to go back there. I gave him some money to pay for a Taxi and have some Kebab. He took his way. I had some tea with Zamir and he dropped me off at home.
I couldn’t sleep that night; I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t tell my parents, neither brother nor sister, and they yet don’t know about it. I was trying to not think about all the hideous things, but I couldn’t help it. I was vengeful and scared at the same time; how people could be that horrible. The only way to finish this was to bribe, I didn’t like the idea in principal but there was no other way out. I felt alone, I felt like every one would say bribe them, but I didn’t want to. I started to have nightmares. I hate to see space and the stars and the galaxies in my dreams, especially when it’s coloured. But that night I was floating in the space and between the rugged meteorites. I woke up and I was sweating.
The next day I stopped by the office. I saw Adib and Dominic there, Adib was the operation director and Dominic is my boss. I told them about what happened. Dominic even didn’t stop typing; when my story was finished he didn’t even bother to look at me. He didn’t get it at all. He couldn’t imagine how it feels to be wrongly accused of something, and then tortured and used to proof it on you.
Adib said: “Afghan police definitely acts very slowly. But can you make sure that they don’t come to the office looking for you”
Their attitude really made me upset. This is when I wanted to cry, I wanted to cry loud.
My sophisticated colleagues could have talked about conflict management under lawlessness, corrupted authorities and poverty for hours; but would never understand what it feels like. However, they attempt to understand, they ask questions, for example when you are in Kabul you can’t miss the mud and rock houses on the mountains. They tried to understand by inquiring, and it sounds like: “how do they take construction material and house appliances up there? how many people live in a house? How do they define their neighbourhood? Why some has small and others big houses? They must have a nice view up there; why isn’t there any rich people?” I heard Dominic is back in Kabul, I guess I have to go and see him and ask him some questions I have always been curious to know: “have you had beer? How often do you drink beer? Do you like Heineken? Have you tried Tyskie? Do you like can or bottle?”
There are two kinds of people in the world. The one who breaks the law and the morality and the standards, just like Mr. Sarnwal. But often a lot of people are compelled to do this and they don’t mean harm. The one who lies, is aiming to gain more from the situation or at least hoping to look better; not for the sole reason to deceit and cheat others.
The second type of people simply does the wrong thing, just like Haji and Dominic.
I met Zalmai and asked him to come with me. Zalmai weighs over 90KG, and it changes a lot, depending if he does exercise and eat less. He has studied some branch of agriculture but he couldn’t apply much in the family farming, because the drought destroyed their orchards. He later joined Taliban 6th infantry division; which we together witnessed its destruction at the wake of allied bombing campaign. He didn’t do the faintest to help. We enjoyed watching demoralised Taliban panicking in despair. He was just waiting when they are going to be finished.
On the way to the police station, we went to see Ahmad; he said he had no idea that the investigation is ongoing. He said we asked the police to call off the investigation as we know there is no hope of finding our weapons and it’s going to create extra headaches.
He also asked me: “are you sure if haji has nothing to do with this? Because last time I saw him he was not happy with you; and he thinks you have caused him great losses”.
Mr. Sarnwal handed me another bunch of questions. Zalmai was trying to chat with one of Mr. Sarnwal’s colleagues. I was answering the questions. There was the three of us in the room, Zalmai, Sarnwal’s colleagues and me. Sarnwal’s colleagues, who is a prosecutor too, has shortly trimmed grey beard, round eyes pushed into his skull. He is wearing a sweater made in Afghanistan; it’s famous for its endurablty and warmth. It’s usually produced in grey, so it mingles with the environment. He had grey strip suit on. If I see this man on the street I would naturally label aim as secret service. In Afghan law enforcement system; it’s hard to tell the difference between a prosecutor, police, secret service and judge. An ordinary Afghan would use one word to describe any of them. He told Zalmai, “Your friend didn’t behave good yesterday.”
“Yes I know, he doesn’t have much experience of this kind. You have to forgive his rudeness” replied Zalmai.
“you know, he shouldn’t take the questions that seriously”
They all started to communicate with me through Zalmai; and Zalmai was communicating with Sarnwal through his colleague. Sarnwal’s colleague and Zalmai fixed an appointment to meet in a Chai Khana later in the afternoon.
I saw Zalmai in the afternoon he said he is heading to the meeting. I asked him if he needed some cash. He said it’s ok. He has got it.
He called me later and said the guy was a bit scared in the beginning but it’s all sorted now. “I told him I don’t want any trouble in the future and this shouldn’t turn into a ‘Milking Cow’ for the police, which they could extract some money once every few months. I want to buy the entire investigation file. First he was reluctant to sell it and then couldn’t think of the price. But we came to an agreement. You wouldn’t believe how much bullcrap is there. I am a potential suspect too.” He laughed
I haven’t heard from them in the last three years.