KABUL, Afghanistan – In a shed next to the mosque his father helped build, Hussain’s body lay on a marble slab Friday morning while his brother Hamid and other relatives washed it up for burial. They meticulously patched the shrapnel wounds that had killed him the day before, using cotton swabs, plaster and clear plastic tape.
neighbors and relatives appeared at the door watching and giving advice; In this town on the outskirts of Kabul, people are buried the same way a child is raised, as a common cause.
“We all went to the airport a few days ago,” said Jamil, 28, one of Hussein’s seven brothers. Jamil worked at a US NGO, and applied for a US visa. Hussein, the eldest, was a police officer who worked with the US Special Forces. Hamid, the second oldest of them all, was an army major who served alongside the Americans in Helmand Province.
The three felt that they and their families were in danger with the return of the Taliban to power, especially since they belonged to the Hazara Shiite minority. Three days ago, Hussain brought his wife and five children to the airport, but the Taliban expelled them.
“They were beating us with whips and wires and shooting in the air,” said his wife Mahira, 35. “I was afraid for the children.”
However, her husband was desperate to escape. The couple decided that if he could make it to the airport, maybe he could find a way to get the rest of the family inside safely. I asked their son Ruhullah, 16, to accompany his father because he speaks some English.
The father and son were among thousands of Afghans who drove to the airport Thursday in the final days of the US evacuation, hoping to pass Taliban checkpoints and crowds, despite warnings of an Islamic State plot to attack the airport.
Hussain’s brother Hamid, an army officer, went with them, but he said they were separated in the dense crowd as they approached the Abbey Gate, where the Marines were checking documents and letting in a select few. Designed to deter car bombs and complex attacks, the airport fortress’s blast walls and barbed wire turned crowds into a narrow canal-side choke point.
There was a suicide bombing.
“The explosion hit us and we fell to the ground,” Hamid said. There were bodies everywhere. I could hardly see anything, we were suffocating with dust and smoke. I couldn’t find the others, and I had to escape.”
When she heard the news of an explosion at the airport, Mahira tried to call her husband and son, but their phones were switched off. At dawn, she took her oldest son with her and went into town to join the procession of relatives who walked the hospital morgue in search of their missing loved ones, the shelter homes filled with the nearly 200 Afghans killed in the blast.
“It was terrifying. The bodies were missing on heads and limbs. There were men, women and children,” Mahira said. Finally, she found her husband’s body in a hospital in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood.
She said: “The earth and the sky trembled, and I fell to the ground.” “All our dreams have turned to dust.”
But Friday morning came with mercy, too. While washing Hussein’s body in the mosque on Friday, Ruhollah, the missing son, arrived. He sat on the stairs near the outbuilding, the right side of his face bruised and swollen from the explosion. He just learned that his father died.
“A group of us were stuck inside the canal at the airport all night,” said the stunned young man. “Every time we tried to get up, the Americans started screaming and shooting.”
He said the Taliban first arrived and whipped the group out of the airport. Ruhollah was still wet with sewage, and he walked until he found a bus that took him across town. “He just got here,” said Jamil, his uncle, who was watching nearby. “It has been missing so far.”
When Hussein’s body was ready and wrapped in a white shroud, his relatives and neighbors carried him to the mosque, where the mullah was waiting. They put him in a green blanket from the front, his face exposed. They chant between prayers five times, according to Shiite custom: “God is great.”
Most of the men got out. It was the woman’s turn to see the deceased. They separated the curtain that separated their side of the mosque, and Hussein’s wife began crying loudly as she approached. “Oh my God, why did you leave us?” Mahira cried out in a startled voice. “Why?”
At the edge of the room, the Spirit of God heard his mother, crouched down and began to cry for the first time.
Outside the mosque, a small convoy of vehicles gathered. After the women said goodbye, his relatives picked up Hussein’s body and put it in a truck. Mourners marched out of town into the hills overlooking Kabul.
“We all looked at him,” Jamil said, staring out of the window. He was a police officer but he did not steal or take bribes. He served honorably until the day they sold him. Police, army, special forces – our leaders sold them all.”
Clusters of graves were visible on the hillsides, many bearing the tricolor flags of the fallen government. “Most of my classmates and my playmates died of my age,” Jamil said. They went to the police or the military, or worked in logistics for Americans. I was the only one who stayed in school and went to university.”
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When they arrived at the site, the mourners dismounted and walked across the barren slope, swirls of dust licking the cuffs of their pants. A pair of gravediggers were swinging their pickaxe in the stone ground; There were already graves dug farther up the hill, but the family wanted Hussain to be buried here next to his father, the head of the family, who died of Covid two months ago, during the third wave of the virus in Afghanistan.
The mourners sat in the sun waiting. From afar, the roar of a departing American military aircraft could be heard. When interviewing a foreign journalist, some men asked if there was still any way to get to the airport and leave the country.
They represented the losing side in the war: those who sacrificed for a fallen regime, and who would find their share diminished in the coming new order, and at the mercy of their former enemy. They didn’t think the bloodshed was over.
“We don’t trust what the Taliban say about forgiving everyone,” one of the men said. “These are just words.”
Two of Hussein’s relatives raised a sheet to protect his body from the scorching sun. Ripple when the breeze came in a small, gentle wind. Among the Afghan security forces, there was a popular saying in Persian that Hussein would have known: Oh homeland, oh Kavan. Give me the nation or the shroud.
“When the Taliban came to Kabul, I cried for my country, more than I cried for our father,” Jamil said. “The army, the police, everything we built is now gone.”
Once a wider hole was dug, the gravediggers pierced a trench in the hard soil at the bottom, pointing to Mecca. Jamil helped push his brother to the grave. The mullah crouched beside him and recited a prayer asking God to have mercy on his soul. They got up and covered al-Husayn with pieces of slate, then the stones with shovels of earth.
When this was done, mourners descended from the hill, tears and sweat strewn across the dust on their faces.
Jamil said, “There is no value in our lives.” “Our blood is worth nothing. Nobody cares.”
Fatima Faizi Contribute to the preparation of reports.