DISPATCHES
Dead Friends, While Killers Run Free
by Rob Schultheis
Aug 26, 2010 | 950 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Tom Grams turned up among the ten medical aid workers murdered in northeastern Afghanistan three weeks ago, that made four friends of mine who have been killed by the Taliban and their fanatic kind since I first traveled to Afghanistan in 1984 to cover the wars. Those four are the ones I know of; I’ve been unable to track down many of my old Hazara friends from Bamiyan, and I still have no idea if they are alive or dead.

Doctor Grams and the three who preceded him were rare human beings, people the world could ill afford to lose in this age of dishonor, betrayal and selfish egomania, yet it seems that they are the kind all too often killed in times of war, lawlessness and anarchy, while their murderers, the dream-killers and destroyers of everything good, continue to flourish.

There was Professor Syed Majrooh, gunned down by an assassin in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1987, after he published a poll of Afghan refugees showing that most of them favored a moderate constitutional monarchy after the war. The psychopathic warlord Gulbuddin Heckmatyar, a puppet of the Pakistan Army’s military intelligence wing, had warned the Professor not to publish the results of the poll. He and his masters in Islamabad, and their Saudi Arabian financiers, wanted an extremist Islamist regime in Kabul, one they could control and use as a base to further spread their poisonous theology.

Majrooh went ahead and published the poll’s data anyway, knowing full well how dangerous, it was; the old man, frail and crippled in one leg, was as fearless as a lion.

I had just returned from the Safed Koh, covering the fighting there. It was winter, a grueling time to travel in Afghanistan’s mountains; during the journey a mujahed friend of mine was badly wounded in a firefight, and barely survived the medevac to the Pakistan border. On top of that, the trip from the border town of Terri Mangal through the Tribal Area to Peshawar had an eerie menacing feel; I found out later there had been two bungled assassination attempts on me as I left Terri Mangal, neither of which I noticed in my exhausted, half-conscious state. When I arrived in Peshawar at dusk, I had intended to go straight to Majrooh’s office and update him on what I had seen; the Afghan Information Center, which Majrooh ran almost single-handed, depended on reports from refugees, Afghans still inside the country, the various mujahedin groups and aid workers and reporters to produce a kind of snapshot mosaic of Afghanistan and the war, and I was one of his regular sources. He had taught me everything important that I knew about Afghanistan: to cherish the farmers, village mullahs, caravaneers and wandering Sufis who were the backbone and soul of the country, and to respect their devotion to the ideals of honor, valor, generosity, and instinctive egalitarianism.

Anyhow, that night I decided that I was just too weary to talk, and that I would meet with the Professor the next morning. I brewed up a cup of black tea, toor chai, and collapsed on my bed, staring at the ceiling, half awake, half dreaming.

Less than half an hour later a young Afghan friend came running into the house I shared with a half dozen or so journalists and aid workers: “Professor Majrooh’s been shot!” he cried. I felt like I had been electrocuted. I ran downstairs and jumped in the communal SUV, along with the young Afghan and a couple of other correspondents, and we raced down to Majrooh’s compound. When we arrived, his body had already been taken away in a car by his friends, but his blood was everywhere, on the ground, the walls and the front gate. He had been shot at point blank range with a Kalashnikov, a whole clip’s worth of bullets.

Like the other correspondents who regularly covered the war, I always assumed that the United States protected Majrooh; his work at the A.I.C. was invaluable, and he would be vitally important in building a decent, humane new Afghanistan after the war. It was unthinkable that our government would stand by, Pontius Pilate-like, and let him be murdered in a country that was supposedly a close ally of ours.

In retrospect, we should have known better. Gulbuddin, the man who ordered his killing, received more American aid than any other guerrilla leader, despite the fact that he spent much more time fighting other mujahedin and killing Western aid workers, journalists and moderate and liberal Afghans than he ever did battling the Soviets. Pakstani military intelligence, I.S.I., had obviously sanctioned the assassination. Unbelievably, Majrooh’s murder didn’t alter the status quo a bit. Gulbuddin continued to be the C.I.A.’s darling, and C.I.A. agents still played tennis and swapped jokes with their I.S.I. counterparts in Islamabad. It was all about making Saudi Arabia happy, building Pakistan up as a counter to the so-called “fanatics” in Iran, and making sure Americans could continue to buy gigantic gas-guzzlers, tear up the countryside with ATVs, and stick their 7-year-olds on miniature motorcycles. Afghanistan and its people meant nothing to the bland monsters inside the Beltway and in oil company offices in Houston and Riyadh. Standing at Majrooh’s gate, trying not to break down, I felt as if an entire nation had been murdered there, and that its blood covered half the world, reaching all the way to the bone-white towers of Washington, D.C.…

(Part One of Three)
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