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'I dream only of having my hand again'
FROM ANTHONY LOYD IN GOLBAHAR
KARIMULLAH is an Afghan who does not want to relate his war story. In a land where everyone is quick to tell their tale, his silence makes him unique.
He stood alone in the narrow midday shadows of the hospital courtyard when I saw him yesterday, a mix of glittering fury and blank despair. He had hobbled into the Red Crosss orthopaedic centre in Golbahar on Saturday.
Even among the other amputees, his injuries stood out. Mines can take off both legs and both arms, or the limbs of one side, or, more often, just a single leg or foot. Karimullah's injuries, however, had a different cause. When, reluctantly, he had finished accounting for the loss of his left foot and right hand there was nothing to do but leave the man to his blade-eyed stare.
The son of Tajik parents, now 26 years old, he fled Kabul when the Taleban arrived in 1996. Moving north to a village in Northern Alliance territory with his wife and two children, he found work in a vineyard. But he lost his job and home to a Taleban advance in 1998. He joined the Mujahidin.
A shell hit his post on the Samali Plain in 1999. It killed four of his comrades. Karimullah escaped to a Pashtun village whose inhabitants handed him over to the Taleban. Tried by a "military tribunal" in Kabul, after torture he was sent to the city's Pulecharkhi jail for having served with the Alliance.
"I had been there 12 weeks when three Talebs came into my cell," he said. "They called my name out and said I was to be released." Baffled but relieved, Karimullah was led to a Datsun pick-up.
"They began driving me to the Ghazi stadium," Karimullah said. "I was silent at the beginning, but as we neared it I asked, 'What is this? What of my release?' They told me, 'Wait you will be released'."
The Datsun drove into the centre of the stadium. Karimullah recalls thousands of faces staring at him in silence from the stands, and between 10 and 14 mullahs on chairs in a line in the middle of the field. He was pulled from the truck and told to lie spreadeagled on the grass.
"The mullahs didn't even ask my name or speak to the crowd. Seven doctors approached me. They wore grey uniforms, surgical masks and gloves. I could see one was crying. They injected me. After five minutes my body was numb though I was still conscious. Then they put clamps on my hand and foot and began to cut them off with special saws. There was no pain but I could see what they were doing."
I asked him if he stared at the sky. He told me he was transfixed by the sight of his foot being removed.
"There was a sigh and murmur from the crowd when they finished. It had taken about five minutes. Taleban guards threw me into the back of the pick-up. One was crying too. Nothing was said. Even now I am unaware why I was chosen for amputation".
He was taken to Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan hospital. After a week eight of his former prison guards visited him. They brought him apples and 600,000 afghanis (£10).
“They apologised. They told me they had not known what would happen. I threw the money and apples back at them. I screamed that they had told me I would be released and instead had taken my foot and hand for nothing. They left.”
On the tenth day he was discharged. A taxi took him to his parents’ home. They had no idea what had happened to him.
Karimullah’s eight-year-old sister, Razia, answered the taxi-driver’s knock on the door. She burst into tears when she saw her brother sprawled in the back of the cab. Worse was to follow. “My mother had been ill for some time so was very weak. When she saw me, she collapsed. She regained consciousness for a few hours, but then had a heart attack and died.
“I thought the worst day of my life had been in the stadium. Coming home was worse. Her name was Masherin. She was 42.”
He became a beggar, his mutilation carrying with it the stigma and shame of the punishment normally meted out to a thief.
Then, a few weeks ago, a cousin, a Mujahidin commander, got a message through the lines offering him help. Borrowing a spare prosthetic leg from a mine victim in Kabul, Karimullah limped northwards for days, crossing the front with other refugees.The Red Cross is preparing a prosthetic leg for him, but some scars cannot be repaired.
“I am finished. I have no future,” Karimullah said. “I have had everything taken from me by the Taleban. Before they came to Kabul I was a student in the tenth grade, an educated man with some chances before me.
“Someone told me a rich Pashtun had committed a crime and paid the corrupt mullahs to use a prisoner of war for public amputation instead of himself. I don’t know if it’s true. But I hate them.
“I dream only of having my hand again so I could carry a gun and go to the front line and kill and kill. I’d kill them all, every Taleb and every mullah.”
-- Anonymous, October 31, 2001