Friday, February 18th, 2011
Women did not sit passively by as their men were fighting the Soviets. Tajwar was a leader, but she couldn’t have done much without the support of other women working with her. When Tajwar first told me her story, I could imagine her life up on the big screen, an audacious adventure story and action movie. When I shared my vision with her, she laughed and said that she was only one of many, some more intrepid than she was. She told me that she was writing a book on heroic women from around the country and their daring escapades while fighting the Soviets. I can’t wait to see that book!
And there were others… just the other day I ran across a short article about Hajiyani Abeda, a woman who in her heyday commanded 200 male fighters and another article from 2006 about Bibi Ayisha Kaftar aka “The Pigeon” who “fought off the Russians, the Taliban and local rivals.”
Back to Tajwar and her account of several of her actions.
Peggy: After I returned from Afghanistan I heard a story about a foreigner who had been sitting on her balcony one evening around dusk when she heard a rumbling sound in the distance. Thinking that it was more Soviet tanks coming to her part of the city, she looked around below to see if she could see anyone on the streets but they were empty except for occasional Soviet patrols. As the sound grew closer, she realized that it wasn’t the rumbling of tanks, but the chanting of “Alahu Akhbar”, growing stronger and closer until the chorus surrounded her. She looked down into the neighboring courtyard and saw the family members shouting their defiance from the safety of their compounds.
Tajwar: Afghan women were the first to demonstrate after the Russians came. Allahu Akbar was the first one we did. One day the Russians killed a lot of soldiers so that night a lot of people came to our home to write a night letter. There was a lot of snow that night and I walked the streets at midnight giving the message that we were to say Allahu Akhbar the following evening . When we started, you would have thought that all the world is saying Allahu Akbar. The walls shook and it made the Russians afraid. We said it all night. I was with my brother. One lady we know put boiling water on our heads.
Another day I wrote a letter and again took it door to door. It said: “If you hate Russia, don’t go to work, don’t go shopping.” For 3 days all the shops were closed. We did it just to find out how much support we had. For me it was very dangerous. All the communists know me and know my story. They follow me everywhere.
Peggy: Imagine the effect: 18 year old Soviet youth, ethnic Russians as well as others from throughout the Soviet empire, many never having left their small-town homelands, all indoctrinated against religion, having been drafted and shipped off to Afghanistan, which was to them, the ends of the earth. Accounts I’ve read say that “Already in 1983 word had gotten around (among the Soviet recruits) that Afghanistan was a hellhole”.* So, imagine these fellows patrolling the streets when first quietly in the distance when gradually from all around them wells up a defiant “Alahu Akhbar” that goes on for the entire night. They can’t get away from it, they can’t see who is doing it, but they can hear hundreds, maybe thousands of voices rising up against them, while being impotent to do anything about it.
Tajwar: We decided to disrupt the celebrations of the first anniversary of the Communist regime in April of 1979. Teachers would be forced to bring their children to watch the parade. We gave the kids some balloons and toy explosives. When the parade started, the kids began popping the balloons and setting off the firecrackers. Women in the crowd started shouting “The Mujahadin are coming!” and the Communists in the parade ran for cover. The rest of the ceremony was canceled.
Another activity we planned was to disrupt the May Day Parade. I talked with certain students at the school and told them to collect wasps in tiny boxes. On May Day, the Russians had a big parade with tanks and then rows and rows of soldiers marching with their rifles. A big crowd gathered to watch them. At a certain point, our supporters in the back of the crowd begin pushing everyone toward the parade. When they got close enough, at another signal, the kids started going crazy and they ran in and among the soldiers, stooping low while they opened their boxes. You should have seen it! The wasps flew up the soldiers’ pant legs and into their shirts. Soldiers dropped their banners and rifles as they began swatting at the wasps. The whole parade was disrupted and then disbanded. We collected 25 rifles and small arms that day and we showed the Russians our power. These were the kinds of things we did.
*Klaits and Klaits, Love and War in Afghanistan, p 151.
Friday, February 4th, 2011
The Communists suspected that I was working against them so they got my family to watch me. They followed me when I left my house, especially my husband’s other wife. Her two sons worked for KGB. She was an uneducated woman but for 24 hours she watched me from her house. Whenever I would leave, they reported that, for example, I was wearing a gray skirt and blue scarf. They described me like that every time.
But to do my work, I needed to go to my friends’ villages to talk with the people. Thousands of freedom fighters came to visit me. For example, a popular commander came to visit me from Herat and another all the way from Mazar Sharif. I didn’t have a car and everyone was watching for me. So, I would leave home wearing a burka. Then I went to a freedom fighter friend’s house and changed into peasant clothes and my burka. All of the roads had checkpoints, but I went by donkey and they ignored me.
But one year, I was 7 months pregnant and I couldn’t go by donkey anymore and sometimes the Russians attacked the villages and I couldn’t run anymore in my condition, so I stopped going to the villages. Instead I just waited for my child and I worked at home. When I was nearly due, they wouldn’t let me go to the doctor to check myself and after 10 months were finished, I couldn’t deliver the child. Finally, I was home alone when I birthed my baby.
When my baby, my seventh, was born, the Communists made a plan to arrest me again and give electric shocks to my baby to get me to talk. This baby is now in Australia at the university studying journalism. A week after the birth I got a report that they would arrest us. So, at midnight that very night, my husband, my six other children and I walked over the mountains to Kabul. Sometimes we took the roads in areas that were empty of Russian soldiers and rode a bus or car. When we came to the areas where they had checkpoints, we walked in the mountains. It took us a week. (It’s a 12 hour drive when the roads are good.)
I remember in that year that they killed a lot of people, raped a lot of women and killed a lot of children. At one point, we got on a bus that was full of escaping women. When we arrived in Taloqan, a man came and told the driver to hide everything. I was sitting behind the driver and heard everything. He said that the Russians had blocked the road and they were looking for one woman. I understood that they were looking for me.
I told the driver to please wait. There were a lot of women and children in the bus without their men, so I told my husband to go bring them water. The bus driver was irritated and asked, “Why are you changing my schedule?” I asked him to please stay for 30 minutes while they bring water. When we finally left, another bus had taken our turn in the convoy. They shot that bus with a rocket and all the people in it died. In the line of 70 cars, just our bus remained unharmed and also three people from another bus. It was amazing because when I left, I only took my Holy Koran. I didn’t take my gold, I didn’t take anything. I just took my Holy Koran. When they tried to shoot our bus, they couldn’t shoot. One Hindu lady whose family was in the other bus came covered in blood and I took her inside ours. When she saw the Koran, she said that they can’t shoot this bus because I opened the Koran for our Allah to save us.
Only our bus arrived in Kabul safely. Some friends there explained that they had put my picture everywhere and a price on my head. One warned us that my life was in danger so we decided to evacuate to Pakistan. After 7 days some men came from Gazni to guide us. We bought some wedding party dresses from the bazaar and sent my brother to buy the bus tickets. He told everyone we were going to a wedding party in Kandahar but we got off the bus early and made our way to Gazni. When the way was safe, we continued to Pakistan. This was 1984.