“Afghan Diaries”, the seventh episode of Sky TG24’s trip to the country in the hands of the Taliban

Almost six months after the Taliban’s return to power, a journey into the deepest Afghanistan in search of the damage caused by NATO bombings during twenty years of war, and to discover traditions and cultures (HERE THE FIRST EPISODE – SECOND EPISODE – THIRD EPISODE – FOURTH EPISODE – FIFTH EPISODE – SIXTH EPISODE).

Episode 7, days 16 and 17 – Provinces of Ghazni, Paktika, Paktia and return to Kabul

The final game: “They didn’t come to bring us the flowers, but the bullets”

Last days of travel, the return to the capital

It’s snowing in Kabul. In the middle of the market Mandany, while I buy spices and clothes together with Luca and Andalib, the bows stick to mine patu (traditional shawl used in winter by men to warm up). Hair turns white. I walk in the midst of dozens of people elbowing forward, carrying trolleys, carrying heavy sacks of goods on their backs, speeding with mopeds and bicycles on muddy and slippery ground. Together with Luca and Andalib, we look for a taxi to go back to the hotel. We do not find it. Everyone tries to get into a vehicle to go home. It’s 4pm but it feels like 8pm. “Finally the snow. It is the white gold for the citizens of Kabul, ”says Andalib. Really, I can’t wait for the sun to shine to see whitewashed Kabul and the surrounding mountains covered in powdered sugar. A show. The snow is falling more and more dense. The light becomes more and more dim until it disappears, leaving the element of surprise for the next day, when finally the sun will make the snowflakes shine on the arid mountains.

By the way, just scrounge. I think I took advantage of it too much, as last night we still found a friend of Andalib to host us. It has almost become a foregone conclusion now. The news is that today we are finally back in Kabul. I calculated: in 16 days I traveled more or less 3,000 kilometers. We left early from Gardez, the capital of Paktia. A province famous, together with Paktika and Khost, for the NATO bombings and the strong Taliban resistance. The suffering of Afghanistan is partly collected in these provinces. It is from here that the famous Haqqani network began to operate and it is from here that the famous resistance of the mujahideen in the 60s and 70s began to confront the Soviet Red Army and the communist government of the time. Places that until a few months ago were difficult to approach (those who have followed these episodes will realize that it is not the first time that I say this, which teaches how dangerous the country was before the end of hostilities) and where acts were committed most cruel. But history aside, nature is beautiful. Bare valleys and mountains with a few saplings left on the rocky walls of the mountains. Blocks like castles with lookout towers, which according to Andalib “are built in a clearly scenic way to show the power of individual families in front of the others”.

We get to Gardez from Ghazni, where we broke up last time. We left early in the afternoon, after finishing the story on the provincial appeals court. A surreal situation. After interviewing the manager the day before, we return early in the morning to disturb the Taliban guards. At first they complain: “You can’t take pictures here, not here, not there, you can’t, we don’t have permission”. But we smile, pat on the back, steal some shots with the mobile phone. And they soften and begin to allow themselves to be retracted. “The manager” – whom Luca and I nicely call “the cumenda“Because in the end he decides everything -” he said that yesterday was the first time he had a photograph in his life “says Andalib. Very strong. Maybe that’s what scared him during the interview, when his man had his finger on the trigger. Perhaps he thought the camera exploded like the one that was lethal to Masood (on September 9, 2001, two terrorists blew themselves up while sitting together with Ahmad Shah Masood in Panjshir, posing as journalists and putting explosives in a camera). But who wants to put bombs in the camera. I don’t want to be blown up. But he doesn’t know. The story of the 72 virgins I will never drink, otherwise I would have already gone to heaven.

The people who file their cases enter the Court. Land disputes, murders, thefts. Of everything. The “cumenda” receives, asks questions and then withdraws the material to make a decision. The Court of Appeal has changed since the Taliban arrived. Before, with the republican government, it worked differently. But with the change of regime, judicial systems are also changing. However, many courts are still closed and justice has yet to be reformed according to the canons of the newcomers. The “cumenda” explains that for now the laws of the previous constitution are still used, except for the articles considered contrary to the Islamic religion, and introducing certain doctrines. The fiqh, the Islamic law that interprets the Sharia, was valid even before. Clearly we ask questions about hand cutting and executions, which seem to us the most interesting: “We don’t cut hands at all and at random. So many conditions are needed to reach this sentence, that one cannot even imagine what it means to take such a decision. It hasn’t happened yet, ”he says. An execution has not yet taken place, but the legal possibility exists. All confirmed also by a local lawyer who came to the Court of Appeal to defend the case of an illiterate peasant family, who lost a person to murder and theft.

People are waiting with a small number, sitting on the ground in front of the main door where the Court meets. In turn, a mujahid brings people in. We sit among them and ask for cases. Two Hazaras emerge with an incredible story: four years ago, three men killed two daughters of one of the gentlemen present. Having been wealthy, the criminals would have corrupted the justice of the old government. The judges imprisoned seven innocent people accusing them thanks to a single paid witness. For years, with the old government’s corrupt system, no one could do anything. Until today. Today, this gentleman is in the room. The cumenda calls three of the inmates from the city prison, the other four had paid to get out of jail a few years ago. We can witness the scene. They arrive in the room handcuffed. The Taliban won’t let us take pictures. “Bebakhshi, faqat yak aks bigiram”,“ Please just want to take a picture ”I say jokingly, trying to make friends with them. No way. “This government is not as corrupt as the previous one. They have reopened the case and we ask that the real culprits be sentenced according to the law ”says the father of the two victims:“ we have faith in the Taliban, I hope they can do justice. They are not as corrupt as they were before ”. After an hour, the three culprits are handcuffed and taken back to prison. But they are happy: the cumenda has decided that if they find three people willing to vouch for them, they can be released until the end of the investigation, and if the real culprits are found they will be free definitively. “But if they escape, the three guarantors will be imprisoned,” explains Osama, our trusted Taliban. At first he was uncompromising, then hugs, smiles and it was essential to be able to work well. Luca laughs when he says his name is Osama: “Ah, here, a well-known name in these parts”. Of course, only I laugh because he says it in Italian and nobody understands. “At least these do. The others only filled out forms ”say some people who wait in line for their turn and referring to the Taliban.

At the end of the case, everyone is happy. Justice will probably be done. And the Taliban cannot be said to have been bad. In fact, they helped a Hazara. Precisely the ethnic group that under the first Taliban government, twenty years ago, was so persecuted and suffered many reprisals. Today things seem to have changed.

From the Ghazni Court of Appeal we take the car in the direction of Paktika province, stopping next to a desert lake which makes the landscape picturesque. Let’s take some pictures. Zahid, the driver, is slow. It makes me nervous. I am tired. Luca laughs because I make fun of him all the time. But in the end it is a luxury to have a car available. We stop again in a place forgotten by all, in the middle of desert plains. There is nothing but houses and sand. And a case of NATO victims. We meet Masum and his uncle Haji Bardaa here. Twelve years ago, dozens of Polish soldiers and the NATO air force killed ten members of their family. Three in one bombing, and seven during the night raid by the Poles that took place immediately after, which cynically hit women and children by firing a shot in the head. All Taliban clearly, disguised as innocent civilians. Yet another case. Yet another tragedy of which I collect the story. We talk to them sitting in the house. Given the bitter cold, they give us a blanket to cover our legs, sitting opposite each other. This is where I hear Haji Bardaa utter a phrase that can easily sum up what I saw on this trip: “They didn’t come to bring us the flowers, but the bullets.” I leave the comments to you.

We go out when it is already almost dark. The asphalted road is not far away. Not even Gardez. Visibility is very limited. After an hour and a half by car, we arrive in the city. We stop to eat at a popular restaurant. People are watching the cricket match, but they seem to be watching us more. I am not very hungry and my stomach is still not at its best. On working days we don’t eat or drink. Same mistakes repeated over and over again. We arrive in the evening that we are literally “on a stretcher”. We go to sleep in a local clinic, where Andalib’s friends offer us hospitality in a well-heated office with electricity. They made 4 beds and a wood stove. We install ourselves. I have to write a piece, so I get to work. Luca works with me, then we turn off the lights and fall asleep. The night is cold because the heater goes out and the blanket is not enough. But I know it’s the last night: in the morning I wake up, happy to go back to Kabul.

We arrive in the capital in the morning. The sky is cloudy. The harsh climate. The arrival of snow is heard. Let’s go to the hotel, shower, heat, clean clothes. I take Luca to eat a delicious dessert and then off to work again, when the snowflakes begin to whitewash the streets of the Afghan capital.

I feel I have said enough. In recent weeks I have experienced unique moments, and I have found great motivation in telling you. An experience at times hard, heavy but unforgettable through a country that now feels a bit like home.