Testimonies from Northern Afghanistan

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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The testimony which follows was collected November 27-29 in Northern Afghanistan by MSF.

Taloqan (Takhar Province)

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Hanis Goll, a 40 year-old Tadjik woman

At the recently re-opened MSF clinic in Taloqan, the women waiting for their consultations wouldn't allow us to speak to them. With the help of the female doctors, we were able to interview Hanis in the consultation room of the female ward. She is the woman under the blue coloured burqa sitting on the chair. She has five sons and one daughter; her oldest son is 22 and the youngest, the daughter, is 4. Her husband is a teacher here in Taloqan. They have lived in this town for 22 years.

"The burqa is no obligation for me. Some women like to wear it others don't like it. The burqa is part of me—it belongs to me." Guessing a big smile under the blue outfit, I hear the woman say: "No, it is not a problem, my husband recognizes me without a problem amidst a hundred of other women with a burqa."

"I didn't meet my husband before we married. Our two families consulted each other and decided that it was good for us to marry. My husband saw a picture of me and could see that I was beautiful and a good wife for him. Yes, I'm happy with my life, my husband and our children."

"Yes, we left the Taloqan just before the Taliban took control of the town. Our family left to Keshem for the first two months of the Taliban regime here in Taloqan (August and September). We lived in the house of some relatives of my husband, but we could not stay for too long: we were 35 people living in one house."

"The return was difficult for me; it took me about 13 hours by foot to get home from Kalafgan. Once we arrived at our house we saw that it was partly damaged—the windows and the door have been broken, our television set and the radio stolen."

"Before we left the town, the children were afraid because they had heard the noise of the bombing and the fighting. The frontline was close at this moment. A lot of our children had had bad dreams and didn't sleep well. We told them that we would leave the town soon. At some moment during the month of August, my husband decided that we leave the town for security reasons."

"We came back when the situation had calmed down and the fighting in Taloqan was over. But the life under the Taliban regime was difficult, there was no work, the schools were closed down and we had trouble to find food. Today the children are happy and they play again with each other."

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Muhamad Mura, a 31 year-old Uzbek man

This morning at the recently re-opened MSF clinic in Taloqan, the waiting area is very crowded, mostly with women—all wearing the burqa. Muhamad, is accompanying his wife, who brought their only child—a daughter—to the clinic because the little girl was not feeling well.

Muhammed has lived most of his life in Taloqan. He is a shopkeeper in the market and didn't flee when the Taliban took control of the town. When asked how the life under the Taliban regime was, he replies: "We felt a lot of pressure—it was like to live trapped in a can." He, like many others of the Afghan people I met, does not seem to talk easily about this period. He won't give me the details of the pressure he felt in his daily life. "Some of the Uzbek and Tadjik people here in town, had had a bad life here with the foreign Taliban," is one of his other rather general statements, which makes me even more curious about this past.

"No, we didn't suffer from hunger; as shopkeepers we were more dependent on the rate of the dollar. Personally I think the people in the countryside need more the help of the NGOs than the residents in the towns. If the NGOs really wanted to help the people inside the towns, this would need big investments on the infrastructure."

"Yes, if someone of us was sick, we were able to get medical treatment. My wife and the children could see the female doctor and I could go to the male doctor. But it is true that the medicines were very expensive and that some of the people couldn't afford to buy drugs."

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Muhammad Yakoub, an 11 year-old Pashtun boy

This testimony was collected at the city hospital of Taloqan. An MSF team referred Muhammad from Kunduz to the hospital in Taloqan the day before. During an exploratory mission in Kunduz someone asked the team to go and see the boy. The left leg of Muhammad is injured; two bullets from a Kalashnikow [automatic assault rifle] wounded his knee and tibia (shin bone). He has a brother; his brother who is better off, also has a gunshot wound and is still in Kunduz.

Muhammad is the only child in Room 4 of the Kunduz hospital; he shares the place with five other wounded men. "It happened four days ago [the day when the NA/UF took control of Kunduz, NDLR], I was in the shelter in our house when two armed people climbed over the wall in our compound. One of them shot at my brother and me and escaped."

He tells us that he and his family are from Dashti Arshi and has lived in Kunduz for five years. "I attended the first class, but I studied in the school only during two months. More than a year ago the Taliban occupied the school and closed it down."

"Some of my friends were happy that the school was closed, but I was unhappy not to be able to go to school any longer. Our father told us then to go to the mosque and to study religion. We went to the mosque two times a day—two hours in the morning and in the afternoo— six days a week."

"The last month in Kunduz was very difficult. I was very nervous, I was afraid of the bombing and the fighting. I had to stay at home all the time—we were not allowed to go out in the streets to play. But I slept well during the night, because I had no responsibilities like keeping the house, collecting the garbage or other work."

"I asked my father and older people some questions. I never discussed the events with friends, because all the Afghans are addicted with fighting. I don't like fighting—I hope that it is over now and will never happen again." All the sudden Muhammad becomes silent and does not say what his father and the elders told him about the war.

Bangi (Takhar Province)

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Abdul Zaher, a 70 year-old Uzbek

This testimony was collected at the recently re-opened MSF clinic in Bangi. When the Taliban took control of the Bangi district—a valley with several villages—they chased all villagers. Most of these people fled to the displaced camp of Amir Abat near Khanabad. Already, only about a week after the Taliban left the area, about 80% of them have returned to their villages.

A cold wind is blowing sand and dust in our faces but this does not disturb Abdul Zaher. He seems to feel at ease with this weather and looks as if he has all the time in the world to respond to our questions.

He is 70 years old and has three sons and two daughters. His family left the village before the Taliban arrived. They went to Khanabad and lived there for 16 months. They returned a week ago.

"I went there on a donkey. We left before the Taliban were here, because we heard that they hit the people. The Taliban wanted the people to leave the villages. They told them: we need your houses—this is a battlefield now."

"When I came back a week ago I found our house looted. The windows and the door were broken and the roof partly damaged. I already have experienced this two years ago. The Taliban did the same the same this time again; they chased all the villagers when they gained the control of this area."

"We are in a very difficult situation. We were not able to plant before we had to leave. Now, we don't have food for the winter. All the people can do is sell wood on the market."

"We already sold our cattle and some of our belongings in order to buy some food. But this won't be sufficient. I hope we get some help from the NGOs to cope better with the winter."

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Ahmed Goul, a 28 year-old Uzbek

This testimony was also collected at the recently re-opened MSF clinic in Bangi. Ahmed Goul was born in this town. He is twenty-eight years old and has one son and two daughters. His mother is Tadjik and his father Uzbek. He is a former watchman of the MSF clinic in Bangi and came to see if he could find some work here today.

He fled with his family to the camp of Amir Abat before the Taliban arrived in Bangi. They stayed there for a year and a half and returned to their house yesterday.

"We found our house looted—the windows and the door were broken, but I don't know if this had been done by the Taliban or the troops of the Northern Alliance."

"When the Taliban forces occupied the Bangi district, they wanted all the villagers to leave. They told the families to go to the camp of Amir Abad. I think there were about 1,500 families living in the camp."

"No, we don't have much food here, we just took necessities before we left the camp in Amir Abat. The children were our first priority."

"The living conditions in the camp of Amir Abat were far better than here. At least there were food distributions done by some NGOs and we got regularly some oil, wheat and rice. There was also an MSF mobile clinic coming to the camp twice a week; but this was not really sufficient as there were too many patients."

"The life with the Taliban was difficult. The Taliban forbade the women to see a male doctor. Thus, sometimes it was impossible for a woman to get the medical care when she needed it most. In this case the husband was obliged to go to see the doctor and describe him the illness of his wife in order to get a treatment for her. Men were not allowed to see the face of women."

"In the camp the Taliban took our weapons and our money. They took almost everything. Sometimes they recruited soldiers by force among the young boys telling them: 'You were a mudjaheddin, now you have to fight with us if you want to live'."

"Yes, the children were afraid and often cried because of what was happening. They had nightmares because they had heard many stories of killing."