The setting sun that had just prompted the mass of sub Commanders to prayer, led by their Commander had finally disappeared causing increasingly indistinct shadows in the deepening gloom of the evening. The men, led by their Commander entered the makeshift rectangular hall dominated by a nondescript wooden table surrounded by rows of wooden chairs. They were there to debrief the Commander about any serious skirmishes they were involved in as well as to obtain new orders. They were often encouraged to put forward their suggestions and requests.
As they seated themselves around the table, the Commander had just started speaking when the door to the hall slammed open, and an armed guard entered, immediately standing to attention. He spoke directly to the Commander, “Sir, an old man is here and wants to meet you.”
Frowning, the Commander stood straight and asked angrily, “What the hell does an old man want at this time of night?”
The guard shrugged his shoulders and said:“Sir, I nearly killed him. One bullet even grazed one of his ears. But he raised his hands in the air and started pleading from afar…”
The Commander growled once more, “What does he want?”
“Sir, he has a request for you,” replied the guard.
“What kind of request? If someone related to him is a prisoner, then tell him that I would not release anyone even if it were my own father.”
The guard replied softly, “Sir, he will not talk to us. He just keeps insisting that he wants to put his request directly to you.”
Lifting the handgun sitting in front of him and putting it to the side of the table the Commander ordered, “Go, bring him in.”
The guard did an about-turn and in a few seconds brought the old man in front of the Commander. Eyes red from anger offered greetings. The seated men started looking up and down at the old man, but no one including the Commander returned his greetings. The Commander looked at his subordinates and then at the old man, and asked, “What’s the matter old man? Why have you come here at this late hour?”
Before putting forward his request, the old man pointed towards the seated people and said, “Sir, I can’t make myself speak in front of these people.”
Everyone in the room was amazed at this statement and started looking at each other. The Commander stood up straight from his seat and held the old man by the hand, left the hall. Moving a few steps away he stopped in a corner and said, “Tell me now, what do you want, old man?”
Hands shaking, the old man’s brow creased further in anger and embarrassment. He replied in a soft and gentle voice: “I want my son from you.”
The Commander was shocked: “Your son?”
“Yes sir,”replied the old man.
The Commander started laughing and asked in a playful tone, “Dead or alive?”
The old man turned red from anger and replied in a loud voice, “I wish you would give me the news of that swine’s death.”
Ignoring the pain and emotion in his voice the Commander continued in his playful tone, “If you forgive me his blood and pay me a bounty, I shall present you his body at the graveyard by tomorrow morning.”
Burning in anger and shame, the old man replied in a louder voice, “Sir, I don’t want anyone else to kill him. I want to kill him with my own two hands.”
The old man’s increasing anger finally penetrated the Commander’s cheerful mood. Resting both hands on the old man’s shoulders he asked in a more serious tone:“What has he done?”
The old man’s face went yellow with shame and he replied in a subdued voice: “The swine tried to rape his own step-mother.”
Jerking backwards the Commander held his earlobes in a remorseful posture and started repeating, “Toba, Toba; I repent, I repent.”
Forcefully spitting on the ground, he faced the old man and asked, “Where is that pimp now?”
The old man blurted out,“He is one of your Mujahids.”
The Commander lowered his head, and holding the old man by the hand led him back to the hall. Upon their entry, the seated subordinates stood to attention. Taking his seat, the Commander ordered everyone back to their seats.Turning back to the old man, he asked in a much louder voice:“What is your son’s name, old man?”
“Jalat,” replied the old man.
On hearing the name, everyone started exchanging curious looks.
The Commander shouted again: “Whose Mujahid is he?”
One sub-Commander instantly raised his hand, and staring at the old man he admitted, “He is with me, sir.”
Looking the old man up and down once again, said in a jesting tone, “Old man, you look like a very nice person. Your son, on the other hand, is a very malevolent person. During the battle, he is like a raging bull.”
The Commander stood back up and said in a loud voice:“Now, the old man has come for him.”
Hearing this, the sub-Commander who had raised his hand sat up straight and asked the old man, “What will you do with him?”
Wringing his hands in fury he replied, “I will kill him with my own hands.” He emphasized ‘my own hands’.
“I will cut him into pieces and throw him in the river.”
His angry words and countenance caused a ripple of astonishment among the seated men. The Commander stood up and again placed his hands on the old man’s shoulders.
“I can see the fire of your fury, old man. But neither of us will kill him.”
Lowering his voice, the Commander continued, “I will have him killed by motherfuckers and sister fuckers in the enemies’ ranks who are just like him. But before they kill him, he would have impregnated many a man’s wife.”
The old man, however, started pleading with the Commander again as if he’d been asleep and had not heard a single word.
“I beg you, please remove that swine. I will bear arms with you in my old age but for God’s sake don’t make me a laughing stock in front of people. While he is alive, I will be on fire and burning due to people’s taunts and condemnations.”
The old man’s anger and his lust for his son’s death astounded those seated at the table even more and one of them asked straightaway, “Will you tell us what your damned son has done?”
The old man’s eyes lowered in shame and the Commander replied instead, “He raped his own step-mother.”
Hearing this everyone started holding their earlobes in a sign of repentance and started repeating the words ‘Toba Toba’.
An uncomfortable silence fell for a few moments, but the Commander, who had been most affected by the old man’swords, faced the seated men and asked, “What do you say? Should we give him the man?”
The Sub-Commander in charge of the old man’s son sat up straight and raised his voice in disagreement.
“Why not? ”asked the Commander.
“Sir, he is such a brave Mujahid that he would run through hails of bullets,” replied the Sub-Commander.
Another Sub-Commander added in his comrade’s support, “Sir, he is right. All our really brave fighters are disobedient and abusive towards their parents. If we returned all fighters like that to their fathers then who would fight these battles?”
The Commander, who had been caught off guard by their opposition, turned back to the old man.
“Do you hear? They are all telling the truth. It is not just our fighters who are disobedient and abusive. The fighters on the enemy’s side are even worse.”
The old man, who was burning with anger, paced back and forth.
“If he can assault his mother without any remorse, then how is he expected to care for other people’s brothers and sisters?”
A scream came out of his throat unbidden.
“Why do you turn Muslim brothers and sisters into ugly shadows of themselves?”
The Commander once again started placating him.
“Stop it old man. I told you, don’t worry. Very soon you will hear the news of that coward’s death. He fights on the front line as it is. Before he dies, he should take with him twenty bastards like himself.”
The Sub-Commander chimed in with pride, “A war against bastards is won using bastards.”
The peals of their spontaneous laughter could be heard a long way into the now gathering night.
Translated from Pashto to English by Omar Faizy