Nargis Taraki

Travail, hope & resistance: Nargis Taraki’s story

When the Taliban took control over the capital Kabul, all a progressive Afghan army general could do was take a car and flee the city. He took his four daughters along with his pregnant wife and left the city for his hometown in the south eastern province of Ghazni. “The Taliban have taken the former Afghan president Dr. Najibullah hostage. People are evacuating their houses,” the radio of the car taking the general and his family, broadcasted. After long hours of a shaking drive on bumpy road that connects the capital to the historic city of Kandahar, the general, along with his wife and children reached to Aghojan, a rural village in Gailan district of Ghazni, where the general was born.

Months later, on 24 May 1997, general’s wife gave birth to the fifth baby girl, something very unwelcoming, and even humiliating in the highly patriarchic culture of village life in Afghanistan. In the eyes of general’s relatives and tribesmen in Aghojan village, a misfortune had befallen on general, for they were convinced that in Afghan families and in tribally-constructed social relationship, girls can never equal boys.  

By a sheer chance, the fifth child birth of the general’s wife coincided with another birth in the family. At the very same night, the wife of general’s cousin gave birth to a boy. Village women, all astounded and uncomfortable and some feeling pity for general’s wife, got around her. Some of them would suggest the general to wed a second wife and try his fortune for boy birth.

My daughter-in-law has four boys. She gave birth to a boy last might. Would you like to swap your daughter for my newly-born grandson,

said another old female relative of general with a deep sense of empathy.

“My husband can marry a second wife and even a third wife but I will never ever swap my daughter for son,” replies general’s wife, with a mixed feeling of humiliation and pride.    

Out there in the village, general’s male relatives and tribesmen were trying to convince him to wed a second wife. Contrary to village costume and tribe’s code, the general rejects to marry a second wife. At odds to masculine dominancy which had occupied the skulls of tribesmen and contrary to wishes of his male relatives, the general chose a name for his daughter that does not make any gender sense in local language: Nargis.

For the open-minded Afghan general, who was labeled as a communist in a village controlled by bearded hardcore Muslims however it was not easy to stand against a culture that was shaped by men and manhood. A deep-rooted patriarchy, as old as the history of tribalism, coupled with misogynic ideology of the Taliban, was at its climax by the time Nargis was born. From Aghojan to Kabul, and from Kabul to Kandahar the sinister ideology of misogyny was governing the whole female population.

Life in Pakistan

With a background of service in military of a regime once backed by the Soviet Russia, the general found himself forced to flee his hometown, then governed by staunchly fundamentalist Taliban. In a cloudy cold fall day, in 1998, he packed his whole belongings, took the hands of his wife and five children and left Aghojan for Quetta, Pakistan. Life was a trivial in Quetta. The general was no longer a general there. He would do hard laboring just to feed his wife and children. Like many Afghan migrants, he would struggle to survive.

For general, however, no power, nothing and no abstract force was as powerful as hope: hope for a new future. Days went by, weeks went by and months went by. After every gloomy night, the sun would rise from the east, and the general, with patience and hope, was carrying the burden of life in Quetta. Years went by. The United States launched attack on Afghanistan, cleansed the breaded primitive Taliban forces out of the country, and vowed to build up the country, restore peace and stability and institutionalize democracy.

Returning home     

The general, along with his children and wife returned to Kabul. They managed a small house in the eastern neighborhood of the city. He rejoined the Afghan Army. His daughters got enrolled in schools. In this way a new chapter turned over in general’s life.

On the sixteen birth day of Nargis, as the sun rose, a man, wearing an explosive belt, entered a mud-made house in Akhundkhil, a tiny village close to Aghojan. Nobody knew what exactly the man was thinking when he had resolved to go out and blow up himself among fellow humans. At 6 am, in the very same day, a heavy blast shocked the entire Akhundkhil village, left eight dead and diminished a house to soil. “A terrorist group of eight preparing to carry out a suicide attack in Zabul province, have been killed when explosives detonated. Eight Taliban fighters including Mulla Sababullah are reported dead. More investigation is undergoing,” the news agencies broadcasted hours later that day.  

Days went by. Nobody came to realize who the eight Taliban members were, who Mulla Sababullah was, how old was he and where and when he was born. The only clue appeared to tell more about the incident is a haj pilgrimage story. In a summer evening an airplane, bring Afghan hajis back home, lands in Kabul international airport. A middle-aged couple, who were on the same board, step down of the plan, take a taxi and go to the general’s house in the eastern neighborhood of Kabul. They were general’s relatives. The man was his cousin and the woman was the wife of his cousin. One of the eight men killed in early morning on the sixteen birthday of Nargis, was her cousin. After his death, to make the least compensation, the Taliban had sent his parents to haj. Obviously, Nargis’ cousin did die of any diseases, neither he died of cancer, nor he passed away of melancholy. He was killed while Mulla Sababullah, a Taliban commander, was taking him to the point where he had to detonate his explosives.

On Ted Talks stage     

Four years later, on November 9, 2018, Nargis Taraki, then a confident Public Policy and Administration graduate from Kabul University, appeared on Ted Talks, an international stage that invites influential figures to share their success stories. On Ted Talks, speaking in Pashtu, Nargis began her speech this way: “You may think that I might have a new idea, or you may think that I may have done a great work. No, I am an ordinary Afghan girl.” On Ted Talks, she explained how difficult and humiliating it is for a woman to give five continues births to daughters in a misogynist country called Afghanistan. She also brought up the story of how her cousin, the one the old female relative of general wanted to swap for Nargis, was killed by the explosive detonation and how the Taliban had compensated his death to his parents. Nargis’ story and life journey show how tribally-shaped stereotypes on women mislead the whole male population for generations.        

Now 22, Nargis Taraki campaigns for women’s empowerment and education in her home country. She is one the BBC’s 2018 100 women. Nargis loves novel. Virginia Wolf and Oriana Fallaci are her favorite writers.