Patience and resistance; a beacon glimmering hope for Afghan widow

“It has been twenty years since Hedayat is gone. He left me alone with five children”, says the 48-year-old Laili. Tall and strong, she is one of the many Afghan women who has lost her husband during Afghan civil war.

In a sunny fall day, Ms. Laili allowed me to talk to her and listen to her painful yet brave story. She is living at a rented house in Barchi, an overpopulated slum area in the western neighborhood of the Afghan capital Kabul. 

Decades of war and conflict have made millions of Afghan families suffer losses. The brutal war has forced tens of thousands of Afghan families to flee the country, left a large number of population with disability and mental health crisis. Laili’s story—similar to stories of tens of thousands Afghan widows who have lost their husbands in war—truly depicts the ugly face of a most often glorified war in Afghanistan.

Ms. Laili, though wore smiles on her face as she was talking to me, deep down, behind those smiles, there was a hidden agony. This Afghan widow has been carrying the heavy burden of a family of six in a country that is the kingdom of warlords and the hell of war victims.      

“My birth name is Laili, my in-laws family named me Nargis. I was born in the house of a wealthy petty landlord in Kabul. I was raised in Kabul with my five siblings, four brothers and one sister. I was the youngest child of my parents. My father enrolled me in school and completed eight grade. As I grew up, my school headmaster asked me to wear school uniform— socks with miniskirt—but my father, a religious man, did not allow me to wear school uniform and as a result I was forced to abandon school,” Laili recalls.      

In 1987, Ms. Laili, then 16 years old, got love married with her cousin Sakhidad, who also known as Hedayat. With the Soviet forces withdrawing from Afghanistan in 1989, the mujahedeen took over Kabul. The end of Soviet occupation marked the beginning of a civil war that forced Hedayat and his wife to flee Kabul.

Settling in Shebar district of Bamyan, Hedayat, then a young educated man by local standards, was forced to join Hizb-e-Wahdat Islami Afghanistan, The Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan. He was serving a conduit between the party and foreigners when rifts rose up between Hedayat and his line manager, Payman who was forcing him to work full obedience. Hedayat, tired of being forced by his boss, made several attempts to leave Bamyan but in vain.

In 2000 when the Taliban took over the province, Hedayat was forced to stay in Sar Jangle village of Shebar district. The Taliban militants, brutal and oppressive, disarmed the Unity Party fighters.

Abdullah-e-Lang, a notorious commander of Taliban, commanded his fighters to loot the people. They robbed every precious thing people had.  “We fled to mountains to hide. It was freezing and my youngest son was only 40 days old. It was 3:30 am, we started our journey, hiked, and climbed many mountains until we reached to Kabul,” Laili said.

Ms. Laili along with her husband made a new start in Kabul. “My brother gave us a small room, a kettle, two blankets and two small mattress,” she recalls. “Hedayat found a job at a shoemaker shop.”

Life was passing as usual until the day the Taliban arrested my husband, she says. The Taliban imprisoned Hedayat and they had tortured him. Laili said, they did everything to get Hedayat out of Taliban prison but in vain.

“His eyes were harmed by the red bulbs and later due to severe punishment, one part of Hedayat’s body was paralyzed,” Nargis, while breaking into tears , recalls of the tortures his husband suffered in Taliban prison . “In my first meeting with Hedayat, I realized that his skin was completely peeled off because of the intense beating.”

Nargis holding a portrait of her husband, Hedayat

As Nargis states, they sold everything they had, even a kidney of her brother, to prepare 350,000,000 Afg (during the Taliban regime) to give bribe for releasing Hedayat. All these efforts didn’t bear result and he died in Taliban custody.

Ms. Laili, like many Afghan widows and war victims, has been carrying the burden of her family alone. She has dedicated her life to save her children. Under harsh poverty her children have left schools.

The burden of life, no matter how heavy it is, has not stopped Ms. Laili of dreaming a peaceful and prosperous future for her children and country. Although difficult it is to imagine how difficult life is for helpless Afghan widows in the war-stricken country with almost 35 million population, patience and resistance are the only beacon that glimmers hope for the 48 year old Laili.