As a kid, I always wanted to see the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Mullah Omar’s ‘office’ was located about half a kilometer from my brother’s restaurant, where I worked as a dishwasher. It was located in the heart of the Kandahar City, near the office of the Amir al-Mumenin. This is what we called Mullah Omar — it means ‘Commander of all the Faithful’.
The Taliban leader’s home was near the Kandahar stadium, and Mullah Omar, along with a convoy of 10 to 12 cars with tinted windows, often passed our shop during his frequent commutes between work and home. All the cars carried the same number plate engraved with “Wa minalahe Tawfiq” which means “and God bless!” I would watch his convoy very intently, trying to catch a glimpse of him. I knew the Taliban were also watching me, watching them. I would focus on every car but I could hardly ever see the faces of the drivers.
Taliban members were very rich. I remember that when they paid cash, they wouldn’t even count the money. I witnessed Taliban members passing bundles of cash to each other as the usual Taliban tarana (songs without music) played on the tape recorder. The taranas were about the Taliban’s progress in the north of Afghanistan. It was about attacking the northern provinces and encouraging Taliban members to sacrifice themselves for the victory of Islam as defined by Taliban and Mullah Omar.
Finally, a Friday arrived when I found myself in the stadium with my friend to watch a public execution. Many people had come to watch the execution, including several Arabs who came from Sudan, Egypt and Yemen.
I had seen many of those Arabs in our restaurant. I still remember how every time I crossed their path, I would say, “Yallah, Yallah Ya Akkhi” (Come to our shop, brother!).
Later, in 2001, when United States attacked the Taliban, I saw these Arabs with weapons and flak jackets. Every night someplace would be bombarded by airstrike. The Arabs would cover their cars with mud, maybe to camouflage them from these strikes.
Many Taliban Mullahs had also come to the stadium, including Mullah Bakht Mohammad, who was known to be a cruel leader. I had heard a lot about Mullah Bakht Mohammad. He was responsible for dealing with prisoners. He tortured the prisoners taken captive by the Taliban during the war in the central and northern part of Afghanistan. He was later killed when the US attacked Mullah Omar’s home.
I was a school student at the time of the execution. Actually, it wasn’t a school, rather a mosque that also functioned as a primary school. As a kid, I was drawn to the execution out of morbid curiosity and eagerly awaited the event! I could not tell my family about this. I was sure that my mother would not allow me to go, but I really wanted to see Mullah Omar at the Kandahar stadium.
The convict in this case had allegedly attacked a home with the intention of stealing and had stabbed a man to death. Following the prayers that afternoon, the loudspeakers in the city called for mercy and forgiveness. The prayer was also followed by a message from Mullah Omar about the benefits of being merciful on doomsday. However, it seemed like the victims’ relatives were very angry and in no mood to show mercy. They refused to forgive the accused.
I tried to look for him but I couldn’t find him. I wasn’t sure whether he was even at the stadium. I was scared and at the same time very intrigued. I had heard that he had lost one of his eyes in the jihad against the Soviets. I assumed that was how I would recognized him if he had showed himself.
Around 5.00pm, a Mullah called to bring the murderer forward for the people to witness. The murderer was taken out of a Toyota car. He appeared to be in his twenties. His eyes, hands and feet were bound with the Kandahari scarves that most men in this region use. His feet were tied a little loose to allow him to walk.
He was laid down facing the Qebla. A big knife was passed to the victim’s relative who took the knife and pulled it out from its cover. It shone in the evening sun. He was once again called to forgive the convict, but he rejected it. He then put the knife on to the murderer’s neck and began to slaughter him. Everybody, including Arabs, who were seated in the row behind us, closed their eyes and started to pray, “Ya Allah, Allah-o-Akbar.” But I kept on watching the incident.
I saw the entire act of slaughtering. I don’t know how to describe that scene. It was so scary. I think, perhaps the man died even before being slaughtered. He did not move; not even once!
We came back home and I had nightmares for a long time.
I kept looking for the famed Taliban leader till the end of the event, but as hard as I tried, I never did actually get to see him. He remained a mystery to me, as he did to the rest of the world.
Maybe he was not there. Maybe he did not exist. Who knows?