Paying respects for the dead

24 June 2007 / 3 Saratan 1386

On June 17, a bomb placed in a police academy bus exploded while the bus was parked in a busy area just outside of the public gate of the Police Commandery. Thirty-five people were killed including twenty-four police officers and eleven bystanders. The next day (Aug 18) as I was going under sedation for my second surgery, I was reflecting on life, death, and what it means to be engaged in work here in Afghanistan as a foreigner. I decided that, once I had recovered enough strength, I would go pay my respects to the officers who were killed. As it happens, one of my students from Kabul Polytechnic is the son of a police officer, a 30-year veteran who works in the Commandery. So I arranged with Faisal to meet there at 2:00 today. I went to Flower-Market Street, bought 35 roses, and showed up without a plan. Faisal showed me the place where the explosion had happened: it was the middle of a very busy, very dusty parking lot. We had to keep stepping aside as buses moved in and out. Somehow it did not feel like the right place to remember the dead. So we called his father and went into the Commandery to meet him.

The officers inside were extremely appreciative. They articulated my intention better than I had: ‘So many people have been killed. We just forget them and move on. We should remember them and the sacrifices they have made.’ I was thinking of what Giorgio Agamben describes as homo sacer: humans who are reduced to a state where their death has no consequences. That is what the Global War on Terror is doing to so many Afghans: a dozen killed here and there, by accident. Not even a reprimand for the Western soldiers who kill them. Executions with no accountability; terrorists slaughtering police and civilians alike in public places. I feel it is time to undo that state of exception. If an Afghan gets killed, especially while they are trying to help their country, others should care. Especially foreigners. University professors are held in high regard in Afghanistan, so I think the officers appreciated the double symbolism of having an ustad who is also American come to remember their fallen comrades.

Faisal’s father obtained a list of nineteen of the officers who were killed. We went to a garden, just inside the commandery wall, where some of the body-parts had landed after the explosion. As Faisal read out each name, I laid a flower in the grass. As I laid the nineteenth rose I asked, “which way is the qibla (the direction to the Kaaba in Mecca)?” The officers pointed, and I laid that rose facing Mecca, just as the faces of the dead are laid to face Mecca. I had extra roses left, so I gave them to the officers, who each laid them in the grass as well.

Here are the names of the officers killed:

Muhammad Qasem, walad-e Alim Khan
Ghulam Ehsy, walad-e Ghulam Dastagir
Harun, walad-e Imam Beg
Akhtar Muhammad, walad-e Kalam al-Din
Karimullah,walad-e Abad al-Salam
Hazrat Muhammad, walad-e M. Yunus Somanyar
Habibullah,walad-e Abad al-Hamil
Muman Ghulam Gul
Pacha, ajir academy
Kaka Qayum, walad-e Abad al-Ahad
Abad Aljalil, walad-e Habib jan
Saida jan
Musafar Safari, walad-e Mulla Faisal
Muhammad Ashaq
Khwaja Akbar
Muhammad Gul
Yama
Hashem Muhammad Sharif
Amir Muhammad, walad-e M. Ali Samunuwal

Five more were not named.

Twenty-four more officers were injured.

We went back inside the building and Fasial’s father asked if I wanted a Pepsi. I said green tea would be better; it was more healthy. A guard who was standing within earshot just handed me his glass of fresh tea. We went back to his office, where the mood lightened quickly. There are a bunch of sockets around the room, with wires hanging out of them. The thick wire is an ethernet cable, and apparently a network with internet is being set up by ISAF. Another wire is for closed-circuit television. Faisal chuckled as he translated: “the officers are wondering if the TV circuit is for them, or for ISAF to watch them.” I said “Mmm, I think it is for ISAF.”


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