Editor’s note: Safar Ali Paiam, who fled to Kabul, is one of the thousands of Afghans fearing for their lives and Taliban retribution after working for the U.S.
It was about 4 p.m. May 21 when I left Kabul for Sheberghan. When we arrived in Salang, it was evening and we had dinner in the beautiful district of Khenjan. Arriving at Mazar-e-Sharif, a large number of passengers got off the bus and the rest of the passengers moved to Sheberghan.
We were about 30 minutes away from Mazar-e-Sharif when a terrible explosion was heard. Immediately after the explosion, heavy gunfire began. As soon as the driver heard the explosion, he immediately slowed the bus, turned around and drove back toward Mazar-e-Sharif for about 15 minutes. He turned off the bus and we waited there for maybe an hour until the battle was over.
The driver drove back to Sheberghan. Less than 30 minutes later, the bus stopped. This was in Timorak village, in the Bulk district of Balkh province, where one of the dangerous checkpoints of the Taliban was located. Two Taliban gunmen with long hair entered the bus and started questioning. They asked “where did you come from? Where are you going? What is your job? Do you have Tazkira (ID),” and questions like that.
When one of the gunmen came near me, he asked, “Where are you going?”
I said Sheberghan.
He said: “what do you do there?”
I said that I teach at a private institute of higher education.
He asked if I have a card. I said no. He asked again if I had an ID card. I said no, I didn’t bring it with me. Then he told me to get off the bus. Immediately I got off the bus.
They took several other people off from the same bus with me and took us about a kilometer away from the highway. Finally, they took us in to an old house with many rooms and a large yard. That was their headquarters. When we entered their prison, we saw many other people in the jail as well.
They immediately tied our hands behind our backs and began to check our backpacks, pockets, clothes, and telephones.
When they checked me carefully, they found two of my phone memory cards that I had hidden in one of my pockets. They contained photographs, books, and other information, but I didn’t have anything dangerous related to the government information. Of course, it was true that I never worked for any governmental organizations. But they found a scan of job application form for the National Examination Authority (NEXA) for a position to which I had applied. In the section of work experience, it was written that I have been worked with MEP - a company called Mission Essential Personnel - as a translator. After viewing of that form they became more suspicious about me . The Taliban said I was either a government employee who was working or had worked with “occupier forces.” I said that I neither work with Afghan government nor with foreign forces. And I never had. Whatever they insisted, my answer was no.
Finally, they decided to transfer me to the mosque for torturing and to beat me to confess. They took me to the mosque next to the prison, brought a pack of sticks and told me to lay down with my face on the ground. After that, they started beating me until the blood flowed from my back. Even my face was injured from several places.
Then they took me back to the room where the prisoners were, and they tied my hands behind my back again. The two molawis (a term referring to mullahs common among the Taliban as a sign of respect) arrived at the checkpoint around noon. The interrogations started again.
When the molawis started interrogating me, I repeated the same words I already told their soldiers, but the molawis weren’t content and commanded their soldiers to take me back to the mosque and torture me by beating a confession that I was either a government agency or that I had worked with the Americans (or as they call them “occupiers forces”). They once again beat me a lot and were shouting at me: “Tell us that you worked with Afghan government or U.S. Army.” But I never told them that I had been working with the U.S. Army even though. I had worked with the U.S. Army.
There was a big chance that the Taliban was hardly able to read Dari and couldn’t read the abbreviation MEP in English that I had written on the job application form.
All of their suspicion was in the MEP abbreviation, which was for a private American company that recruited translators and interpreters for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The interrogators repeatedly asked me about the English letters MEP: what is this English word that you have written here in the work experience section? In the end, despite all the difficulties and torment I endured, I said nothing. Finally they couldn’t prove that I had previously worked with the U.S. forces. So the molawis decided to transfer me in another headquarters of Taliban until it should be clear whether I am a guilty man or a civilian.
But with the efforts of friends from Sheberghan, the officials of Sheberghan University, who pretended that I was a student of Sheberghan University, they accepted and brought me by a luxury motorcycle near to Mazar-Sharif -Sheberghan road and released me there. Then I get on a taxi and went to Sheberghan.
When I arrived in Sheberghan, I hardly got out the car because all of my body was in pain and I had an extremely high fever. I immediately went to Jawzjan Government Hospital. The doctor checked up on me and wrote a prescription and after more than two days, I returned to normal. In Sheberghan, on May 19, there was the electronic Tazkera biometric exam, and I did the biometric process. On the May 31, I participated in the exam at Jawzjan State University. After passing the exam I decided turn back to Kabul, as soon as possible, but because of threats of the Taliban I stayed in Sheberghan for more than a month. It was a time full of stress and hopelessness. Finally, after enduring more than a month in Sheberghan, I went to Mazar-e-Sharif and then to Kabul.
My experience with the Taliban attitude, as their prisoner, is that the Taliban’s violent approach and policy has not changed from what it was 20 years ago. Harassment, torture, extortion, assassination and so on are the common traits and part of their identity. They still are an opponent of science and modernity.
They consider those who are working with, or already worked with Afghan government organizations, or those who worked with the foreigners —especially with the U.S. forces — as an enemy and never compromise with them and won’t forgive them. Everywhere, if translators and interpreters are arrested by them, they will be slaughtered cruelly and brutally.
With the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, their former allies, especially the translators and interpreters and their families who worked with Americans, have been faced with unprecedented security threats and any moment may be targeted by the Taliban insurgents.
As a former U.S. Army translator, I am really in danger. Nowadays I am living in Kabul, but my family does not and is challenged with security threats. I can’t travel there because all the territories are under control of the Taliban.
In short, I cannot travel anywhere, and my future is in a state of complete ambiguity, and I may be killed by the Taliban at any moment. Therefore, I hopefully request from the leadership of the United States and the United States Army, as my former colleagues, to rescue me and save my life and my family’s lives, by granting special immigrant visa to the United States of America.
Safar Ali Paiam is a former translator for the U.S. Army living in Afghanistan.
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