by Maniza Naqvi
Yes. Why not? You paying? Well then— make it a double. So let me return the favor by telling you a story—something I've been holding on to for a while. Well—who knows, anyway— I think it's interesting. Maybe you've already heard this but here goes—You know—-I said make it a double. So yeah—I heard it shortly after the war in Afghanistan took up were it had left off with a bit of change your partner—do si do. This guy that I met—where—yeah—where else— So this guy back in October 2001 told me about how he and the UN delegation he was with had met Mullah Omar—yeah Mullah Omar—about eight months earlier back in the bitterly cold winter of February 2001 in Kandahar.
Anyway this is what happened—it's a hoot! You're sure to get a good laugh: It was the dead of winter, people were dying of cold and hunger and there was a boycott on Afghanistan by the world because of the Taliban Government. A UN delegation was meeting Mullah Omar in his tent and he asked them for help: “My people are starving says Mullah Omar-They are freezing and there is a famine—please help us.” And then there's a back and forth—the Head of the UN delegation trying to explain the problems in being able to do this. And then finally the Head of the Delegation takes out the UN Charter—a thick document and says—”This is for us, like our Bible, we follow rules—Our charter on Human Rights”—-and then he says—”You know— We do precisely what is written here we follow these rules. You know? How you say—this is our Koran. It is, for us, how you say–carved in stone”. Mullah Omar is staring at the guy —bug eyed—with that one eye of his. The Head of the Delegation is thumping the document “You understand—Absolutely, certainly, but we cannot assist any country that violates our charter. And your Government has, isn't it so, violated, our charter of human rights—girls' education, war and so forth.” There is silence.
Again Mullah Omar repeats his plea—-“There is a famine, my people are dying.” The Head of the Delegation shrugs, sticks out his lower lip—thinks and replies “You are responsible for that. Are you not? Your actions are not our responsibility—you can change. Our hands are tied by you. We cannot do anything about that–Well I can't do anything about that—that is for sure—our rules, bible you know—Koran—as you know because of the attitude here, there is an economic embargo on Afghanistan. You must change your behavior.” There is silence. Mullah Omar stares at him.
Then perhaps the Head of the Delegation is beginning to feel uncomfortable under this steady gaze of a cold eye or perhaps he is freezing in this frigid temperature —even though he is bundled up in artic gear or perhaps he just wants to be loved and wants to make the eye staring at him become less loathing towards him—whatever his reasons he blurts out “But here is what I can do. We have funds for which the agenda is cultural heritage preservation and we can work within this agenda—yes—we would be happy to help in the restoration of the Buddhas at Bamiyan.”
The Head of delegation is now beaming. Can you imagine! Here is Mullah Omar—an illiterate, desperate, war weary, lame, one eyed soldier, literally wearing just one of those cotton shalwar kameez and those leather sandals with truck tire rubbers for soles and a chaddar draped over him—in this freezing temperature–and—here he is surrounded by all these warmly dressed well fed people, it is in the deep winter—bitterly cold– his country is in the midst of famine and epidemic and war—he is literally begging these guys to help his country, his people because of the cold and the famine. He has just told this UN delegation that people are starving—The delegation knows that they are starving—they are the fuckin' UN after all and Mullah Omar has been told that he is meeting with the UN delegation—he probably missed the part that he was meeting with A delegation from the UN—so that's what they are—to him “THE UN”—-he doesn't know which part of the UN this group of dummies belong to or that there are parts of the UN—-he just knows that they are the UN delegation—he has no idea how many agencies there are in the UN and what they do—he just knows that they are representatives of the UN who are supposed to help people like his. He tells them how many people are starving, how many have died and where. The Head of Delegation has interrupted him impatiently— The Head of the Delegation says that while they cannot help his starving people with food and medicine as a matter of principle carved in stone—because this you see is the Koran of the UN so he waves it again at Mullah Omar “This is the “Koran of the UN”—so while they cannot help with food and medicine they can however, restore what is carved in stone.
You ask what happened next. Well what happened next, was that this guy who told me this story said that in that moment he felt fear rising inside of himself as the heat rose in his face and his heart was beating so fast he thought for sure he was going to pass out—he woulda shat in his pants but he could feel it dryin' up inside him—as he stared at Mullah Omar—-well–Mullah Omar seemed to have turned to stone— There's complete silence. He stands up—slowly— stands up—because of his gamey leg—you know. Then he limps to the opening of the tent, he stands there looking out then he turns and walks back into the tent goes to the corner where there is a pail. He picks up the pail and overturns it over his head. Splash of freezing cold water—–he dumps it over his head. The delegation get a few drops too. He stands there drenched in cold water. The delegation sits there and stares at him. Mullah Omar, shivering and dripping with freezing cold water says—”I needed to do that—to cool my head—or else…Now—.Get out. Get out now.”
The Head of Delegation is clearly shaken but manages to keep a look of disdain on his features. “Uncultured, intolerable, violent man”, he says after they hurriedly leave the tent and are safely back in their four wheel drive.
A few days later there comes the news that the Buddhas in Bamiyan have been destroyed by the Taliban. Yeah—blown up after being there for what? Over a thousand years? More? Almost as if the guy might be saying—“Thanks for pointing those out to me as a big deal for you. So let me fix that. Agenda cleared. No more Buddhas to restore—now do I have your attention? Now will you do your job and get relief supplies of food to my people? Now will you remove the embargo on food supplies to my country?”
Pakistani? The guy—who told me this—yeah why? Oh! Yeah of course! Yeah, total liars. Never met a single one who shared the same point of view with another one or with anyone for that matter! Just don't get it— Unbelievable, right? I know! Jesus H. Christ, the stories those guys spin! Totally untrustworthy. What are you gonna do! Anyway that was then. And this is now. It is what it is. Who gives a shit. Shit happens. Yeah why not, another–—the same.
Excerpt from a novel.
Other writings by Maniza Naqvi here.