AAN has been asking for the memories and thoughts of some of the Afghans who knew the members of the eye camp team who were murdered in Badakhshan last week. Initially, we wanted to find out what they thought about the Taleban accusations that the team had been preaching Christianity, but it soon became clear that most people just wanted to share their memories of the dead, particularly the two oldest members of the team, Dan Terry, who was in Afghanistan for almost 40 years, and the team-leader, Tom Little, there for thirty-four years. Both men lived through successive regimes, brought up their families and forged many enduring friendships.
“The Taleban kill first and then they invent the motive after….. I never saw anything in Dan’s entire action that could lead you to think he was proselytising.
He was also a problem solver – logistics, social conflict, negotiations. He was like aspirin – from the days when Afghan doctors used to prescribe aspirin whatever the patient’s problem. Dan was like aspirin, solving whatever problems our project through up.
He was caring, that above all. What struck me was the way he was close to all his people – the drivers, the logistics officers. They really loved him. They were ready to take all the risks in the middle of winter to make our project happen because he had put his name on it. This comes from love and real commitment and care for those you work with. It was a model for me.”
Shahir Zahine, head of the Kilid Media Group, who worked with Dan Terry getting aid into Hazarajat in the winter of 2000-2001, a time of war, massacres, drought and frontlines.
“It’s rubbish (the Taleban accusation). They’re killing innocent people everywhere, killing innocent people in the mosques, everywhere and they have to find an excuse for it…
Knowing Tom personally, he was a Christian, but he was not preaching Christianity, at least I never saw anything, not did I hear anything from the people of such activities. The Taleban use this label, but I don’t think it will stick because they were there for the eye camp. I have seen the missions helping the people who don’t have access to any other care and giving them hope for the future.
In areas like Nuristan, people don’t even know they can be cured. So when this sort of team goes to a village and people start coming to them, there will be hundreds of cases where blindness can – and is – prevented and people who are considered blind will see the light again in their own life. The Taleban have found (a pretext for their actions), but this was a crime, a heinous crime.”
Dr Abdullah, 2009 presidential contender who trained and worked with Noor Eye hospitals and clinics in the early 1980s (Noor is the name of IAM’s eye-care project).
“They’re innocent. They’ve been in Afghanistan for thirty years and during that time, there have been efficient intelligence services, they knew they were Christians, but they were correct people, doing their jobs. There was never any criticism of them, even during the Taleban.(*) This (accusation) was just a pretext to take them out – it was baseless.
I respect Tom, may God bless him. He was a good, kind man. He was part of the Afghan family. He left his beautiful New York to come to our poor country. During the civil war, Afghans fled Kabul and fifty thousand people were killed here. But he and his family stayed, they sheltered in their basement from the rockets and he kept on helping as a doctor.
I am a witness to this. I was not working for him. I’m an independent journalist and I saw these things.”
Amir Shah, Associated Press, Kabul Correspondent
I knew Dan Terry since 1984. I met him in Noor Eye hospital where I worked in the workshop. It was during the Dr Najib government and he used to say he wanted to get out of Kabul and work in the provinces – which was very dangerous then. He’d say, I go to help people, I’m not the sort of person who harms people – which would make people want to harm me.
He and I were always discussing people’s difficulties and finding solutions, improving people’s skills, like making machines for farmers or using wind power or making materials, finding ways to prevent flooding. He’d tell people to use their own materials, to be independent. He was always spending money from his own pocket. He particularly wanted to help children and mothers.
He was injured during the civil war in1992, but still he was thinking when he was in hospital and while he was injured and he gave me a massive package of bandages and said – pass these on to injured people so they don’t lose blood on their way to hospital. He helped me a lot, gave me the name for my NGO – Irtibat (Connection).
In Lal wa Sar Jangal and in Yakaolang (both in Hazarajat), he is famous. He used to go into people’s houses and eat whatever was ready, always smiling, always laughing and chatting. He was never angry.”
Engineer Yunis Akhtar, Director Irtibat NGO
“I was working as a doctor in Noor Eye Hospital for almost ten years (1992-2003). It coincided with the years of civil war and the times Mr. Tom was working there. Although we were not in close working relationship, I could notice how he was striving to support providing medical care to eye patients. The most remarkable thing about Mr. Tom was the courage he had. He spent the years of war in Kabul and never abandoned his mission and colleagues. He did whatever he could to keep the hospital operating. Even in those years of war, Noor hospital was active in providing professional medical care to war victims and other patients. He dared to stay during the Taleban and continued his work and initiated some programs to train female ophthalmic technicians which was stopped after a few months when the situation did not allow it.
The tragedy has deeply saddened me. Looking at the faces of all those good people and the lost lives we ask when these all will end in our country. I recall Tom with his blue coat running around and going forth and back in the hospital workshop. He was a strong man but bad luck ended his life so painfully. Their services will not be forgotten.”
Female doctor in Kabul (she asked not to be named)
Following some comments from the Afghan press (source: BBC Monitoring, 11 August 2010):
Weesa (pro-government): “The killing of 10 employees of a charity organization in [northern] Badakhshan Province should be condemned… Anyway, there is a need to focus on two issues here. One of the factors for the killing of the workers of this organization is the public hatred in Afghanistan against foreigners and this is the result of the activities of the international forces in Afghanistan… The other issue is that if the health workers wanted to serve in far-flung provinces like Badakhshan and Nurestan and did not have any other objective; why they did not inform the Afghan security bodies when they travelled to such areas… Anyway, it is not enough to blame only Al-Qa’idah and Taleban for the killing of these eight foreigners since the killers of innocent Afghans are a lot, the factors and motive of such killings are also a lot.”
Hasht-e Sobh (independent): “The heinous and barbaric killing of 10 employees of the International Assistance Mission in Badakhshan Province on charges of preaching Christianity and spying for the USA is not the first incident of its kind. It is obvious that it will not be the last one as well. However, we can say with certainty that such actions will have totally negative and wrong impact on the introduction of Muslims and the opinion of the people towards Muslims in the world. The Taleban and Islamic Party (Hezb-e Eslami), the two terrorist groups affiliated with Pakistan, have always tried to spread fear and dread to stop the foreigners assisting the Afghan people… An Afghan cook and an Afghan cleaner are reported to be among the killed who could not have any role in preaching Christianity. This shows that like their other friends and colleagues, the Taleban and Hezb-e Eslami do not show mercy to anyone… The Taleban have not refrained from blowing up mosques of Muslims as well.”
Website giving more Afghan comments (in Dari and pashto) on the murders are here and here.
(*) In the summer of 2001, the Taleban expelled IAM and other Christian NGOs from Afghanistan after members of Shelter Now International had been caught trying to convert local Muslims.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020