There has been the first on the record condemnation by a senior member of the Taleban of the killings of eight foreign aid workers in Badakshshan on 5th August. Qari Malang, the representative of the Western Nuristan Taleban front, told AAN the Nuristani Taleban considered the killings to be murder. The initial claim of responsibility made by the Taleban spokesman’s is looking ever more far-fetched. AAN’s senior analyst, Kate Clark, asks, if this was not an operation carried out by Taleban based in Badakshshan or Nuristan, why is the Kandahari leadership continuing to maintain its silence over the murders?
“We have checked the facts regarding these foreigners,” said Qari Malang who answers directly to the Taleban shadow governor of Nuristan, Dost Mohammad, “and our people in the area have confirmed that they were bona fide aid workers and had been providing assistance to the population. Furthermore, we have learnt that among the killed foreigners, was Dan Terry, who had a long history of helping our people, including in Kunar and Laghman provinces and that he had previously provided welfare assistance to the families of those civilians martyred in bombardments… We pass on our condolences to the families of those killed.”
Malang’s on-the-record statement is another testament to the work that Dan and the man who led the eye camp, his long-term friend and colleague, Tom Little, have done in Afghanistan. They had been prepared to work around whoever had power in Kabul or locally to reach the poor and they had friends on both sides of whatever frontline happened to be in place. The work and name of Dan Terry was known even to insurgent commanders in one of the most remote places in Afghanistan. Old friends of different party affiliations and none are now speaking up for the dead, both Taleban and Northern Alliance (see blog 4), NGO directors and former colleagues (for two new tributes to Dan’s and Tom’s work by their colleagues, see the end of this blog). The bodies of men are due to be buried in Kabul tomorrow at the request of their families.
Through his statement, Malang has directly contradicted the Taleban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahaden, who said a Taleban patrol had killed the team because they were preaching Christianity. Malang said commanders from Nuristan had not carried out the killings (joining an earlier denial by the Badakhshan shadow governor, see blog 5) and they had launched an investigation to find out who had. “We shall inform you of the results when it is concluded. We regret these killings and strongly assert that this is not the work of the Taliban who will never do harm to genuine aid workers… as soon as we manage to apprehend those responsible for this act, we shall subject them to whatever punishment our laws prescribe.”
Readers might be forgiven for saying that Taleban do have a record of killing aid workers and other civilians, such as teachers, elders and government workers; why should Qari Malang’s statement be anything more than an attempt by him to save the reputation of Nuristani Taleban?
The aim of this blog is not to whitewash the Taleban, but is part of an attempt to try to pin down who did commit the murders of the ten-strong, eye camp team. The initial Taleban claim of responsibility, like that of Hizb-e Islami, was always dubious (see blog 1), but successfully shut up dissenting voices – either because commanders did not want to contradict their spokesman or because of the fear of being seen to defend Christians.
Yet in the face of more local Taleban voices coming out to denounce the killings as murders and to assert that this was not an operation carried out by Taleban based in Badakshshan or Nuristan, the Kandahari leadership continues to maintain its silence.
Two New Tributes from former colleagues of Tom Little, leader of the Eye Camp Team
“I worked for many years with Noor and the IAM team in the past and attended many
eye camps during that time. I have cried so many times about the poverty and helplessness of those people that I could write a lengthy book about it. Let me tell you one story of the many people I saw.
I did a simple cataract surgery in Nayek on a person who had been blind for seven years and had not been able to travel to a centre for an eye examination. The following day when I opened his eye he saw his brother’s face for the first time in seven years. He was so happy at that moment that he thought someone had given him the all the world. I have never forgotten his face and the happiness of him and the others who were receiving help from our team at that time.
The people which IAM have lost in this last tragedy are irreplaceable. I would like to convey my saddest sympathy to the rest of the IAM team and staff who are giving the best humanitarian help to the needy people of a country which needs the most help in this world.
The people who sacrifice their life for good causes have the highest place in GOD’s eyes”.
“This tragedy has deeply saddened me. Looking at the faces of all those good people and the lost lives, we ask when will this all will end in our country?
I was working as a doctor in Noor Eye Hospital for almost 10 years (1992-2003). It coincided with the years of civil war and the times Mr Tom was working there. Although we were not in a close working relationship, I could notice how he was always striving to support getting medical care to eye patients.
The most remarkable thing about him was the courage he had. He spent the years of the [civil] 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 was the main source of getting finance for the hospital. He was engaged in a wide range of activities, including providing modern equipment and materials for the daily operation of the hospital, training ophthalmic technicians, conducting day-camps and eye-camps to provide medical help to the under-served people in the remote districts of Kabul and other provinces.
He dared to stay during the Taliban and continued his work and initiated some programs to train female ophthalmic technicians which were stopped after a few months when the situation did not allow them. I participated in a Vitamin A Deficiency Survey Program in Kabul city during the Taliban. Mr Tom was supervising the program. It was unusual to conduct such surveys by female staff, but he got written permission from the Ministry of Public Health to let a team of three females accompanied by an elderly man go from home to home to examine small children to find cases of Vitamin A deficiency [the leading cause of preventable blindness among children].
Mr Tom had a quiet and friendly personality. He was very energetic with a strong sense of commitment”.
A female doctor in Kabul who asked not to be named
* The picture of Dan Terry was shared by IAM.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020