Tuesday, July 08, 2008

65 steps to the Afghan desert grave that began decades of war

Thirty years had separated the moment since Pacha Mir last stood at the secret grave in a desert wasteland on the eastern side of Kabul and his return 12 days ago.

In 1978 he had been a young major in the Afghan Army, ordered in the dead of night to perform a clandestine mission by the Communists who had just seized control of his country in a coup.

On the morning of June 25, accompanied by members of a special Afghan commission, Pacha Mir took the 65 steps again and directed a group of labourers to the small knoll at his feet. They began to dig.

Shortly after 11am they found a shoe barely 3ft beneath the ground. By early afternoon they had found the first bones, and by the close of day they had discovered 29 skeletons in two graves: men, women and children. Pacha Mir had been among the men who buried them. Now he had helped to exhume them. Zahra Ghazi, Daoud's granddaughter, was only 16 at the time and was one of the few to survive. She flew into Kabul two days ago from Switzerland to help with the identification process.

In an interview with The Times yesterday she described her family being whittled down in murderous volleys of fire that sent bullets ricocheting among the marble columns of two rooms in which they had taken cover after a request to surrender was apparently rejected by Daoud. She was shot three times, and as she was finally led from the carnage she remembers passing the bodies of Daoud and her father.

“The strange thing was that many of the soldiers were crying,” she said. “They said they were sorry for having killed the father of their nation.”
65 steps to the Afghan desert grave that began decades of war ...


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