Editor’s note: Writer Amal Faridi is telling her father Ahmad Bilal Faridi’s story as it was told to her.
In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. At this time, a young boy from the neighboring country of Pakistan, had recently celebrated his sixth birthday. His name was Ahmad Bilal Faridi.
At his young age, Bilal had already witnessed the Saur Revolution, the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, and the effects of Afghanistan’s opium industry. It was a spring evening, and Bilal, his parents, and his four sisters gathered around the TV to watch the news. Bilal watched in horror as tanks rolled on the streets of Afghanistan. The Soviet-supported Democratic Party of Afghanistan was revolting against the president. Fear shot inside of Bilal as he wondered if his country would be next to experience civil unrest.
Bilal saw what the war had done to people. Over 3.5 million Afghani refugees were forced to flee to Pakistan. When Bilal walked with his cousins to the market, he could see Afghanis working menial jobs in the sweltering sun for a living. He felt great respect for their strong characters, that never broke, though they were suffering.
When Afghanistan’s opium industry fell, drugs were leaked into neighboring countries. Most of Afghanistan’s heroin came to Pakistan. It affected the lives of countless Afghanis and Pakistanis alike. Bilal was in his early teens around this time. Bilal had heard about the effects of drugs, but he didn’t understand the gravity of it, until one day, when Bilal’s neighbor, Adnan, who was a very close friend of his family, and a star field hockey player, came to Bilal’s house.
Adnan had come to ask for 20 rupees. At first, Bilal didn’t think much of it, but after it became recurrent, he realized what was really happening. Heroin was such an abstract thing for him, but now that it had hit so close to his loved ones, he realized how big of a problem it really was. Bilal worried about Adnan’s addiction. Thankfully, he was one of the lucky ones. He had a supportive family, who paid for his rehab. Bilal witnessed with relief how he rose from his ashes, got a job, and turned his life around. Even though Adnan was doing so well now, and Bilal was happy to see his friend recover, everyone was well aware that the drugs weren’t gone. They caused long-term health problems for Adnan, and changed his life forever.
Bilal now fully understood what drugs were, since he had seen people gathered under bridges, inhaling the fumes that rose from between them. He could see drug addicts begging for money, and how good people fell from grace when getting into drugs.
Drugs weren’t the only things that were being illegally transported over the border. Since Afghanistan was fighting the USSR, Pakistan supported Afghanistan as their brother country.
For this reason, many Pakistani youth went to fight for Afghanistan. America, an enemy of the USSR, supplied military class weapons to Afghanistan through Pakistan. In this process, many weapons made it into the black market. These guns landed into the hands of ordinary people, who then used them for street riots, fights and other such instances. Bilal witnessed many people use assault rifles in instances where a club or stick would have been more appropriate.
Some of the people Bilal saw carrying these types of weapons were part of the Pakistanis who went to fight the Soviets, such as Bilal’s 22-year-old cousin, Osman.
Before Osman left for war, he used to go to a Madrasa, (seminary school). He temporarily left for Afghanistan, and Bilal always thought of it as a sort of gap year. Six months later, when Osman returned, Bilal and his sisters and cousins would sit and listen with great interest as Osman told them all about his experience, how the Pakistani and Afghani soldiers ambushed Soviet trucks and tanks, and bravely fought them off. Bilal noticed how he admired his guns and started carrying them around, even though they were usually illegal. Osman also showed them the movie RAMBO III. Bilal noticed that the movie was dedicated “To the gallant people of Afghanistan.” At that moment, he felt extremely proud of his country for supporting Afghanistan, and of young Pakistanis like Osman, who selflessly fought for their neighboring country in need.
In 1988, when Bilal was 15 years old, the Soviet-Afghan War came to an end when the Geneva Accords were signed. The Soviets withdrew their troops from Afghanistan, and agreed to peace between the two countries. Afghanistan’s soldiers had fought bravely, and their resilience was evident. Bilal knew there were people who had it much worse than him.
He learned to appreciate life, and be grateful for what he was given. Bilal had seen the trials and tribulations of real life and even though he was just a teenager, he learned a valuable lesson through everything that had happened: Along with every hardship comes ease.