Nangyal and Noori did everything together when they were younger. The brothers played in the same football team, slept in the same room, studied in the same school, and read religious texts in the same mosque. But they’ve spent the last 9 years trying to kill each other.
The brothers, from Kunduz province in Afghanistan, became mortal enemies the day that Nangyal told his family over dinner that he was joining the Afghan National Army.
“Noori told Nangyal that he chose the path of hell and supported Americans against Muslims. Then fighting started between my brothers in the dining room,” their 28-year-old sister told VICE World News via a WhatsApp call.
Three months later, Noori joined the Taliban.
On opposing sides of a war which more or less ended in August when the Taliban completed their lightning fast takeover of Afghanistan as Western forces withdrew, Nangyal and Noori said they had clashed in person many times on the frontlines. VICE World News interviewed the brothers separately. We are not identifying them and are using pseudonyms to refer to them. They have only spoken once in the last 9 years and still harbour great enmity towards each other.
“Numerous times I faced my brother in war in the mountains, and villages. Firing on my brother was the most difficult thing I had ever done, but I had no choice, ” Nangyal, now 34, said. “I was thinking that I am firing on my heart and killing myself.”
The Afghan National Army disintegrated this summer, and while the Taliban announced a general amnesty for former members of the Western-backed governments and armed forces, retaliatory killings have continued.
Before the Afghan army collapsed, Noori contacted Nangyal on the 10th of August, their first direct communication in almost 10 years.
“He told me, ‘we have got the victory,’ and threatened me, ‘you should surrender, along with your fighters. Otherwise, you will be killed,’” Nangyal said. “But I threatened to kill him as well if they tried to make me surrender.”” Five days later Nangyal relocated to Kandahar, to avoid his brother’s revenge.
When Nangyal reflects on the last decade, he’s adamant he made the right decision when he left home in July 2012 to join the army. “I was a patriot and Afghanistan's freedom was in peril,” he said. “It was my responsibility to join the army and dedicate my life to protecting freedom. But I am an unfortunate soldier that my loyalty and sacrifices for the soil have made my brother my enemy and brought harsh tragedies to my home.”
“We were old brothers and current enemies,” said Nangyal. “I would lose my life if I went home again, because my brother believes I am a traitor.”
Taliban fighters cast shadows over drug users detained at a police station in Kabul in October. Photo: Photo/Felipe Dana/File
Noori, now 33, has no regrets whatsoever. “Fighting is mandatory for Muslims when infidels invade your country. I am ready to sacrifice everything, the relations of siblings and even myself for Islam. I took part in Jihad to liberate my country,” he told VICE World News in a phone interview from Kunduz. “My brother was the slave of the infidels, fighting for them against Muslims.”
The Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan in the 1990s, and were toppled by the US-led invasion that followed the September 11 attacks. In the 20-year war that followed, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, and in a conflict so total, it’s certain that Nangyal and Noori’s families are not the only ones to have been so totally torn apart.
Although the violence has mostly stopped, Noori said it would be “impossible” to reconcile with his brother. “My brother is the killer of the Taliban,” he said. “I will not forget and forgive the killers who massacred the Taliban.”
The brothers’ father died in 2010, and they have three sisters. Their mother, 64, has repeatedly tried to get her sons to reconcile, but they have so far refused.
“I am the unluckiest mother in the world. It is impossible for me to describe my pain in words,” she said.
“Every day was a doomsday for me as there was fierce fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces. My sons were fighting against each other in the battleground and I was waiting to hear the news of their murder, killed by the hands of their brother.”
“This fighting has brought unprecedented calamities in our home,” said the brothers’ 28-year-old sister. “After that, we have never seen a single moment of happiness. Our family life is full of catastrophes and anguishes,” she said. “My mom cries every night before dinner at the same dining room and then all siblings begins to weep.”
Hizbullah Khan is a freelance journalist covering Afghanistan based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter here.