The people in the Panjshir Valley have defeated both the Russians and the Taliban. They are quite possibly the toughest people in the world. We visited their hospital where shattered bones, lacerations to the skulls and bullets to the face are just about the only things able to force a brave Panjshiri to bed rest.
About two hours north of Kabul, Panjshir is the safest place in all Afghanistan. It’s a beautiful series of valleys, free from pollution and suicide bombs. One entrance leads into the valley and it’s guarded by local soldiers. If you’re not a Panjshiri or invited by a Panjshiri you don’t get in. This is what keeps it safe.
And on top of that – as anyone in Afghanistan will tell you – you don’t mess with this tribe. In the past two months, three American contractors have been killed up here. Sometimes there’s just no telling people.
In the same way that Brazilian kids are natural born footballers, the Panjshiri come into this world blessed with the ability to fuck up your shit. They’re all fighters. And even though they’re no longer picking off Red Army or Talib footsoldiers, they still like to get bloody amongst each other. Thursday is the weekend in Afghanistan. It’s also the only day when good Afghan Muslims turn bad and drink alcohol. Friday at the hospital is known locally as ‘Stab Friday’.
We spent a Friday afternoon at Emergency, the hospital funded and administered by the Italian NGO of the same name. We met a man whose leg had been split open from a not-yet-expired Russian landmine. We met a farmer who had taken a bullet in the back that ping-ponged through his ribs and exited through his jaw. He only came into the hospital two days after the shooting. Until then I guess he’d hoped some chai and a sit down would take away the pain. And we were just a couple of hours too late to see a man who’d discharged himself early. He’d presented himself to the staff with a hunting knife lodged in his skull. ‘Stab Friday’ is no joke.
[caption id="attachment_29542" align="alignnone" width="635" caption="The face of Ahmad Shah Massoud, "The Lion of Panjir" and former leader of the Mujahideen, hangs from a school building in the Valley "]
[caption id="attachment_29540" align="alignnone" width="635" caption="Ex-Mujahideen fighters from Panjshir"]
Afghanistan is a carcass surrounded by vultures. They’ve already started nibbling. Soon as international forces pull out, the Taliban will devour it. But so long as the Panjshir Valley keeps breeding new generations of hard bastards, they’ll never get the whole country. To confirm this we asked our driver, an ex-Mujahideen from Panjshir, what his take on the Taliban was.
“The Americans are doing it wrong," he said. "If they gave us control of their military resources, we’d destroy the Taliban in a month.” He then returned to picking meat out of his teeth with a tree trunk, crushing tanks between his butt cheeks and blowing whole herds of cattle across fields with a simple snort from his nostrils.
WORDS: CONOR CREIGHTON
PHOTOS: HENRY LANGSTON