In case I die: Why Afghans keep notes in their pockets

After the Kabul attack, Afghans tell Al Jazeera how they keep written notes with important information on their person.

    Tucked away in Mujeebullah Dastyar’s wallet is a piece of paper with several scribblings: emergency contacts’ phone numbers, his blood type and work address.

    “If I get injured or even die in an attack, at least the doctors will have all the information about me,” he tells Al Jazeera. 

    Like most of Kabul’s residents, the 28-year-old feels utterly hopeless after a Taliban-claimed assault on the Afghan capital killed more than 100 people and wounded 235.

    “Many people after the Saturday attack were missing and their relatives kept looking for them,” he says.

    “One of my friends was also missing and we had to post on social media about him to know which hospital he was in, or whether he was alive or dead.”

    With an acute sense of insecurity reeling through the city, the civil servant now frequently calls his parents – who are out of the country – to keep them aware of his whereabouts.

    “They worry about me a lot,” he says, describing Saturday as “the worst day”.

    “But I have seen this war since I was born, so I feel I am kind of ready for everything, I’ve been seasoned this way now.”

    From the moment of attack, the sound of sirens has gripped the city.

    Fazila Shahedi, a 20-year-old student of political science who attends university in the capital, said fear seizes her when she hears an ambulance siren, reminding her of the deadly explosion.

    Shahedi also carries a piece of paper with important information.

    “I keep one in my purse and the other in my jacket pocket,” she tells Al Jazeera, explaining that if one piece of paper is destroyed in an attack, the other should be readable.

    “When I leave my room I ask myself, will I come back or not? I am very young and I don’t want to die.

    “No one will know if I die tomorrow in a suicide attack, at least the note will help get to my family and friends.”

    A 25-year-old Kabul resident, meanwhile, who wishes to remain anonymous, has also put pen to paper.

    “When I feel weak, I write about it in my diary,” he tells Al Jazeera. 

    “Looking at the current situation in Kabul, I don’t know if I will live. I could not sleep all night yesterday, so I thought I will write a note on the first page of my diary, requesting whoever gets it first after I die, to not read what’s written in it.”

    He has already decided how he wants to be of use, if he is killed in an attack.

    “I told my parents to give my body to Kabul Medical University so they can use it for their practice.”

    Memories of May 2017

    The blast jolted the centre of Kabul, a city of around 5 million people, just after midday as a suicide attacker detonated an ambulance packed with explosives near an interior ministry building, school, government offices and hospital.

    The devastation brought back memories of May 31 last year when – around a kilometre from the centre of Saturday’s explosion – a massive truck bomb ripped through the heart of Kabul’s diplomatic district, killing at least 150 people. That was the bloodiest attack in the Afghan capital. To date, no group has claimed responsibility.

    “The problem lies within our security system. There is always an insider link that helps the terrorists plan such attacks,” Jawid Kohistani, an ex-intelligence and military official, tells Al Jazeera.

    “Every time they attack, they use different techniques. Like this time, they used an ambulance. This was least expected.”

    In assaults across the country, the security apparatus, including policemen, is often targeted.

    Kohistani says the current threat outweighs their capabilities.

    “Policemen are killed almost every day, they are paid little and barely any security is provided to their families,” says Kohistani. “They are not equipped in any form to fight the increasing attacks and rise in terrorism at the moment.”

    President Ashraf Ghani’s government faces growing pressure to improve security, but is up against rising attacks from groups including the Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

    In the past seven days alone, at least 200 people have been killed throughout Afghanistan.

    On January 21, a Taliban-claimed attack on the heavily guarded InterContinental Hotel in Kabul left more than 20 dead.

    On January 24, the ISIL group killed at least three people at the office of Save the Children, in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.

    Mujeebullah Dastyar, civil servant and Kabul resident

    According to some reports in local media, at least 1,000 Afghans have been killed in January 2018 alone.

    “When places like the InterContinental Hotel and diplomatic areas can come under attack, it makes us very vulnerable, even in our houses,” says Dastyar, the civil servant. “There is no proper security, obviously, which makes it very easy for the Taliban or ISIL to conduct attacks.”

    Afghan intelligence officials often blame the Taliban-allied Haqqani network for attacks, which they believe are carried out with the assistance of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

    In early January, US President Donald Trump threatened to cut aid to Pakistan for allegedly lying to the US and offering “little help” in hunting “terrorists” in Afghanistan.

    Pakistani officials have rejected the accusations.

    “If Pakistan does not stop supporting these terrorists, such attacks will never stop in Afghanistan,” says Kohistani. “We need to make sure we have a good relationship with Pakistan in order to have a proper strategy and talk on how to completely eliminate terrorism.”

    Follow Shereena Qazi on Twitter: @ShereenaQazi


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