Saifullah, man of peace, killed by American cruise missile

War on Terrorism: Victim
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The Independent Online

The Americans have killed Saifullah of Turangzai, MA in Arabic and MA in Islamic Studies (Peshawar University), BSc (Islamia College), BEd certificate of teaching, MPhil student and scholarship winner to Al-Azhar in Cairo, the oldest university in the Arab world.

He spoke fluent English as well as Persian and his native Pashto, and loved poetry and history and was, so his family say, preparing a little reluctantly to get married. His father, Hedayatullah, is a medical doctor, his younger brother a student of chartered accountancy.

Of course, no one outside Pakistan – and few inside – had ever heard of Saifullah. In these Pashtun villages of the North-West Frontier, many families do not even have proper names. Saifullah was not a political leader; indeed his 50-year-old father says his eldest son was a humanitarian, not a warrior. His brother, Mahazullah, says the same. "He was always a peaceful person, quiet and calm, he just wanted to protect people in Afghanistan whom he believed were the victims of terrorism.'' But everyone agrees how Saifullah died.

He was killed on 22 October when five US cruise missiles detonated against the walls of a building in the Darulaman suburb of Kabul, where Saifullah and 35 other men were meeting. His family now call him the shahid, the martyr. Hedayatullah embraces each visitor to the family home of cement and mud walls, offers roast chicken and mitha, sweets and pots of milk and tea, and insists he be "congratulated" on being the proud father of a man who died for his beliefs. Hens cluck in the yard outside and an old, coloured poster, depicting a Kalashnikov rifle with the wordjihad (holy struggle) above it, is pasted to the wall. But "peace" is the word the family utter most.

Saifullah had only gone to take money to Kabul to help the suffering Afghans, says Mahazullah, perhaps no more than 20,000 rupees – around $350 – which he had raised among his student friends.

That's not the way the Americans tell it, of course. Blundering through their target maps and killing innocent civilians by the day, the Pentagon boasted that the Darulaman killings targeted the Taliban's "foreign fighters", of whom a few were Pakistanis, Saifullah among them.

In Pashto, his Arabic name means "Sword of God". Mahazullah dismisses the American claims. Only when I suggest that it might not be strange for a young Muslim with Saifullah's views to have taken a weapon to defend Afghanistan does Mahazullah say, briefly, that his brother "may have been a fighter''.

Saifullah's best friend, a smiling, beardless young man with bright blue eyes, says he telephoned the doomed man on 16 October, two days before he left for Afghanistan, six days before his death. "I asked him if he was going to Afghanistan and he said he was – but just to take money to the Afghans. He said: 'If God wills it, I will be back after 10 days.' I told him it would be very dangerous. I pleaded with him not to go, but he said he just wanted to take the money. He said to me: 'I know my life will be in danger but I'm not going to fight. What can I do? The Americans are out of range.' He said he just wanted to give moral support.''

Mahazullah never imagined his brother's death. "We never expected his martyrdom. I never thought he would die,'' he says. A phone call prepared the family for the news, a friend with information that some Pakistanis had been killed in Kabul. "It has left a terrible vacuum in our family life,'' Mahazullah says.

"You cannot imagine what it is like without him. He was a person who respected life, who was a reformer. There was no justification for the war in Afghanistan. These people are poor. There is no evidence, no proof. Every human being has the right to the basic necessities of life.

"The family – all of us, including Saifullah – were appalled by the carnage in New York and Washington on 11 September. Saifullah was very regretful about this – we all watched it on television.'' At no point does the family mention the name of Osama bin Laden.

Turangzai is a village of resistance. During the Third Afghan War in 1919, the British hunted down Hadji Turangzai, one of the principal leaders of the revolt, and burnt the village bazaar in revenge for its insurgency. Disconcertingly, a young man enters Saifullah's family home, greets me with a large smile and announces that he is the grandson of the Hadji, scourge of the English. But this is no centre of Muslim extremism. Though the family pray five times a day, they intend their daughters to be educated at university.

Saifullah spent hours on his personal computer and apparently loved the poetry of the secular Pakistani national poet Allam Mohamed Iqbal of Surqhot – Sir Mohamed Iqbal after he had accepted a British knighthood – and, according to Mahazullah, was interested in the world's religions.

"He would talk a lot about the Northern Ireland problem and about Protestants and Catholics,'' he says. "He believed that Islam was the religion which most promotes peace in the world. He used to say that the Prophet, peace be upon him, tells us that we can't even attack a person who is engaged in war with us if he has his gun over his shoulder.

"You can only fight a person who is attacking you. He thought that every civilian should help the Afghans because they are being attacked. But we are not extremists or terrorists as the media say.''

Saifullah, at 26 the oldest of three brothers and two sisters, was unmarried. "Our father told him: 'We are going to marry you,' '' Mahazullah says. "But my brother said he would only marry after his studies. His father was trying to see which girls might be suitable. It is our duty to follow our parents' wishes because they have an experience we don't have.'' But Saifullah left for Afghanistan. "Trust me,'' were the last words he said to his father.

Perhaps he was remembering one of Iqbal's most famous verses: "Of God's command, the inner meaning do you know? To live in constant danger is a life indeed.''

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