In Kabul, the End Comes for a Broad-Shouldered Shiite
Posted April 23, 2018 10:33 p.m. EDT
KABUL, Afghanistan — He was a retired, medal-winning wrestler, often one of the first to arrive after a suicide bombing to help evacuate the wounded on the shoulders of his muscular frame.
On Sunday, those shoulders were needed again when a suicide bomber killed at least 60 people and wounded more than 120, including children, outside a Kabul voter-registration office. But the wrestler, Wakil Hussain Allahdad, could not help. He was among the dead.
Allahdad’s death punctuated the cycle of loss in Afghanistan, so relentless that survivors of one attack often end up victims of the next. In the age of social media, a Facebook post offering condolences for one bombing can often turn out to be the poster’s last public words.
“Pity to the mother and father who are waiting for the return of their children back home,” Allahdad, the father of two boys and two girls, posted after an attack in June. “I hope these miseries will end, because this nation doesn’t have the capacity for more bloody tragedies like this.”
When the bomber struck, Allahdad, 33, had been visiting a shop he had set up across from the office, where three apprentices would photocopy documents for a small fee. Two of the apprentices also were killed, and the third was battling for his life Monday at a hospital.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing, in which most victims were members of Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim minority. The Islamic State, the Sunni Muslim extremist group, has said it is responsible for almost all attacks against Afghan Shiites in recent years.
But many Afghan and U.S. officials say there is often an overlap between the facilitating networks used in urban attacks claimed by the Islamic State in recent years and those used by the extreme elements of the Taliban, particularly the Haqqani network, which had a long history of deadly urban attacks even before the rise of the Islamic State.
In the small foothold the Islamic State maintains in eastern Afghanistan, it carries out particularly barbaric acts of violence. In the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar province, officials said three brothers were beheaded by the group late Sunday. Their father, a medical doctor, was killed by the Islamic State in 2017.
As mass-casualty attacks have increased in Kabul, the country’s capital, Kabul province has become the deadliest one for civilians, surpassing Taliban-dominated southern areas where local residents have long borne the brunt of the war, now in its 17th year. In 2017, almost 500 civilians were killed in attacks in the city and 1,350 were wounded, according to the United Nations.
While the violence has turned life in Kabul into a game of chance, more recently the odds have been worse for Shiites like Allahdad.
His home is on a busy road in a western Kabul neighborhood. Almost every street pole is adorned with a photograph of an attack victim.
“He was just a poor man’s son trying to earn bread for his children,” said his elderly father, Hussain Ali Allahdad, wiping his tears with a white kerchief. As visitors arrived Monday morning to pay their respects, someone would recite another verse of the Quran before hands were raised in prayer. The father would lean back against the wall and close his eyes.
Many visitors apologized for having shown up so late, busy with other funerals and burials. One had a cousin killed in the bombing, another had a brother-in-law, a third had a neighbor.
The visitors tried to console the father by emphasizing that in the eyes of the Shiite community, his son was a martyr who had sacrificed his life for a noble cause.
“Not everyone gets the rank of martyr,” said one visitor who walked with a limp.
“Yes, he was lucky to become a martyr,” said another. “That he has left us burning here — that’s a separate issue.”
In western Kabul where many Shiites live, Allahdad had quite a presence — not only for his reputation as a wrestler, but also as the defender of an increasingly vulnerable community. Some Shiite youths have started carrying weapons at religious gatherings, no longer trusting officials to protect them. They looked to Allahdad as a mobilizer and a leader.
“He was my student for 20 years — he started wrestling when he was 13,” said Sher Jan Ahmadi, deputy head of the country’s wrestling federation.
Allahdad had amassed many accolades in his wrestling career, the medals hanging at his home and office. He won domestic tournaments as a teenager, and in his youth he dominated his weight class of 214 pounds. In one of the last international tournaments he took part in, in Pakistan, he won a silver medal.
When he retired from competing after having torn a leg muscle four years ago, he could not break with the sport entirely. He started coaching a local wrestling club, with about 150 students arriving for daily training at 6 a.m. On his Facebook page, he shared a Russian meme: a video of a babushka rushing to a wrestling mat to smack an opponent who was pinning her son down.
Allahdad also had an entrepreneurial ambition. He began with a small crockery business, then expanded to a travel agency that specialized in pilgrimages to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, and the Shiite holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq. He awarded free trips to his best wrestling students.
As attacks escalated against Shiite places of worship in Afghanistan, the former wrestler found a more urgent use for his strength. He became a volunteer emergency responder, often among the first at the scene. When suicide bombers armed with rifles and grenades stormed the largest Shiite shrine in Kabul two years ago, a photographer captured an image of Allahdad carrying a wounded girl. His embroidered clothes were soaked with blood, his eyes red from tears and smoke.
When another mosque was attacked in June, cellphone video showed Allahdad rushing a bloodied middle-aged man on his shoulder to the back of a police truck. Covered in blood again, he sat on the floor and said he might have dislocated his hip. Someone bent down to help him out.
“Good?” the person asked.
“Yes, good," Allahdad said as he got back on his feet and rushed back into the smoke coming from the mosque.
Late Sunday, hundreds of mourners gathered at the walled family cemetery, where just two weeks earlier Allahdad and two dozen relatives had planted trees to welcome spring. His body was removed from an ambulance, and after a brief prayer, lowered into his grave.
Just days before he was killed, Allahdad had expressed to an older brother, Ghulam Sakhi, how tired he had been: “'For three months, or six months, I just want to go somewhere where I don’t hear anything.'”