Several important events happened in Afghanistan during the year I was born: 1986. Russia’s invasion, which started in December 1979, was coming to an end, and Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet premier, had declared he would withdraw six regiments from Afghanistan. By 1989, when I was three years old, the withdrawal of all Russian troops had taken place. At the time, Afghanistan was a significant battlefield for Cold War competitors, and by 1986 the resistance fighters, known as Mujahideen, were receiving sophisticated weaponry from the West, particularly from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and China through Pakistan. The weaponry included shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles, which were critical in destabilising the Soviet air force. In the middle of 1986, Babrak Karmal, the general secretary of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), was forced to resign and was replaced by Dr Najibullah Ahmad Zai. The PDPA was established as a Marxist-Leninist political party in 1965, and came into power in 1978 with Karmal serving as its general secretary from 1979 to 1986. The Soviet-Afghan War lasted from 1979 to 1989, and after the withdrawal of Russian troops in 1989, civil war began, lasting from 1989 to 1992. The war was waged between the government led by Ahmad Zai and the Mujahideen groups.
This was the Afghanistan I was born into. My parents were from a middle-class family originally from Herat Province, who had, for work reasons, resettled to Kabul in 1975. My earliest childhood memory dates back to when I was about four years old. I remember my father buying me a yellow tricycle. As we lived in a flat, he had to take it out into the playground located in front of our building. We were living in Macroyan Three, a complex of high-rise flats built by the Soviets before the invasion. By the end of the year, the civil war had reached the Macroyan areas. One bright afternoon when I was playing outside on my tricycle, I heard a massive explosion that shook the ground. My elder sister, who was out playing with me, immediately picked me up and took me indoors. At the time I was not sure what was going on, but then the fighting intensified, and I was not allowed outside anymore.
The whole family found itself locked indoors all the time. One evening when we gathered with our neighbours in the basement of the block; it was dark and I was very frightened and there was no power. The water pipes were broken and there was a flood in the basement. I was with the women and other children in a big utility room while the men formed a chain to take the water out of the basement with buckets and bowls. The sound of gunfire and rockets was getting closer and closer, and things were getting worse by the day. So, my father decided to leave Kabul and move back to Herat. That meant leaving our flat and all our possessions behind. I remember reaching the airport, which was under the control of the government at the time. It was the first time I had ever seen a helicopter, let alone flown in one, but we all climbed aboard and flew towards Herat. Herat was much safer then, because the main battles were for the control of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.