Following this morning’s news in The Times that the MoD, in its infinite wisdom, has published the details of every regular officer, reservist officer and university trainee on a government website, the Daily Mail have now picked up the story. My poor ex-father-in-law will be choking over his dinner:
‘I took out my patrol camera and started photographing anything I thought might be useful for the report I would be writing on my return. I’d got into the practice of doing this early on in the tour and had found it to be invaluable. Engrossed in this task I turned the corner of the compound and almost walked into Haji Jalander, the old Mujahideen I’d interviewed back in MOB Price. Somehow he’d slipped through the Danish cordon unnoticed.
Although I knew Haji was from Zumbalay it hadn’t occurred to me that I might meet him here. But my surprise was nothing compared to his. The last time we’d met I was pretty sure Haji was up for killing me. I certainly wouldn’t have been the first khareji he’d put to death, but once again I had the advantage on him. I was armed with more than just a camera, while he had only his trusty radiator key on its slender brass chain.
Finding my wits I wished him ‘As‑salaam Alaykoum’, to which he instinctively replied before he could check himself, ‘Alaykoum As‑salaam’. Pleasantries over we stood and stared at each other for a few moments before we were joined by one of the Tiger Team lads who spoke a little English.
I waited patiently while they spoke rapid‑fire Pashtu. It was clear the Tiger was getting the full backstory on how Haji and I came to be acquainted. Haji went on at length and the more he spoke the more the fierce old Muj was winding himself up. I was reminded of my soon‑to‑be‑ex father‑in‑law who had a similar capacity to raise his own blood pressure to dangerous levels simply by reading The Daily Mail.
Eventually Haji ran out of steam and the Tiger turned to me and skilfully translated his lengthy diatribe into four words: ‘You know this man?’
I acknowledged that I did and asked him to enquire after Haji’s son‑in‑law. Had he returned? This was obviously a mistake as it set Haji off on another long stream of uninterrupted invective.
The young Afghan soldier was clearly a master of the paraphrase. Laughing a little too nervously for my liking, he translated this last tirade:
‘He says you will die here today, the Taliban will not let you leave alive.’
SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.