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Latifa is the story of a teen age afghan girl witnessing her country going through

turbulent times. Latifa, the pseudonym used by author to prevent any reprisal for
writing her experiences, was born in 1980 in Russian occupied Afghanistan, to an
affluent family living in Kabul. Her mother was Tajik while her father was of Pashtun
origin. They lived in an elite area of Kabul where many other government dignitaries
lived as well. She had two brothers Daoud and Wahid. Wahid served time in Afghan
army under the aegis of Russian presence. Daoud, the younger brother went to
attend Kabul University. Her father was a shopkeeper by occupation. Her mother
used to be a doctor but she was a full time housewife at the time of Taliban arrival,
though she never stopped giving consultancy to people coming to her home. Not
clear from the book but suffered from few ailments including depression and lethargy
and was mostly on drugs. Her eldest brother, Wahid, later on left for Russia and
settled there. Her elder sister Chakila was married to a family in Peshawar and was
to leave for U.S.A with her husband. Her sister Sorya worked for Ariana airlines as
an air hostess.
Her story starts from 1996, the year Taliban made their presence felt. Story jumps
back and forth in time to describe authors experience over a decade. Arrival of
Taliban is described as the worst thing that ever happened to Afghanistan. Talibans
draconian laws, supposedly based on sharia made life miserable for Afghans
especially women. Latifa was virtually imprisoned in her own home. Taliban placed
stringent restriction on movement of women. Those restrictions tore her life apart.
Not that Kabul prior to arrival of Taliban was a paradise but Taliban sure made it
became hell for the author and women in general. She was not allowed to go outside
let alone to go school. Her sister also had to stop working. Most sources of
entertainment including videos and magazine were banned by Taliban so it was
pretty hard to get time pass by. Women were barred from all sorts of occupation
which meant women without male patron were force to beg. Similarly, women were
not allowed to get medical checkups by male doctors and there were no women
doctors to be found as they were not allowed to practice. It put women in a very
miserable condition.
Author also saw the total demise of local culture and values by Taliban. She recalls
the wedding of her brother Daoud. It was a very bland affair, with no songs, no
dances, no recording and no photos. A friend did try to capture the moment on
celluloid but Taliban somehow got hold of this and raided the wedding party and
punished the friend.
Her brother Wahid served in the military under Russian control. After his military
training was finished he was sent to Maidan Shar front. Wahid saw Russian soldiers
butchering civilians before his own eyes. War took a toll on him, made him serious
and more conservative. He became stricter in observance of Islamic law. Wahid
rebelled against Soviet orders. He received detentions multiple times for his
behavior. Eventually he was sentenced to prison at Pol-e-Tcharki. He was a political

prisoner of Soviets. He spent 3 years in the prison until 1992 when Ahmed Shah
Masouds men arrived in Kabul and political prisoners were released. Wahid was
later on sent by his father to Russia where he got married and settled.
Author recounts her visit to Pakistan. It was not very easy to get to Pakistan. First
they had to take the passage to Jalalabad and then from there on they went to
Peshawar via Turkham Pass. It was cruel journey with lot of heat and exhaustion.
Her purpose of visit was to get a medical checkup for herself and her mother. Taliban
were very strict regarding traveling of of women. So they had to be extra cautious.
Author describes her experience at entrance to Pakistan where the Pakistani guard
asked them for bribe to let them pass. Peshawar was far more amenable to life with
relative freedom. But even then they were very cautious because they were afraid if
anything they might say or do may not reach back to Kabul. One interesting aspect
of their travel was that they had to leave someone behind in their apartment because
Taliban were known to be very interested in their block and would take up residence
in any apartment they found vacated.
Taliban strictly enforced the early marriages of girls. A girl for which suitor was not
found was often married to some Talib. Author describes a near relative where the
poor girl had to be married to a younger boy in the family because Taliban were
drooling over her. Similarly author herself had to be on guard so as to avoid attention
of Taliban. She was confined to her room. Only a male would answer the door and
even then very cautiously.
Taliban on their arrival asked everyone to hand over any kind of arms and
objectionable material to them. Her family had to forego a couple of swords and a
gun which were primarily for decoration and were in fact family heirlooms. They also
had to give up the portrait of her mother. Her father had a hard time giving up those
items but did oblige albeit grudgingly.
Author recalls a horrible memory of three afghan countryside girls who came to her
mother for medical assistance. These girls were assaulted, raped and later on their
assailants cut off their female genitalia. It was tragic spectacle. Her mother did what
she could. She asked for help from a doctor she knew she could trust. The doctor
was resourceful and managed medicines while her mother spent all night providing
them with health care. Medicines were hard to come by and very expensive which
made their job even more tenuous. Girls were so afraid that they refused to lose their
veil even in private. As per authors mother those girls would live but their life wont
be easy both medically as well as socially. Societal behavior would also hurt them at
every step of their life. No one would marry those poor girls.
Taliban replaced the traditional schools with their own Madrassas. Children spent all
day reciting and learning Quran. Author tells us that those poor children were taught
the distorted version of Islam, which didnt open to the world, rather it helped Taliban

to advance their own doctrine. Ms. Fawzia, an ex-teacher started a secret school
where she taught children in pre-Taliban era courses. However, Taliban somehow
got wind of the secret school and eventually found the identity of the teacher. They
didnt show any mercy to the teacher. Though they didnt execute here, they bruised
her badly, threw her down the stairs so violently that she broke her leg. She was
forced to sign a declaration that she would never teach again.
Latifa and here adventurous friend Farida, in Ms. Fawzias footsteps, started their
own school. But they were far more cautious. They were very prudent about picking
their student. Most of the students were from the immediate neighborhood. Authors
family had close ties with families of those children. Latifa asked Ms. Fawzia for help
and surprisingly Ms. Fawzia agreed. She provided them with teaching material and
curriculum. Latifa avoided meeting Ms. Fawzia and always used third part
messenger to communicate with lest she may come on Talibans radar. Entire family
of Latifa was involved in the project. Her brother Daoud provided the needed
material like pencils and notebooks, Sorya helped check students homework, her
mother provided food to children. Their clandestine operation continued successfully
without the Taliban getting any hint of it until the time author and her family stayed in
Kabul.
All in all, its a story from the perspective of a teenage afghan girl who, before the
arrival of Taliban enjoyed liberal and secular societal norms, and was now forced to
live in the confines of her home. She constructs her narrative based on her personal
experiences and through the experiences of her immediate family. We get to see
how the fabric of society was torn apart by internal and external security turmoil.
Authors writing style is personal though a bit crude. Most of writing is based on first
hand experiences but there are few places where it is tainted by hearsay,
unsubstantiated claims and authors personal bias. For example it is pretty clear that
the authors perception about the neighboring Pakistan is not very positive. Her
depiction of Pakistan as an evil state is at best nave. Tone of writing makes one
realize that author holds great deal of resentment towards Pakistan. It is especially
paradoxical when one considers her general perception about Russia, US and
Europe. It is as if Pakistan is an evil state with nefarious plans to occupy Afghanistan
while the Good West wants to save Afghanistan. None of these claims and
accusations is substantiated with reliable references. However, such claims do
jeopardize veracity of her depiction of Taliban era Afghanistan.