Diaries from Afghan War Zone: Concert in a Battleground

Diaries, Exclusive
November 22, 2010 16:24

Farhad Darya, dubbed as 'Afghan Elvis', surrounded by his fans at a concert in Helmand, southern Afghanistan. Photo - Massoud Hossaini

I normally go to southern Helmand province with U.S. troops to cover the war between the Taliban and US-led ISAF troops who are fighting terrorism. But this time Farhad Darya’s team invited me to tour with him and asked to photograph his concert in Helmand.

Farhad Darya is a famous singer who normally sings in Persian (Dari in Afghanistan) and cannot speak Pashto very well. The 48-year-old singer has been designated as the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Goodwill Ambassador for Afghanistan and has worked a lot for human rights and peace.

It was Friday, 19 November, that we went to Lashkar Gah stadium which is the central city of Helmand. I was shocked to see thousands of men gathered to watch and enjoy Farhad’s concert. Some had arrived from neighboring provinces like Uruzgan and Kandahar.

I and my fiancee, who was also working for Farhad Darya, were scared a bit. Everyone in Afghanistan has heard a lot of scary stories about Helmand. Stories like wild Taliban beheading young Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and killing people at will, opium smugglers, IEDs which kill a lot of British and US soldiers every year and countless others.

We were expecting some bloody incident to happen during the concert despite the fact that people were body searched three times before entering the concert arena. But who could control 7-8 thousand people?

It was prayer time and men started to say their prayers everywhere. I saw some men with exact Taliban faces – long beard, black turbans and wild eyes. I asked my fiancee to go behind the stage so that no one else sees her. To be honest, I was very scared, my hands were shaking and my heart beating hardly.

Farhad came to the stage and people started shouting and pushing each other. Some children came under the feet of the crowd but no one hurt seriously. Farhad had to stop for a while as I ran to him and told him that he has to take a pause as children are in a bad situation.

A man stood up and spoke in Pashto while using some hard words. Immediately, the crowd started to sit on the ground and it seemed that every thing came under control. Farhad started singing and I saw that young men were so happy and most of them danced. The Afghan singer was so excited and I could see the excitement on his face.

A lot of young men gave him flowers, mostly plastic flowers and they were shouting and dancing and laughing. I have never seen this before in a Pashtun-dominated province before. I never thought that some day I would be witness of an event like this taking place in Helmand!

There was a report on BBC about another operation that started a few days ago somewhere in Helmand which was not so far from Lashkar Gah, the concert venue. Sangin is in south of this province and is experiencing a bitter and tough fighting between the US Marines and the Taliban. Hopefully I will go to this area for an embed coming January.

Mr. Ahmadi, the Helmand governor spokesman, denied any operation going on in Helmand but I heard some explosions in Lashkar Gah city when I was in the governor’s guest house a day after the concert.

Helmand Governor Mr. Mangal was so excited after the concert that he came to the stage, talked to the people and gave a special gift to Farhad Darya. People were so happy and I cried a bit after being overwhelmed by this much happiness.

One of the songs that Farhad sang was about rebuilding Afghanistan: “If I made you Hell, I will/can make you Paradise also” was the particular song that made me cry.

Helmand is still a bloody province with a lot of poppy fields and will be a hot ground for a while in the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

Massoud Hossaini is a 29-year-old photo journalist from Afghanistan who has been covering the war in Afghanistan since the last several years. He frequently embeds with the coalition forces in Afghanistan to find out the other side of the story. His stories can be read on http://massoudhossaini.blogspot.com. Diary written by Massoud Hossaini; Edited & Published by Moign Khawaja.

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