"Why are you leaving me behind?"
On Tuesday, just before midnight, I stood in the tower of Mazar-i-Sharif airport. From up there, I watched as the last Bundeswehr soldiers boarded planes to leave Afghanistan forever. I was extremely sad at that moment. One thought kept running through my mind as I saw the tail lights of the Bundeswehr plane, "Hey friends, why are you leaving me behind?"
My name is Ahmad Jawid Sultani, I was born in Mazar-i-Sharif and I am 31 years old. I worked for the German Armed Forces as a interpreter from 2009 to 2018, and now I fear for my life. The Taliban are at the gates of Mazar-i-Sharif. The access roads are blocked, there is fighting everywhere. The last way out of the city is via the airport, which is the way the Germans went.
In 2009, I had just got a certificate in an English language course, and I wanted to do my part to contribute to peace and stability in my country. I was eager to work with the German troops. Although my family was absolutely against it, I applied to them at Camp Marmal.
The application process took three months, then when I got the call from the Germans, they told me, "We will go anywhere together, what happens to us will happen to you. We will be fighting terrorism together, we'll go anywhere the insurgents might be, and you'll be right up front." That scared me at first. I asked for 24 hours to think it over and then agreed because I trusted the Germans – and my father also told me that we Afghans have good relations with Germany, that the Germans are old friends of our country.
Don't put me on show
Today I deeply regret having worked for the Bundeswehr. In the eyes of the Taliban I worked with the enemy. There are also rumours in my neighbourhood that I might have been a spy or that I ate pork with the Germans, that I am not a good Muslim. My neighbours are now saying to me, "Don't you know that the Taliban are outside the city? You will be their first target; in their eyes you are a traitor." Sometimes I think that once the Taliban enter the city, they will come to our houses and knock on the doors of us interpreters. If that happens, I hope they shoot me right away. It would be terrible if they tortured me and put me on show to teach others a lesson.
Even while I was working for the Germans, I received death threats in the form of phone calls and letters. I reported eight such incidents to the Germans in Camp Marmal. This was always checked and after a few days they would say: request rejected, the level of danger is unclear. I wondered what evidence it would take to make the level of danger clear: would it take my dead body to prove that my life was in danger? In the end, I even lost my job because it was said that if you were in danger, then the troops were also at risk. If you were out with the soldiers because the insurgents were after you, that was a danger. I didn't understand that; the way the Germans acted confused me.
Interpreters, supporters, cultural advisors
I founded a group for interpreters and other workers who worked for the Germans. In recent years, we demonstrated regularly in front of Camp Marmal to draw attention to our plight. We wanted to show that we needed help from the Germans. The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated hugely, especially since 2014, when the international troops handed over responsibility to the Afghan troops.
We interpreters were supporters, helpers, cultural advisors – men like me worked with the NATO troops for almost ten years. During this time, I also experienced many critical situations. Once we got stuck crossing a river in Baghlan province because there was a problem with one of the Dingo vehicles. We had to hold out for two days – we were scared because the terrain had been mined by the insurgents. I was also involved in frontline foot patrols, where fear was our constant companion. I started on $450 a month, later my pay was increased to $950, which was a very good salary.
No one from the German side has contacted us. I learned from the media that the Germans recently changed the two-year rule, so interpreters like me, whose time working for the Germans was longer ago, would also be eligible for selection. But we are all absolutely in the dark: we don't know where to turn. Fleeing to Pakistan or Iran is not an option for me, nor do I want to pay traffickers money to bring me and my wife to Europe.
Things at the moment look very bleak. I am sad, hopeless and scared. I feel like the victim of a war that the Germans helped to wage in my country as well. The Germans like to emphasise that they come from a free and democratic country that respects human rights. My request to the Germans is to put human rights above bureaucracy in this case. Our lives are in danger: please make the decision to save us, while you still hear from us. We fought shoulder to shoulder. We were colleagues.
Ahmad Jawid Sultani
© Sueddeutsche Zeitung/Qantara.de 2021
Ahmad Jawid Sultani, a long-time interpreter for the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan, is chairman of the German Local Employees Union in Mazar-i-Sharif.