KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Their life was far from ideal, but young Afghan policeman Hashmat and his wife, Bibi Gul, were happy in their humble house in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
In June Hashmat, who like many Afghans went by one name only, joined the Afghan national police. The job was much better than unemployment, yet his meager $200 monthly salary was barely enough for the couple, their three daughters, and one son.
But four months ago, their lives turned upside down when Hashmat was killed in a firefight with the Taliban insurgents in Maiwand, a rural district west of Kandahar city and part of a large province with the same name.
Gul says that in the absence of any compensation and government help, she is forced to beg so she can feed her four children living in a crammed two-room rented house.
“When my husband was lying in a coffin before he was taken away to be buried, a police commander gave my father-in-law 5,000 Afghanis [$65],” she told Radio Free Afghanistan of the September day when Hashmat was killed. “Since then, we have not received any other compensation. We were told my husband’s national identity card was fake so he is not eligible for any compensation.”
Gul can be often seen begging in his blue chadari. Many Afghan women wear the head-to-toe veil. She still wonders how the government employed and then deployed her husband to the front line if his papers were not in order.
“How was he recruited, trained, and then given a machine gun to fight on the front line?” she asks.
Gul says the war in Afghanistan is pointless because it ultimately kills Afghan soldiers and Taliban fighters who mostly come from impoverished families in the countryside.
“Both are brothers and recite the same Kalima [Tayyaba or Islamic declaration of faith],” she said. “I beg them to stop fighting and have some mercy on us widows and our orphaned toddlers and infants.”
Kandahar police spokesman Zia Durrani, however, says the force does everything it can to help the families of its fallen soldiers.
“We pay compensation money to the families of our martyrs and pay for the funerals of our fallen comrades,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “In the long run, we help them with charity and pay a regular monthly payment to a family representative who is appointed through a court order.”
Durrani, however, was not unable to comment on the specifics of Hashmat’s case.
The families of police officers who are killed are typically paid around $1,500 in compensation. “We have a proper mechanism to make sure the families can access their monthly payments through a bank card,” he said.
Back at her house, Gul is not sure how will she raise her four children without their father. “I wish all Afghan men could stop fighting and just be with their families,” she said.
In November, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said some 29,000 Afghan soldiers have been killed since 2015, when the Afghan forces assumed responsibility for fighting after the withdrawal of most NATO troops by the end of 2014.
"We have no conscription, nobody is forced, and if there was not a patriotic impulse I don't think that people would sacrifice their lives for a pay of $200," Ghani said in a video appearance this week before the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, where he once taught.
Afghanistan’s newly appointed interior minister, Amrullah Saleh, says the welfare of relatives of fallen Afghan security forces members is his priority.
In his first speech to the staff of the Interior Ministry, he told his subordinates that instead of bringing him flowers to congratulate him on his appointment, they should take them to the families of their fallen comrades.
“We don’t have the right for any felicitation until there’s success,” he said.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Mohammad Sadiq Rashtinai’s reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.