Panjshir is a famous, picturesque, narrow strip of valley northeast of Kabul. It is a heavyweight province in the Afghan political arena attributed to it being the home of Massoud, the national hero of Afghanistan. Panjshir, under the leadership of Massoud, was a haven for the Mujahideen, an Afghan uprising which repelled the Russian invaders from their valley, and the only province in Afghanistan that the Taliban were unable to control.
Driving up to Panjshir is quite an exhilarating experience. We drove on narrow dirt road beside a roaring river. On both sides rose cliffs of granite rocks and crumbly soil, making my heart skip a beat because I kept thinking that this is an accident waiting to happen. A slight tremor can trigger an avalanche out here. After going through this bottleneck entrance to Panjshir, I was greeted with an eerie air of battles fought and lives lost. As we drove by I saw rusting Russian tanks, some of them intact but most of them half-buried, supporting steep roadbanks; removing them would cause the collapse of the road itself. In the roaring river were belly-up Russian tanks and army truck chassis littered everywhere. Embedded on the walls of the villages were empty mortar shells used as scaffolding. We drove through skeletons and skeletons of Russian army jeeps, artillery shells, trailer barracks, armored gunner trucks, and villages of rock and mud houses bombed down.
Our driver Habib, who is from Panjshir, stopped me from taking pictures when I raised my camera. Ms. S. told me that he also stopped her when she tried to take pictures of the tanks when she first came to Panjshir, and that he was very upset about it. He’d let me take pictures of mountains and villages only, no tanks and remnants of the war. I never got to ask him why and how he feels about it; Ms. S. told me it is better not to ask. I suspect that it is a sensitive topic for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he lost family and friends during that war or if he were a mujahideen himself. My guess is he wants the pictures to show the peaceful and beautiful Panjshir and would rather that people forget the suffering and the deaths in his hometown. But I can only guess.