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Bullets and Bylines: From the Frontlines of Kabul, Delhi, Damascus and Beyond

By Shyam Bhatia

Click here to buy Bullets and Bylines

The thirty-fivemen and women lying dead before me were each shot with a single bullet that made a muffled ‘pop’ as it passed through their heads. Only minutes earlier we were fellow passengers on the Kabul to Kandahar bus that was stopped near Ghazni by anti-Soviet mujahidin.

True, I survived, but my Afghan co-travellers became victims of a mujahidin bloodlust that started in 1980 and would last for several decades.

In theory the US-backed mujahidin, forerunners of today’s Taliban, were licensed to kill only those construed as being pro-communist or pro-Soviet. In practice the mujahidin were trigger-happy, keen to settle scores, or simply eliminate anyone who annoyed them, such as their innocent victims on that freezing afternoon in 1980.

Those dead men and women committed the mistake of holding on to newly issued red identity cards. Since red was the colour of communism, invoking memories of the Cold War slogan ‘Better dead than Red’, their fate was sealed. And each dead body seemed to drive temperatures even further below the minus 19 degrees that matched the cold of the Arctic Circle. It was the type of cold that I have never forgotten.

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