Mahmuddin remembers the first time he set eyes on Zahra about
three months ago. He was an amputee who had lost his legs in a land-
mine incident, waiting in line at the Afghan Ministry for Disabled
People to demand compensation. She was an amputee working at the
ministry, hearing requests from men like Mahmuddin.
From the time she lifted her burqa to reveal coal-black eyes and
a kind smile, Mahmuddin was smitten. (Like many Afghans, he and
Zahra use only one name.)
Zahra does not recall their first meeting as vividly. But last
month, after a brief but persistent courtship, the two got married:
two Afghan war victims rebuilding their lives, thinking of starting
a family, and hoping for an Afghanistan where minefields, rocket
attacks, and lawlessness will be a thing of the past.
The love story of Mahmuddin and Zahra is a rare bright point in a
country where land mines, unexploded bombs, and random violence are
Land mines are a particular problem. This silent, hidden enemy
has killed thousands, maimed 700,000, and continues to kill or
injure men, women, and children each day. It's a problem that this
country has precious few resources to combat, which makes the work
of foreign-funded demining agencies a race against time.
But in the meantime, it is Afghan citizens like Zahra (who was
wounded in a rocket attack) and Mahmuddin who are steadily picking
themselves up, and relying on their own skills, strength, and hope
to make better lives together.
"Unfortunately, couples like this are quite common in
Afghanistan," says Helge Kvam, spokesman for the International
Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul, which provides prosthetic limbs
for amputees "There are three or four [land-mine] victims every day,
which is a drop from six or seven [daily] victims last year, but it
is still a major problem."
More than 90 percent of these victims tend to be civilians, he
adds. More than half are children. The implications are stark for
this already impoverished country. How to rebuild the country, if so
much energy is required to look after the 5 percent of the
population who are maimed, many of them needing constant care?
Despite the rising danger for foreign humanitarian workers, Mr.
Kvam says, "I foresee that we will have to stay on for quite a
while. I don't think it is realistic to say that we can scale down
or hand over these activities in a few years' time. This is a
country in great need."
Sitting in his small shop near a large apartment complex riddled
with bullet holes, Mahmuddin is a curiously optimistic man. Selling
candy, pens, and laundry detergent, Mahmuddin makes about 30
Afghanis a day (65 cents), just enough to buy bread and vegetables
for himself and his wife and to pay the rent on his second-floor
It's a far cry from 11 years ago, when Mahmuddin appeared to be
on the way up. An intelligence officer for the communist government
of Dr. Najibullah, he was happily married. His wife and young son
shared the same apartment he lives in now in the southeast part of
But in 1994, fellow intelligence officers placed a land mine in a
staircase outside his office. His colleagues, all hard-line
communists, suspected that Mahmuddin, a Pashtun, was sympathetic to
the Pashtun guerrilla group, Hizb-e Islami. …