I and my father, along with two other passengers, are driving through the streets of Kandahar, a “troubled” province in the South, on our way to Kabul. Suddenly, in its usual and unpredictable manner, pops a convoy of NATO armored personnel carriers (APCs).
A guy sitting on top of the first APC is signaling all cars to move right and clear the way. The two cars in front of us follow his orders. Now it’s our car which the person is signaling to move right. Our driver, who has had a quarrel with another driver some 20 minutes ago, is too deep in thoughts to notice his signals. I see every gesticulation from the NATO soldier and am expecting the driver to turn at any moment.
We get closer and closer to the convoy and the driver doesn’t show any sign of clearing the road. The NATO soldier grows increasingly desperate. His desperation reaches to a point where he fires four “warning” shots in an attempt to get the attention of our driver. I am watching all this; and at this point, everything seems like a Hollywood movie or perhaps a CNN video from a troubled zone. I feel no urgency to act and inform the driver to change course; perhaps because I can’t believe this is happening to me.
Bullets race overhead—shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot—that’s four of them whooshing in quick succession. And now, even after the warning shots, we have still not cleared the road for the APC. The NATO soldier at the top of the APC can’t take it anymore. He thinks that we are perhaps a gang of Al-Qaeda or Taliban suicide car bombers about to strike his vehicle. Instincts take over him and he lowers his gun barrel in a bid to take offense and exterminate the perceived threat. Maybe, in the meantime, he was thinking of the honor to have shot and foiled a terrorist plot in preemption.
So, as he brings his gun barrel down to shoot the driver first, our driver notices it and takes a desperate swerve to the right. The NATO soldier shoots his first bullet. Thanks to the turn we take, the bullet hits the side screen window and somehow misses all of us. Glass scatters everywhere. We’re all sitting there aghast, looking at the unfolding drama in disbelief. A second bullet comes in quick succession to the first one. Again, miraculously, it rips through the thin strip of plastic that holds the rearview mirror onto the car.
Because we have taken a turn and cleared the way, the NATO soldier realizes that we are no suicide car bombers and stops firing. At this point, we all start checking our limbs and bodies to make sure everything is intact. All seems okay. We have been able to escape death in the hands of NATO soldiers.
Moments later, I begin to think: Escaping Al-Qaeda, Taliban and other threats lurking around, we come under threat by the very force which claims to be “protecting” us. Although I acknowledge there’s an idiocy factor involved from our driver, I can’t help but wonder how many people have lost their lives in such incidents that have been labeled “encounters with terrorists.”
From my observations it appears as if such incidents are quite common. In the three trips that I have made to Afghanistan in the last two years, I have had two encounters of this nature with international troops, the first one being a lot less dramatic. It now seems to me that the international peacekeeping forces are quite at ease in opening fire at almost anyone.