It was the darkest hour of the night: that intense blackness before the sun comes skimming over the mountains to flood the world with radiance and the promise of life. Khan Sahib was on his way home, returning to his remote mountain village after an exhausting trip to Kabul where he had spent his time going from friends’ house to friends’ house spreading the word of peace - telling people that there had been enough of war and killing, that it was time to rebuild a sustainable future and live in peace.
It was already approaching sunset when he left the city in the company of a friend, a car owner, who lives a couple of hours short of Khan’s village. At this friend’s rural house they sat, over a lengthy supper with relatives and neighbours, talking ways and means to achieve the goal of a safe, prosperous future for the upcoming generations and of generations to come. They talked so long into the night and early hours of morning that, despite protestations to the contrary, Khan decided against sleeping and set off, hoping to get a lift once vehicular traffic began, to his destination. He was lucky and promptly got a ride to the nearest town to where the mountain track leading home began.......from there.......he, as he has always done.......began to walk in the measured stride that comes naturally to mountain dwellers all around the world: a stride that eats up miles with ease.
Khan had covered approximately 10 kilometres when he was assassinated: shot down in a deadly hail of Taliban bullets. His body left where it fell in the stones and dust of the high mountain track, which the writer knows so well. The sweets he had bought for his children and grandchildren lay scattered all around. One hand still clutched a ‘tasbi’ - he must have, as was his want, been praying as he walked.
The fate of a man, who was, one expects, a stranger to you, but an old friend of the writer, may not ‘touch’ you should. Let me tell you some more about Khan and then, perhaps, you will understand.
When I first met him, back in 1983, Khan was an ‘experienced’ mujahid, a proud freedom fighter putting his life on the line to free his country from Soviet invaders. He had learnt to read and write and, despite limited exposure, enjoyed nothing more than a philosophical debate. He longed for and dreamed of and fought to free his country so that he could return to the life he loved - that of a peaceful farmer tuned in and at one with the natural world which he loved.
In his late twenties back in 1983, he often stopped, staring transfixed in wonder at a bird in flight, a wild flower dancing in the breeze, as we journeyed, on foot and on horseback over high mountain passes and minefields, towards the battlefront carrying arms and ammunition with us.
The war pained him yet, as he once explained, it must be fought. When, so many years later, the mujahideen briefly held Kabul and, some, not all of them, ran murderous riot, Khan laid down his guns and went home. He was disgusted and horrified by the chaos exploding around him and so simply walked away, walked home to try and resurrect the life he had once had.
This was far from easy: his ancestral haveli had been bombed to smithereens, his once productive agricultural fields had been mined, irrigation channels destroyed, and fruit trees cut and burnt as fuel. His wife and young children, along with assorted relatives, were ‘safe’ in a refugee camp in Pakistan so he covered one corner of his ruined home with a plastic sheet, he was, by now, no stranger to sleeping rough and making do, and set to work.
Over the following years, Khan slowly but surely, despite being hindered by a severe lack of funds, managed to partially rebuild his home, salvaging useable stones from the rubble and securing them in place with traditional mud mortar. He cultivated potatoes and onions, seeds for other vegetables being hard to find and waited for the day when his children finished school in Pakistan and the family could come home and be reunited. He worked on, largely alone but with neighbours, mostly men on their own too, for company when and if he so desired. The Taliban came and went and he stayed in his mountain fastness and worked. 9/11 happened, he shook his head in despair and carried on working. The Americans bombed Kabul, Khan lost more relatives and friends in the debacle and he worked on. In 2006, he was able, finally, to, against local advice, bring his family back home, get his oldest son and then his elder daughter married and settled and, despite Taliban activity in the surrounding area, life began to improve and still he worked on.
In March, his pure joy at finally receiving 17 packets of heritage vegetable seeds was wonderful to witness and the resultant crops were, where appropriate, sundried for winter use and excess sold off for desperately needed cash money. He left the best plants of each crop for seed production; this would ensure future sustainability of his small farm and happily planned to invest in fruit trees to be planted this winter. He was a reasonably contented man again - all that was lacking was peace for all and so, after long discussions on this highly emotive subject, he set to work to win this, his ultimate goal.
Khan was, as is customary, buried this afternoon. His family and friends grieve for this pure soul, who will be very badly missed.
His goal though, that of achieving sustainable peace, must not be allowed to die too - we must shoulder his dream and, together, march on.

The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban.