Berlin is under pressure following the murder of a former Afghan interpreter who worked for the German army. The Taliban had threatened him for working with foreign troops. But only a small number of Afghan staff are getting German residence permits.
It was a strange sight on that day in April, when 16 Afghans protested in front of the German military base in Kunduz. They had worked for the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, until recently, most of them as translators and interpreters. Now they were standing outside a barbed-wire fence, holding up protest signs. They had come to beg the German soldiers not to leave them behind unprotected.
One of the demonstrators was a young man wearing leather sandals. His name was Jawad Wafa, and he had worked as an interpreter for the “Kunduz Task Force” since January 2009. In return for risking his life for the Germans, he was initially paid the equivalent of €400 ($550) and later €660 a month.
That was until January, when the Bundeswehr began its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Wafa and his fellow translators were no longer needed but, unlike the German soldiers, they had to stay behind in Afghanistan.
The Bundeswehr employees feared the wrath of the Taliban, who had repeatedly announced their intention to kill anyone who had worked with the foreigners. The Germans’ local employees received death threats on a regular basis, prompting Wafa and his co-workers to write on their signs: “We don’t want to be killed by the insurgents. We want to live.”
On Nov. 24, Wafa was found dead in the trunk of a blue Toyota Corolla parked in downtown Kunduz. His hands had been tied behind his back with cables. There was a plastic bag over his head, and his face was swollen and covered with large, dark spots. A piece of wire was wrapped around his neck. Wafa had apparently been strangled.
His death is traumatic for his family — and problematic for the German government. At first, Berlin was criticized for its restrictive position in the treatment of endangered Afghan employees. It was only public pressure that finally prompted Berlin to come up with a halfway decent solution, says General Michael Vetter, who is in charge of the cases.
But it didn’t happen quickly enough. Last week, a special police unit arrested two young men who had called Wafa suspiciously often prior to his disappearance. After multiple interrogations, the investigators are now convinced that the two men were responsible for murdering the interpreter. “It was clearly done by the Taliban,” says Zarwar Hussaini, a police spokesman in Kunduz.
The tragic part of the story is that Wafa had already received approval to emigrate to Germany. The Germans had taken his concerns seriously. But the process took too long for Wafa, who died at 25. He was a quiet man who loved football, had studied English at university and was happy to be working for the Bundeswehr.
‘What Sort of a Peace is This?’
About 1,500 local employees, about a third of them interpreters, have worked for the Bundeswehr since it began its Afghanistan mission in 2001. In late October, the German government recognized 184 of these local employees as endangered and promised to issue residence permits for Germany to the men, their wives and their children. Wafa was one of them.
On the day after his body was discovered, his family, including his brothers and the family patriarch, his uncle Mohammed Nazim, came together to discuss the issue. “Jawad was killed because he worked for the Germans,” says Nazim. “I have a message for the German government: When the foreigners came to Afghanistan, we thought they would bring peace and democracy. We thought they would help us. We had no idea that it would end this way. What sort of a peace is this?” And now, says Nazim, all of Wafa’s relatives are in danger. He wants Germany to accept all 20 members of the family.
This is precisely what the German government wants to avoid. German military officials investigated Wafa’s case immediately after his death, and very quickly concluded that the Taliban could not have committed the murder. In internal Bundeswehr documents, the officials point out that Islamists normally do not strangle their victims. The report notes that Wafa had started working in his father’s jewelry shop after he had stopped working for the Bundeswehr, and that people in that line of business happen to live a dangerous life. The German officials also note that the Taliban has not claimed responsibility for the murder.
Afghan police investigator Mirwais Talash initially agreed with much of the German officials’ assessment. He was there when Wafa’s body was found. Local residents had noticed the car on their way to morning prayers, because one of the doors was open and the key was in the ignition. In the days after the killing, Talash showed the German investigators photos from the scene of the crime that he had taken with his cellphone: the contorted body in the trunk and the transparent plastic bag over the victim’s head. “The Taliban would have left a note on the body,” said Talash.
But when Wafa was still working for the Bundeswehr, he once found a letter outside his door. In it, the Islamists wrote that they knew he was working for the foreigners. They demanded that he reveal secrets to them, and threatened to kill him if he refused.
But Wafa provided them with nothing. After that, his brothers also received threatening phone calls from strangers. When the threats began to increase recently, Wafa and his family moved out of downtown Kunduz and into a house where one of his brothers was living. They hoped that it wouldn’t be for long.
In the fall, Wafa and his former coworkers went to the German field base near Mazar-i-Sharif and submitted identification documents. A week before his death, Wafa traveled to Kabul to apply for new passports for his family. Everything seemed ready.
Finally, on a Saturday three weeks ago, Wafa, his wife Bibi Zahra and their daughter went to see his father-in-law. During the visit, he received a call and was told that a friend had been injured in an accident. Wafa borrowed his brother’s Toyota to drive to the scene. “I don’t know who called him, but I’m certain that this person set a trap for Jawad,” says his brother Hasanzada.
When the two murder suspects were arrested, they were carrying the cellphone that had been used to call Wafa. One of the two men, Hazbullah Roshan, is the son of a regional Taliban leader, Maulawi Roshan. Roshan, a religious authority, had incited supporters to stage attacks against troops with the Western alliance in his hate-filled sermons. As a result, his name was placed on the NATO forces’ wanted list. One night in October 2010, German special-forces troops surrounded a farm near Kunduz and arrested Hazbullah Roshan’s father.
But interpreter Wafa apparently hadn’t noticed who the person was who had called him to the scene of the supposed accident. Shortly after he had left the house, Wafa’s wife Zahra called his number, but there was no answer. When she tried again an hour later, the phone had been switched off. That evening, the brothers called friends, relatives and former coworkers, and finally the police, but no one had any information about Wafa. When the police called Mohammed Nazim on Sunday morning and asked him to describe his missing nephew’s clothing and car, the family suspected that Wafa was dead.
A short time later, Aliullah Nazary was praying at his friend’s grave on a dusty hill in Kunduz. The 26-year-old is the spokesman for the former Bundeswehr interpreters. He worked in the same unit with Wafa.
“I’m totally numb,” he said. “If the Germans don’t get us out of here, we could all suffer the same fate.”
Nazary said that he could no longer trust anyone, and that he now leaves his house even less than before. “Anyone who says that the Afghan army and the police can protect the population is lying. They couldn’t protect Jawad.”
It is doubtful that Wafa’s death will ever be punished in the chaotic Afghan justice system. Even though the police believe that the two men they arrested were the killers, they have since been released on bail.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan