Glimpses into the life of a Global Nomad – Part Four



In August 1966, my divorce from Barbara came through. In Rabwah I had the
closest contact to Sahibzada Mirza Mubarak Ahmad, the son of the second Khalifa
and the brother of the third one. He was the head of the International missions and
thus responsible for the foreign Ahmadi-Muslims present in Pakistan too. I asked
him to help me find a wife and he suggested his own niece, Nilofar, youngest
daughter of Khalifa Aleemuddin and Badar Begum. Her grand father was Dr.
Khalifa Rashiduddin. He had been the personal physician to the Maharaja of
Kashmir and later on to the Sultan of Rampur. After he accepted Ahmadiyyat he
moved to Qadian to be near the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi.

My father-in-law passed his matriculation examination but did not study further.
According to his brother, Dr. Colonel Taqiuddin, he was so pre-occupied with his
beautiful wife that he forgot all about studies. They married when he was 17 and
she was 13. He proceeded to work for the Royal (British) meteorological service
his entire life and was posted here and there all over India. At the time of my
wife’s birth, they were posted in Poona (Pune). They also had a house in Qadian.
During the partition in 1947 they lost that house and everything in it.

My wife’s family on her father’s side, trace back its origin to the Qureish tribe, the
same tribe that Mohammad, peace be on him, the Prophet of Islam, came from.
From her mother’s side, the family belonged to the Mohammadzai tribe of
Afghanistan; the same tribe that the royal family of Afghanistan comes from.
However, the family had moved to Rampur, India, some generations previously
and no longer spoke Pashto. They spoke Urdu (not Punjabi as was spoken in
Lahore). The family consisted mainly of doctors, lawyers and educators. In Lahore
they had a private school in the olden days.

At first just photos were exchanged. It took some time until I could get the
agreement for an engagement, because Nilofar’s father had died. The uncle,
therefore, was also to give his approval. He was Dr. Colonel Taqiuddin and resided
in the Lahore Cantonment, in fact not far from the Company guest house where I
used to stay when in Lahore. He had a large garden with Lychee trees which he
had bought from East Pakistan, among many other fruit trees. When it came to our
engagement, he would say that her mother should decide and her mother would say
that he should decide, but anyway in the end both sides agreed including Nilofar,
of course. (Pakistanis would sort of ‘forgive me’ for having been married to a
British girl and having decided to divorce her. It was sort of ‘understandable’ to
them. Of course, it was still rather unusual, and quite surprising to have a groom
aged 21 who was already divorced!) Nilofar was still in college when we got
engaged. She had a few months to go before the Bachelor Examination. During the
engagement I saw her for the first time. She was very sweet and pretty. I wrote her
a couple of letters addressed to her college, which the professor censored, but as 2
we were officially engaged, she did pass them on. My fiancée however was too
shy to reply. Her brother also did not encourage her to communicate too much
before marriage. It was not appropriate.

On the 18th of August 1966 we got married. The Nikah (marriage ceremony) was
performed by Hadhrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad, my wife’s first cousin. His mother was
her father’s sister who was the first wife of Hadhrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood
Ahmad, the Second Khalifa. Hadhoor, as the Khalifa was affectionately called,
came to our small marriage party, when I collected my wife from her house to take
her to the Tharik-i-Jadid guest house. The room was not air-conditioned in those
days and it was rather hot in August. Her brother Waseem-ud-Din had put a crate

of Shezan juice in our room, but we would have preferred some cold water. In
those days when we sent the marriage certificate to the Swiss Embassy, they would
issue a Swiss passport immediately. Nilofar therefore had a Swiss passport before
she had a Pakistani one.

In Marala there were no spare expatriate houses at the time we got married, and I
was given a local staff one. We did not mind really. However, Nilofar did not like
that our garden was open since she was not used to going out in public like that.
Consequently, I asked for a bamboo fence around the house. All other local staff in
fact appreciated this as well and it was done around all houses in their side of the
housing complex.

Our son Mahmud was born in Marala 9 months later. Actually, since my wife’s
relatives had connections in the army, we had arranged a room in the military
hospital in Sialkot, and he was supposed to be born there. However, Mahmud did
not want to wait and did not like the long journey to Sialkot hospital. So, he was
born in our Marala Project Site Hospital. A lady doctor had started working there
just a few days previously.

During my stay in Pakistan, I officially changed my first name from Emanuel
Bernhard to Mohammad Rafiq Ahmad. I submitted the application via the Swiss
embassy to my home canton of Bern. It took a few months, but it was eventually
approved. From now on my passport read: ‘Mohammad Rafiq Ahmad Tschannen’.
The reason I chose such a long name, was because I thought just Rafiq was a bit
short. Most frequently males with the name of Rafiq would be either Mohammad
Rafiq or Rafiq Ahmad. While in Pakistan, I had a friend named Mohammad Saeed
Ahmad and I sort of liked the sound of this name. Thus, I chose Mohammad Rafiq
Ahmad as my first and middle names. The family name of Tschannen remained
untouched. (We cannot and should not ignore our origin I suppose). I understand in
the UK it is fairly easy to change one’s name. Just a declaration is necessary and a
publication (so that your debtors know how to continue catching you). In
Switzerland it was a bit more complicated. The change of name had to be approved 3
by the authorities back in the home canton. But anyway, it worked without
any difficulties in my case. It just took its bureaucratic time

During my stay in Marala from time to time I would visit my old friend Sir
Mohammed Zafrullah Khan, while he was still living in Lahore. Later, he took up
his new assignment in The Hague. Once he invited me for tea at four in the
afternoon. When I reached his house, one minister from the government of
Pakistan was just leaving. Chaudhry Sahib then said to me that this minister had
just messed up his day’s program. He was working on the translation of the Holy
Qur’an. He now had to catch up on what he had missed in his daily work plan.
Consequently, I sat with him quietly for forty minutes while he was working on his
translation. Then he said: “…and now it is time for my walk”, and we walked
around and around the garden for a while and then he said: “… and now we can
have our tea”. This showed how organized he always was, and I figured that that
was how successful people achieve what they plan to achieve!

The minister I mentioned above, said to me: “I cannot understand how any
westerner can enter the Ahmadiyya Jama’at”. I responded to him: “You have come
to visit Sir Mohammad Zafrullah Khan, because you know him and respect him.
Consequently, I cannot understand how you cannot enter the Ahmadiyya Muslim
Jama’at”. He smiled and did not know what to reply.

I suppose I can say that during my stay in Pakistan, that it was at its best time. It
was the time of Field Marshall Mohammed Ayub Khan. A beneficial dictator is
better for a country than a bad democracy, and Field Marshall Ayub Khan was
such a dictator. During my time in Pakistan corruption was practically unheard of.
We never paid any bribes to the tax authorities nor to the customs, for instance.
There was a hint of bribery with our Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner. He
had a fully air-conditioned house in Lahore, which at the time was considered
unusual. Thus, my boss put me in-charge of the Workmen’s Compensation
department. If I recall correctly, Workmen’s Compensation for injuries to workers
could be paid by us directly, but payment to widows needed to be paid through the
Commissioner. I tried to ensure that the widows received their full amount and
encouraged them not to give-in to any requests from the Commissioner.

The fifty Rupees I paid for my driving license; I would not call bribery but rather
just compensation for services rendered. The first (and so far, last) driving test that
I did was at the United Nations in Cyprus after having driven for how many years?
35 years or so…


When the project was winding down, I wrote to the Swiss Consul in Afghanistan to
ask if he was aware of a job vacancy in the country. I just thought I would like to
have a change of scenery. Ed. Zueblin AG later also worked in the Tarbela Dam
Project, but by that time, I had already moved to Afghanistan. The Swiss Consul
replied that his Chief Accountant was leaving and that if I wanted, I could take
over that job. At the same time, I went to St. Gallen in Switzerland for an interview
with the owners of the Afghan-Swiss Trading Company. They asked me whether I
could make a balance sheet. I thought to myself: what is complicated about a
balance sheet? You take last year’s balance sheet and put in this year’s numbers
and then you have a new balance sheet. So, I answered that of course I could make
one. And that is how I became chief accountant. During my diploma course I did
have some training in basic accounting. Afterwards, as a Data Entry Clerk in
Swissair Zurich and Paris I could extend my understanding of financial accounts.
Consequently, I did have a good grasp of it.

ASTCO Ltd. Kabul almost had the whole Swiss Afghan trade in their hands. This
consisted of a pharmaceutical department, importing all the Swiss medicines and
distributing it to the Afghan wholesalers. Then we had a IATA travel office, and
were the general sales agent of Swissair. We had a tannery and were exporting
sheep casings for use in European sausages. Separately, not under my jurisdiction,
the same owners also had a shoe factory and another import office that dealt with
all ‘non-Swiss’ trade. On the export side we were the largest exporter of Afghan
carpets. Our owners had another operation in Iran, which made them the largest
dealer of Oriental carpets in Europe.

I took over a nice house opposite the German club in Shar-e-Nou from my
predecessor. It had a nice garden with a wall around it and therefore, perfect
privacy. It was an old house with thick walls. In the living room and in the bed
room there were oil heaters. In the bathroom there was a wooden heater. We had a
‘Gul-Khana’ (a flower room), which was sealed off by a glass window from the
garden. In the summer we had our dining table there. In the winter it was too cold,
and we moved the dining table inside the house. My predecessor also left me an
old VW beetle car. It served me well during my stay in the country. Just once I got
a fright: I was overtaking a car on the main road from Qar-e-Zameer, the King’s
Model Farm, back to Kabul. While I was speeding up to overtake, another car
came in front of me and I had to slow down abruptly. When I tried to do that, the
brake cable broke. Wow, what a shock I got! I was lucky however, that I was
driving up the hill and not down. Thus, I managed to sort of pass the oncoming car 5
and come to a stop. I drove back to town in the second and first gear and used the
hand brake. We were saved once again,

We also had a cook whose house was near the gate. Our daughter Aischa was born
in Kabul. She was born in a new private clinic. Kabul in those days was peaceful
and nice. Many Pakistanis came on holiday and for shopping to Kabul. Electronic
items were cheaper in Kabul then in Pakistan. Also, in those days in Kabul’s
cinema Indian movies were shown, which were not shown in Pakistan. European
tourists came too. Kabul was on the so called ‘hippy trail’ to Nepal. Many stayed
in Afghanistan for extended periods of time. I recall once Sahibzada Mirza Tahir
Ahmad, who later on became Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the fourth Khalifatul
Masih of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, came on a visit to Kabul and he
stayed with us with his wife and two daughters and another young lady from
Karachi. He wanted me to show him ‘the hippies’ and we went to a tea house
where they were hanging out and he had a long chat with some of them. He tried to
understand their way of thinking. During his stay, I was showing him and his
family around town when we lost sight of one of his daughters. We all panicked a
bit, but we found her again unharmed in the crowd. We had been glancing at the
shops in the bazaar a bit too much instead of looking after our kids! How relieved
we all were! Alhamdolillah he rabbil alameen. All praise is due to Allah, Lord of
all the worlds!

Ah yes, my boss was also the Swiss Consul. He delegated the issuance of Swiss
visas to me. It seems I issued too many visas to Pakistanis. I was then told by the
Swiss Embassy in Teheran that, we were allowed to issue visas without referring to
them only for Afghan nationals and residents of Afghanistan, not visiting
Pakistanis or others. From this consular work we had a few interesting clients. One
Swiss guy kept losing his passport. Or were they stolen while he was high? Or did
he sell them? Apparently, the Swiss passport was in high demand by the KGB
(Russian secret service) at the time. We had to send the request for a new passport
to the Embassy in Teheran. After the third loss they just gave him a piece of paper
written ‘Laissez Passez’ on it and valid in all countries on the way back home.
Once when he left my office, he dropped a small black substance. I asked what it
was and was told it was heroin. For a second, I wondered whether I should try it,
but I decided as I did not know how it was, better to just throw it away. Good
decision I suppose, because a short time later, we had a dead Swiss tourist… He
died of an overdose of heroin in his stomach. And I had the ‘nice’ task of
informing his family in Switzerland that their son and brother had died. The
brother asked me whether he was murdered. I said that I could not know, I was just
repeating what the doctor said. Then the brother asked on the phone whether there
was a ‘crematorium’ in Kabul. I said that the Hindus must be burning their bodies,
but not in accordance with what Europeans would consider a ‘crematorium’. So he
asked us to ship the body to Switzerland for burial.

When I told a Consul of the UK Embassy this story he said: “That is too
much work. I bury them first and then call their families.” Ah, well, Switzerland is
a small country, and this was the only casualty we had during my 3 years in
Afghanistan. The widow asked us for a ticket, so that she could attend the funeral
(and collect the life insurance). She would leave her VW microbus here as a
security. Then she would come back and pay for the ticket. She did. But then she
sold the VW bus and asked for another ticket. She would get the money of the VW
bus a couple of weeks later and would send us the money. She never did! When I
informed the Swiss police and asked if they knew where she was, the answer was:
“We are also looking for her, please let us know if you find her.”

My assistant was much older than me. In fact, the staff called him “Mudir”, which
means “director”. He was a very nice and respectful person. Especially worth
mentioning was the wedding of his daughter. She got married to the son of an ex-minister of defence, a general in the Afghan army. The marriage was taking place
in the ball room of a hotel. The actual Nikah was to take place during the party.
The Mullah was sitting there together with the bridegroom and the father of the
bride (my colleague). Tension was rising and people stopped talking. Everyone
was trying to listen to what was going on. The question was about how high to fix
-the amount of the ‘Haq Mahar’, the dowry. My colleague asked what was being
offered and an amount was given. He answered: “Is that all that you think my
daughter is worth?” And so, the amount was doubled, and tripled and the tension in
the room rose higher and higher. In the end, in desperation, the bride groom said:
“You tell us what you want!” After a nice interval he said: “33 Afghanis!” And the
tension in the room collapsed… He explained, that if he is nice to his daughter, she
will not need her dowry and if he is not nice, then he should send her back home
and no amount of money would make up for that. A nice gesture indeed!

Once I got an interesting phone call during my stay in Kabul. There was a
gentleman on the line who said that: “‘I understand that you are an AhmadiMuslim. I would like to welcome you to Afghanistan.” Of course, I wanted to meet
him, but he said that would not be possible because he was working for a
government organization. He was also an Ahmadi-Muslim, but it was better for us
not to meet. Most likely he was a grandson of Ahmadiyya’s first martyr, Sahibzada
Abdul Latif since I learned later, that one grandson was Director in the State Bank.
I heard that after Afghanistan, he went to California and died there recently.

Another time, we had another strange meeting. We had gone for a picnic to Kar-eZamir, the model farm of King Zahir Shah when we came face to face with his
Majesty also just inspecting his farm. Only one companion was with him at the
time. How times change… Now a normal person cannot move without a security
detachment with him.

At this picnic, we were together with friends from the Pakistani embassy. The
ladies spoke Urdu. Then one Afghan came over. He introduced himself as head of
the Urdu program of Radio Kabul. He mentioned that he had relations with India
and Pakistan and that his aunt was a Qadiani (Ahmadi-Muslim). We kept in touch
and invited each other for lunch from time to time. After some months one of
Nilofar’s uncles came from England by car. He was on his way to Pakistan. While
in Kabul he said that he wanted to visit one of his cousins. This cousin happened to
be the head of Radio Afghanistan’s Urdu program! Strange how one meets
relatives! It seems that his family during the independence of India and Pakistan,
instead of moving from India to Pakistan, moved back to Afghanistan. Nilofar’s
mother was Afghan, although born in India. She no longer spoke Pushto, as her
family had been in India for some time. Still she belonged to the Mohammedzai
Tribe of Afghanistan, the same tribe that the Kings of Afghanistan came from.

What else do I recall from Afghanistan? Well, I had a ‘close encounter’ with the
Soviet Union’s first lady in space, Valentina Tereshkova. One day I was showing a
guest around the country. He was Hasan Basri, an Indonesian student of the
Ahmadiyya missionary training college in Rabwah, Pakistan, who came to Kabul
during his summer vacations. We were driving to Paghman, which used to be a
‘tourist village’ north of Kabul. It had a good reputation of local handy craft
production. Some cars were driving in front of me and I started to overtake a
couple of cars, until one driver shouted at me angrily. He was from the Russian
embassy. I slowed down. The last car in the convoy stopped. An Afghan
policeman took my licence and said: “Follow us!” We were all going to Paghman.
When we arrived in Paghman the policeman said to me that as a Swiss citizen I
should have known that I was not permitted to overtake an official convoy. I
explained that as the road was twisting and turning, I could not see the police car at
the beginning of the convoy and that I stopped as soon as I saw it. I then
apologized for my mistake. Before returning my driving licence, he asked the
Russian embassy official for permission, which was granted. I ventured to ask if I
may take a photo of Valentina Tereshkova, but my request was refused. I was to
leave immediately! Strangely, the next day I met the same convoy at the Salang
Pass road again, this time without any incident. On the third day, I met the convoy
when I was coming from the airport. This time, suddenly the convoy entered the
main road from the right. They were coming from the Russian financed Ibne Sina
hospital. I stopped. The same police car was on the back and he recognized me and
was pleased that I now was more respectful and waved to me.

So, the time I spent in Afghanistan was nice. The job was good. The house was
nice. Life was fine. But after three years in Pakistan and three years in
Afghanistan, I thought I should have a change of scenery and climate. I wrote ten
letters to Swiss companies working in Africa. Out of these ten letters I got two

In Afghanistan at the time (1969-1972) there was no official presence of the
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, but ‘under-ground’ there were Ahmadi-Muslims,
like the person who phoned me. I also learned that there was a village near Kabul
which had many Ahmadis, but they also sort of ‘kept confidential’ in order not to
get into trouble with the country’s Mullahs.

We had a close friend in the embassy of Pakistan in Kabul. Before he was leaving,
he asked us if there was anything that he could do for us. As my wife came to
Afghanistan on her Swiss passport, she never had a Pakistani one. I therefore asked
him to give her a Pakistani passport. It did take quite some time, but finally he did
manage it. I will explain more about this interesting piece of paper later as things
developed… It took several years for the passport to be approved and issued.

My first time going to the Hajj – the pilgrimage to Makkah – was also from
Afghanistan. I went together with our friends from the Pakistan embassy, Mr and
Mrs. Chishti. Chishti Sahib had arranged for us to stay free of charge in Makkah in
the flat of a Pakistani ‘friend of a friend’, who was working there as an electrical
engineer. I also had a good friend in the Saudi embassy. He was, however, not the
consular officer but the media officer. When I asked him for a visa, he had to pass
my request on to the consular officer. He asked me for a document that stated that I
was a Muslim. I asked him why he was troubling me like this, as he has known me
for more than a year. He was embarrassed and said that ok, he would check again
with the ambassador. The ambassador said that if it is written in my passport that I
was a Muslim it would be fine. As in our office we had the stamps of the Swiss
consulate, I wrote in my passport: “Religion: Islam”, stamped it and my boss
signed it. We got special visas, which were supposed to free us of any fees while in
Saudi Arabia.

That did not quite work out, because it seems we should have gone to the foreign
ministry in Jeddah to get the relevant vouchers. As we omitted to do that, and went
straight to Makkah from the Jeddah airport, I still had to pay the fees, my friend
having a diplomatic passport, did not need to pay. I was without my family, as our
son Mahmud was still little. It would have been difficult for my wife to come with
him as well as to leave him anywhere.

We reached early. Before Hajj, we first went to Makkah to our accommodation and
performed some Umrahs. We then spent a week in Madinah. When we were
leaving for Madinah my friend said that we would not be able to come back to this
accommodation and needed to find another one. We found a place with a Pakistani
doctor, who would give up his flat during Hajj and sleep in the hospital. But he
charged us 2000 US dollars; 1000 US dollar for me and 1000 US dollar for my

Only after we had come back to Kabul did my friend asked me: “What did you
say to my friend in Makkah?” I did not understand what he meant, but he said that
his friend had said that he and his wife were welcome in his house, but I was not.
What he was referring to was regarding to the fact that I belonged to the
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. I responded that of course I did not discuss these
things as it was not the time nor the place to do so. Several months later, I suddenly
realized what must have happened. Another ‘Mullah type’ Pakistani was also
staying in the same apartment. Once he said that he was going to the post office
and was there anything that he could do for me. I said that yes, I wanted to send a
letter to my wife. And I gave him a letter with an address in Rabwah, Pakistan, the
headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. It seems that after they
figured out that I belonged to this community, they no longer wanted me in their
house. My poor friend had to pay 1000 USD because of my mistake. He did not
want to stay there without me, a good friend indeed! (He of course knew that I
belonged to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community but did not mind himself at all).
In any case, we were able to perform the Hajj and Umrah and stay in Madinah. All
went easy and well, Alhamdolillah. All praise is due to Allah. I pray that Allah
accepted our pilgrimage. While in Muzdalifah I ate the best daal that I can recall.
(Or was I just having the best appetite?) Some Hajis from Peshawar were next to
me and they offered to share their meal with me.

On the return flight to Kabul the plane landed in Kandahar because Kabul was
snowed in. My friend contacted the Pakistani consul. He was just going to Kabul
by car and gave us a lift. It was an interesting journey in good old and peaceful
Afghanistan during these royal days (of King Zahir Shah). Afghanistan during my
days was peaceful and progressive and liberal. King Zahir Shah ruled wisely. He
had to balance all the foreign interests. He therefore permitted the Russians to
build the road over the Salang Pass from the North to Kabul and the airport in
Kabul. The Americans were jealous and keen to help so the King allowed them to
construct the road from Kabul to Kandahar and the airport in Kandahar. The
Chinese were permitted to help with agriculture and the Germans were training the
police. Both Germans and French were building and running schools in Kabul. The
Italians were allowed to have a Catholic Priest working out of their embassy. He
was also running a Kindergarten from there, which my son Mahmud attended for a
while. Kings and dictators at the time, yes, they also did benefit from the public
treasury a bit, but that was in humble millions and not billions as these days. King
Zahir Shah had a good trick, which I noticed in my office work:

It was in Afghanistan that I had a dream: “I was sitting in a chair near the seaside
and ships were coming and going from the harbor near me.” (Please recall this
dream when you read the chapter about Nigeria.)

10 replies

  1. By imposing burqa or hijab to Afhanistan girls for many decades, the Wahhabi extremist clerics succeeded to change the Afghsnistan’s tradition to old Arab’s tradition.
    Now most afghsnistan women wear burqa, niqab and Hijab— only few women wear without covering their head— very very sad and pity—-Arab through Islamic teaching succeeded to destroy A beatiful Afghanistan tradition.

    Because of that Allah has been punushing the extremist Muslim severely. Hopefully Afghanistan Goverment can succeed to testore the Afghanistan tradition withour burqa or hijab.

    All ❤️

Leave a Reply