Afghan ‘su­per­hero’ inspires awe, dis­dain

The China Post - - LIFE - BY US­MAN SHAR­IFI

He is called a su­per­hero and feted with fi­nan­cial re­wards from Afghan politi­cians, but the lion­iza­tion of the soldier who sin­gle-hand­edly killed six at­tack­ers in par­lia­ment be­lies bub­bling dis­con­tent over de­te­ri­o­rat­ing se­cu­rity.

Essa Khan Lagh­mani, 28, was plucked from ob­scu­rity and cat­a­pulted to na­tional fame this week af­ter he shot dead the Tal­iban in­sur­gents who on Mon­day launched a gun and grenade as­sault on the leg­is­la­ture, send­ing ter­ri­fied law­mak­ers scur­ry­ing for cover.

“Taq Cha­pako!” — “Bang! and down” in Dari — mean­while be­came an In­ter­net meme af­ter he used the phrase in tele­vi­sion in­ter­views to de­scribe how he ef­fort­lessly knocked down his tar­gets as though they were skit­tles in a bowl­ing al­ley.

Lagh­mani’s feat of­fered a rare glim­mer of good news dur­ing the Tal­iban’s an­nual sum­mer of­fen­sive, which has sent civil­ian and mil­i­tary ca­su­al­ties soar­ing and threat­ened ma­jor cities for the first time in a decade.

Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani awarded him a three-bed­room apart­ment, for­mer war­lord Gen­eral Dos­tum gifted him a pickup truck and some law­mak­ers pledged him a month of their salaries and other cash re­wards to of­fer their grat­i­tude. That’s not all. His posters are splashed around Kabul, a pro­vin­cial gover­nor has named a ma­jor thor­ough­fare af­ter him and Afghanistan’s starstruck youth have posted po­ems on so­cial media to ex­tol his “hero­ism.”

“He killed six ter­ror­ists with six bul­lets. He saved the lives of MPs,” de­fense min­istry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told AFP. “His brav­ery de­serves to be cel­e­brated.”

But the cel­e­bra­tion of Lagh­mani — or un­nec­es­sary glo­ri­fi­ca­tion, depend­ing on who you ask — glosses over grow­ing public angst over a 13-year war that is in­flict­ing a heavy toll on or­di­nary Afghans.

“By hyp­ing Essa Khan, the Afghan gov­ern­ment (is try­ing) to hide its in­abil­ity to pre­vent at­tacks on such a high-pro­file tar­get in the cap­i­tal,” said one Afghan user on Face­book.

“Khan has be­come a rich man. We saw MPs do­nat­ing cash and their salaries to him. This as­sis­tance is not to honor his pa­tri­o­tism but to re­ward him for sav­ing their own lives.”

War-weary Afghans are in for the blood­i­est fight­ing sea­son in a decade, ex­perts say, with the stub­born Tal­iban in­sur­gency spread­ing in­ex­orably north­wards be­yond its tra­di­tional south­ern and eastern strongholds.

Afghan s ecu­rity f or­ces, stretched on mul­ti­ple fronts and fac­ing record ca­su­al­ties, are strug­gling to rein in the mil­i­tants even as the gov­ern­ment makes re­peated ef­forts to jump-start peace ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“The Afghan gov­ern­ment is des­per­ate for some­thing to cheer about — and per­haps some­thing to dis­tract peo­ple from how fright­en­ing the sit­u­a­tion is,” said Heather Barr of Hu­man Rights Watch.

“They are also des­per­ate to bol­ster the morale — and the per­cep­tions — of the se­cu­rity forces,” she told AFP.

‘Hun­gry for he­roes’

Lagh­mani, a slen­der but well­built army sergeant wear­ing a slanted beret, re­called the mo­ment he turned into a na­tional sen­sa­tion.

“I pointed my gun at the ter­ror­ists and said Bis­mil­lah ( in the name of god), and then ‘ Taq Cha­pako!’,” he told AFP in the par­lia­ment com­plex.

“My friends say if the en­emy ever catches me they will skin me alive, but I feel no fear. I am only con­cerned that these cow­ards might try to harm my fam­ily,” said the fa­ther-of-three.

Since the at­tack, “Taq Cha­pako” has even ap­peared on car bumper stick­ers and inspired online po­etry.

One ode posted on Face­book reads:

“Sui­cide bombers came ous and un­aware;

But Essa Khan was greet them;

Reach­ing for his M-16, he van­quished them in­stantly; Taq Cha­pako! Taq Cha­pako!” Observers say Lagh­mani’s rise re­flects the strong public de­sire for “su­per­hero” fig­ures in strife-torn Afghan so­ci­ety.

“Afghanistan is hun­gry for he­roes, and this soldier has been whole­heart­edly em­braced for that very rea­son,” said Michael Kugel­man, Afghanistan ex­pert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wil­son In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for Scholars.

Through Lagh­mani, Afghanistan is try­ing to con­vey a mes­sage to scep­ti­cal in­ter­na­tional donors, he said.

“In essence, Afghanistan is say­ing: ‘It’s still worth fund­ing us be­cause we have the per­son­nel to get things done’,” Kugel­man told AFP.

But Lagh­mani’s pop­u­lar­ity has stirred re­sent­ment among his peers, leav­ing many qui­etly seething over the lack of recog­ni­tion for hun­dreds of sol­diers whose sac­ri­fices go un­no­ticed.

“I was in the same room as Lagh­mani, shoot­ing mul­ti­ple rounds at the en­emy and pro­tect­ing the par­lia­ment,” one soldier told AFP.

“Afghan sol­diers die ev­ery day, per­form­ing big­ger heroic acts. Most of them don’t get gifts and cash re­wards.”

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AFP

In this pho­to­graph taken on Wed­nes­day, June 24, Afghan soldier Essa Khan Lagh­mani ex­plains how he shot and killed six Tal­iban in­side the Afghan Par­lia­ment in Kabul.

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