By Martine van Bijlert
“Did you hear about the Australian dog that was lost?” We had been discussing everything from the latest tribal gossip to the final announcement of the provincial council and the recent local appointments. And now, as we are packing up to go, there was apparently still a story of a dog.
I had noticed the reports in the media. A sniffer dog with the Australian military in Uruzgan had been lost a year ago and had recently returned to the troops where he was welcomed like a long lost war hero. The man smiles from under his turban, “The dog was with Mullah Hamdullah.”
Mullah Hamdullah is a Taliban commander and the latest in a string of Hamdullah’s and Hamidullah’s who had been vying for power in the area. So he tells me. That the dog had been taken during a fight with the Australian troops about a year ago. That Mullah Hamdullah had been so proud of it that he showed it around everywhere. That the Australians had arrested Hamdullah’s father a few days after he took the dog and had made it known on the local radio that they would exchange the dog for the father. That Mullah Hamdullah had refused (and his father was released not long after).
Apparently he had tired of the dog. So he had sent an envoy, a local malek, to the military base with the message that he was willing to negotiate and sell. After the malek had returned to take pictures and all were satisfied of the dog’s identity, the men settled on a swap — apparently for $10,000 but somehow the malek managed to return more or less empty-handed. Mullah Hamdullah was not amused. He had refused to swap his father earlier and was now left with just pocket money instead. So he told the malek that he could “keep” $2,000, because he was a white beard, but that he still had to come up with the rest of the money. The malek scraped together as much as he could — the equivalent of around $1,300 — and the local elders decreed that if he arranged 60 portions of aid wheat to be redirected to Hamdullah (a relative of the malek involved in the distribution simply made up a village name) he would only still owe him the equivalent of $2,600.
The villagers couldn’t help but find the story quite amusing. The commander and his dog, the PRT and their efforts to get him back, the attempted (and refused!) prisoner swap, the money that was lost.
“Did you hear that they gave they dog a medal?” He keeps a somewhat straight face. “And when the Australian Prime Minister came to Afghanistan, they showed him on the news, together with the dog.” He tries not to smile too broadly. “It must have been a very high-ranking dog.”
Martine van Bijlert is the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, where this was originally published.
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