Burying the Taliban

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A pack of dogs barked from a precipice above a dusty hillside in Kabul's southern outskirts. Just below, on a slope rising from the Afghan capital's vast basin, Khwaja Naqib Ahmad was burying four members of the Afghan Taliban.


The hillside was covered with graves of the unwanted: beggars, impoverished foreigners, terrorists killed in suicide attacks. Ahmad wasn't provided with names or any identifying information for the dead Taliban -- shrines for sympathizers must be avoided. He has buried dozens. But it's likely that the four men buried here in April died in the attack on Kabul's Independent Election Commission headquarters, prior to the April 5 presidential election. Blood on the burial sheets revealed the violence of their last moments.


Photographer Andrew Quilty was in Afghanistan in April, and documented these burials in a section of Kabul's Shuhadah E Saleheen Cemetery reserved for terrorists, paupers, and foreigners whose families can't afford to repatriate their bodies. The militants whose burials Quilty photographed make up only a fraction of the Taliban killed earlier this year: in January and February alone, Afghan security forces killed over 720 members of the group.


Civilian casualties have soared even higher this year; the first half of 2014 saw over 1,564 deaths and 3,289 injuries among civilians -- the highest rate since 2009. In late July, fighting between insurgents and government forces roiled Kandahar, a province where, in 2010, U.S. forces had managed to drive out the Taliban. And earlier in the month, four insurgents were killed and one security officer wounded in a brazen attack on Kabul's airport. There will be more work at Shuhadah E Saleheen.


Above, headstones are marked with numbers that correspond to official records but do not outwardly identify those buried. Even in the heat, one of the gravediggers wears a pinstripe suit.

Andrew Quilty


The final body is maneuvered towards its grave from the morgue vehicle, a white van with a decal reading "Donated by Pakistan" on the side.

Andrew Quilty


A section of the Shuhadah E Saleheen Cemetery, on a slope above Hashmat Khan Lake.

Andrew Quilty


A prayer is said over each grave once the burial is complete.

Andrew Quilty


The fourth body is taken from the van and carried to a nearby grave.

Andrew Quilty

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The bodies brought for burial are loosely wrapped in a white cloth. Here the cloth has opened, exposing the body within. 

Andrew Quilty

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Each of the graves is dug waist-deep into the ground. 

Andrew Quilty


The men cover the graves with the damp soil they unearthed during their digging; it is darker than the powdery dirt on the surface. At one point, a policeman walked over from his guard post to say that the graves were too shallow and that dogs would come at night. It was agreed to dig each grave half a foot longer, but no deeper.

Andrew Quilty


Two freshly dug graves await their dead. From here, the Hashmat Khan Lake is visible in the distance.

Andrew Quilty


After completing the burials, the gravediggers sit on the ground for a rest and drink green tea.

Andrew Quilty


Khwaja Naqib Ahmad stands over two open graves.

Andrew Quilty


Slabs of stone are placed over the bodies before soil is piled on top.

Andrew Quilty

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