In a war-torn country hungry for heroes, the tale of a teenage girl who allegedly shot Taliban militants to avenge the murder of her parents has proved potent.
In mid-July, reports emerged about Qamar Gul, 15, who says she gunned down two fighters with her father’s AK-47 weapon. Almost immediately, the story electrified some in Afghanistan, a country buffeted by decades of war.
“When I heard about her bravery, I just felt proud of her, that we have powerful women like her,” Farhad Omer, 30, who is from the Afghan capital, Kabul, said. “Afghanistan needs heroes like her.”
Ahmad Turkmen, 25, said Qamar had given a “surge of power” and confidence to Afghan women.
“Yesterday it was Malalai, today it is Qamar Gul,” said Turkmen, a student of political science, comparing her to the female folk hero Malalai of Maiwand, who is remembered across the country for rallying fighters against the British during the second Anglo-Afghan war in 1880.
Turkmen was not the only one to evoke the ghost of Malalai.
“Malalai has emerged in Qamar Gul,” Eima Sultani, 27, a homemaker from Kabul, said. “Gul’s act reminds the entire world that Afghan women still have courage to resist against violence.”
But truth can be hard to come by in conflict, especially in remote Afghan provinces like Ghor, which is contested by the Taliban and where the incident is said to have unfolded.
“Ghor has a complex and volatile security situation, with the Taliban, various criminal groups and pro-government militias all vying for power and control,” said Ashley Jackson, a researcher at the Overseas Development Institute, a London think tank.
Qamar said that she gunned down the two Taliban fighters after they broke into her house while her family was asleep and fatally shot her parents.
“I was forced to pick up my father’s gun,” she said. “I feel proud that I killed the Taliban who killed my father and mother.”
A Kabul official and the police chief of Taywarah district backed up Qamar’s story, but offered no evidence for what they say had happened.
Habiburahman Malikzade, the police chief, said the confrontation occurred when the Taliban entered the pro-government village of Geriveh, where Qamar lives, in an effort to occupy the area.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that the confrontation was allegedly a family dispute and that one of the attackers Qamar killed was her own husband.
This version of events is disputed by the police chief who said the teen was not married, as well as by a man who picked up the phone whichQamar had previously answered and introduced himself as her half-brother.
The Taliban, meanwhile, denied reports that the teenage girl had killed any of its men. But it did say that two fighters had been injured when they stormed a camp of government-linked militia in the province.
“The puppet Afghan government has become frustrated and they now resort to making up these types of baseless stories, which have nothing to do with reality,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, offering no evidence to back up his claims.
Qamar’s story appeared to take on a life of its own.
A photo of the 15-year-old looking stoic, wearing a long brown patterned dress and black hijab while holding her father’s gun circulated on social media. The story was embellished as it spread, with some praising her for having killed 10 Taliban fighters after they tried to rape her.
Women have long been marginalized in Afghanistan, but their mistreatment under the Taliban, whose government was deposed by U.S.-backed forces in 2001, was extreme.
While the teen’s apparent bravery may stand out, her alleged experience of violence in the remote province offers a window into how 40 years of conflict have torn apart the lives of countless Afghans.
The conflict remains one of the deadliest in the world for civilians. In the first six months of this year, 1,282 were killed and 2,176 injured, according to the United Nations.
So far, any hope for peace has failed the Afghan people.
In February, a U.S.-Taliban pact on the withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign forces in exchange for Taliban security guarantees was followed by an increase in violence.
Even as a hero, it is unclear what the future holds for this Afghan teen. But she says she is not afraid.
“Whatever is going to happen, I don’t fear the Taliban,” she said.