How I Almost Got My Head Cut off by the Taliban
Canadian Visiting Afghan Refugee Camp Jan. 2002
In Sept. 2002 while the Americans were bombing the crap out of the Taliban in Afghanistan, I made two trips to Peshawar, Pakistan in the Northwest Frontier Province, also known as the gateway to the tribal areas, where lawlessness is totally rampant and no police presence whatsoever. In my early travels there, walking through the bazaars, locals wanting to take me on tours, and of course get some money for it, would ask me if I wanted to see that area, and they would describe it as an area where all the airline hijackers and other Yasser Arafat associates would come to hide out and be safe from any persecution, as there were no police forces at all. They would tell me that I could buy a beautiful replica of a Kalashnikov machine gun for 20 bucks, but where would I hide that on my way home to Canada. I really wanted to go, as I am a very inquisitive and risky person at heart, but something told me not to go, even after so many trips and just as many invitations that tempted the hell out of me.
My friend, who was now living in a Afghan refugee camp just outside the Peshawar airport, where you could almost touch the planes as they flew overhead to land or take off, spewing their heavy gas fumes over his little village. Peshawar is just 40 km away from the famous Khyber Pass, part of the old Silk Road, and this is where millions of Afghans streamed to when the bombings started in January of 2002, as the answer to the 911 attacks.
Khailillulah Nuristani was a former General in the army of the King Mohammad Zahir Shah, and was once the Foreign Minister to the Province of Nuristan, where the most fiercest of Afghan fighters come from. He was now very sick with diabetes and parts of his feet were being cut off while I was visiting. We would smoke hashish and talk about the old days, well his old days, as they were so exciting I was in a perpetual state of my mouth hanging open from the words that came from his mouth. He lived quietly with his family in the rented house paid for by his two daughters Zainab and Layla who managed to emigrate to Canada and got good jobs to make sure their loved ones had food on the table.
Stories From Upcoming Book Smuggling With Jesus
My Visit With Former General To Ex King Of Afghanistan
After a life of adventure and crazy drug smuggling, some of which can be read on my website Smuggling With Jesus, I settled down and had a modeling school in Vancouver, BC. After that I went to the opposite side of Canada and opened a bagel shop called Yenta's Bagels. I was in desperate need of a bookkeeper as my books were in shambles. So I put an ad in the local University to try and find a student for cheap. One of them was all wrapped up and was very humble so I hired her on the spot. I told her to come to my apartment where my computer was and she did so the next day after her classes. When she walked in to my apartment, she immediately noticed my carpets that I had imported over the years on my trip to Pakistan. She said to me "where did you get such carpets?', and my reply was "you probably never heard of the place, it's called Peshawar, Pakistan". She tells me that she and her family lives there and we became family from that day on.
That was 1999 and in August 2001 I closed up the bagel shop in Halifax, packed up the van with kids, wife and cat and made the drive to Toronto where my father was dieing. I moved into the old homestead in the basement, my sister upstairs and my dad in the next room, bedridden. On September 11th my wife woke me out of a sound sleep and said there was a plane that crashed into the World Trade center. I got right up and watched as the action continued and was identified quickly as terrorist attacks after the second plane hit. I watched solidly for a week, only going out for a coffee and something to nibble on. Everywhere I went there was such a solemn feeling, nobody really talking about the events as they seemed more shocked than anything.
Most of the action at that time was centered on the Taliban and all the news conferences were coming out of Peshawar, with the pirate looking black robed Taliban spokesmen with eye patches yet, were warning the USA to stay away, as if they would.All I could think of was going to Peshawar, which at one time was my second home, traveling there up to 3 times per year for almost a decade in the 19080's. I started to look for Zainab who worked on my books back in Halifax. I somehow managed to find her, she was a security guard at Dalhousie University in Halifax, and needless to say, she was very concerned about her father and the rest of her family back in Peshawar.
I told her I wanted to go and we made arrangements to meet and make plans for my travel there. She emailed her brothers and asked if it would be OK for me to stay with her family and they replied that they would pick me up at the airport and take me to their house. My father was pretty bad at that time, more or less bedridden, my son was only 13 years old, the both of them tried there best to stop me from going but the excitement got the best of me and before they knew it I went the Pakistan embassy to get a visa, bought a ticket and left on January 13th, 2002. The bombing of Taliban sites was in full force just across the border from where I was to be staying at and Daniel Pearl the Jewish reporter for the NY Times was just kidnapped in Lahore only a few hundred miles from Peshawar. Now my son and dad were practically begging me to stay but of course I went, thinking I would be safe as usual from the harm around me.
I flew to Dubai and waited for a flight that would fly me direct to Peshawar, instead of the usual Karachi and getting a domestic flight north to Peshawar. I remember looking at everyone trying to figure out who was a Taliban and who was just a normal Pakistani. I boarded and soon found myself in the cold Peshawar airport and being the only Canadian passport holder going through customs and immigration. My luggage was not there but was delivered to me a few days later. I am pretty sure that was due to the ISI which is Pakistan's equivalent to the CIA and who wanted to check out the foreigners arriving to that Northern outpost so close to the Afghan border. The family settled me in very nicely and kept me safe behind their 20 foot walls with glass shards on the tops of the walls to stop people from climbing over them.
One night asked to have a massage and Khailillulah went out to the camp and asked the local barber if he would come and massage me. That night he came over and gave me an unbelievable massage, like I never experienced before, and I've had massages all over the world. All I could remember was the strength of these Afghans was amazing, they were like people made from iron. All the walking in the mountains and eating pure caveman type food instead of our processed food diets made them really strong people. I thought, this guy could snap my neck in a second if he wanted to. After he finished massaging me and not breaking any bones we sat down and smoked a huge hash joint that he rolled for us. I brought out a stack of pictures from Canada and began to show him my son, father and others as he marveled at them and we had a great old time smoking, talking and looking at pictures.
When we got to the end of the stack of pictures, he asked me if he could have one of me and I thought that was so nice and gave him one as a keepsake of our meeting. We said our good-byes and he went home and I settled down for the night all relaxed now from the incredible massage. I didn't think about the picture I gave the barber anymore after that meeting and continued on with my adventure in NWFP the tribal gateway in Pakistan. Because I was a Canadian from the outside world, and most people in that area have never even seen a westerner live before, many close friends of Khailillulah would come to visit and see for themselves. As an Afghan enters a household they would greet the owner and his guests in the traditional Afghan way with a hug, handshake and kisses on both cheeks. I was subject to those greetings and figured if I didn't take part in them I would most likely be chopped up one day. I was not from there but I could clearly see that many of the men who came were dressed totally in black with the black headdress, just like I would see on TV back home. Khailillulah would tell me that they were friends of his from his homeland Afghanistan across the border and were working with the Taliban, but only because they had no money and the Taliban gave them food and money and fed their families for their support.
The women would serve us food as we sat cross legged on the floor and ate rice, beans and bread with our hands. I could see this wasn't the cleanest of conditions but hoped for the best anyway. Boy was I proved wrong, as the very next day I felt the beginnings of dysentery setting in. In all my trips to Pakistan in the 80's, which accounted for over 20 that I can remember, there was very few of them where I would actually make it through the whole time and leave without once getting stomach sickness or worse. Pakistan is a very filthy country, forgive me any Pakistanis but I am sure you would have to agree with me and know what I am talking about. This time was one of the worst cases I ever had, but still not as bad as once in 1984 when I felt like I was growing fur in my throat and had 105 degree temperature. This was pretty damn close to that experience and I was shitting every 20 minutes for almost a week. The shit began as nice dark color and gradually, over the days got lighter and lighter, until I could see that it was only a clear water color. That was the electrolytes from brain being flushed out and the whole world was spinning around me as I tried not to die.
The only thing left for me was to get away from that house and get into a western style hotel where I could sleep in a cozy bed and eat some soft American style sandwiches, which would hopefully get me back to normal. The sons dressed me up and got a taxi and in the late evening we made a dash to the famous Peshawar Pearl Intercontinental Hotel, where I had stayed on a number of occasions and loved it. This time however I was trying to keep myself alive long enough to get the hell out of the country and get back to Canada. Khailillulah 's sons would come each day and help to get a plane ticket and the necessary documents from the ISI to leave the country. Normal shits was slowly coming back to me so I could sense that I would not die, just wanted to get on a plane to civilization. It truly was like being in the Flintstones up in that part of Pakistan, and being sick there was not a fun thing at all. I completed all the necessary tasks to get myself out of the country and finally found myself in the departure lounge at the Peshawar airport, still a bit sick but well enough to fly away, and happy as hell that I was leaving without dieing in this miserable place.
I got home safe and sound to my old house in Toronto where my father was still in bed but happy to see me alive and back in cozy safe Canada. My son was even more happy and I began picking him from school as if nothing ever happened. Then one day I received an email from Zainab, who was still with her family back in Peshawar, and I could not believe my eyes with what was written in that email. She told me that at 2 am 16 men with Kalashnikov machine guns and masks over their faces, scaled the walls of their compound while they slept, and took everyone hostage, while they looked for the Canadian man named Hank. They smashed my friends nose, almost right off his face with the butt of a gun and threw his sons into the concrete walls all the time yelling "where is the Canadian man named Cooper?" They were going to take the younger daughter of 13 as a ransom until they gave me up, but there was so many antiques in the house and the men were so busy taking them into the car, that there was no room to put the girl. It was getting close to dawn and the men started to leave, outside the compound door was the barber that had asked me for my photo a few weeks ago when I had my massage. As fate would have it, I got sick the next day, most probably from his dirty fingers rubbing his stinky sweat into the pores of my body. Thanks for reading this and hope you like the rest of my story. Hank Cooper
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Henry Cooper