Whispers of War: An Afghan Freedom Fighter's Account of the Soviet Invasion is the real-life tale of a young political leader, Masood Khalili. Son of Ustad Khalilullah Khalili, the great Afghan poet, he motivated his people and led them in their fight against the 'Red Army'. Alongside his friend Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, Khalili traveled by foot, on horseback and on donkey, sharing the tales of pain, despair, and despondence of his countrymen and women. In letters to his beloved wife Sohaillah, he writes of his journey through the Himalayan range, accompanied by a team of foreign journalists.
The book is an account of the search for ever elusive peace in a country ravaged by war—a war that changed the landscape of the country and the fabric of its society.
O God, open the bud of hope.
Show me the flower of paradise.
Fill my soul with its fragrance.
O God, take my hand till the end of my journey,
Step by step, until you are happy, and I am free.
About Masood Khalili
The son of a renowned Afghan poet, Khalilullah Khalili, Masood Khalili is the current ambassador of Afghanistan to Spain and former ambassador to many other countries. He is respected both in his country and internationally as an honest, patriotic, and elder statesman, as well as a political leader.
Mahmud Khalili, the eldest son of Ambassador Masood Khalili, was born in the United States. He has a bachelor’s degree in International and Comparative Politics, a master’s degree in International Relations. He is currently a PhD candidate in Peace Studies and Military Strategy. He is also the author of Afghanistan Decoded: Perspectives on Domestic and Foreign Affairs.
Oh, tears come,
Help my eyes.
Oh, mother come,
Help my cries.
Oh, sorrows come,
Help my sighs.
Oh, God come,
Answer my whys.
During the summer of 1986, Masood Khalili kept a diary as he traveled through northern Afghanistan. That record has yielded this elegiac book on the Afghan people in the midst of their war of resistance against the Soviet Union. Whispers of War is a memoir but not a diary of self. It is a group portrait of the Afghan nation and its diverse, resilient culture in a season of extreme pressure.
1. First Steps, Long Journey Ahead
The plane is flying quietly over the beautiful snow-clad mountains, deep valleys, and blue rivers. I am now on my way to the same war that has ravaged our whole country and led to the daily pain and suffering of thousands of poor people like this mother and daughter.
2. No Journey Goes as Planned—On the Way at Last
The snow reminds me a lot of our little son Mahmud. Family, friends, and home are the sources that vibrate the soul when one feels happy, smells a flower, sees something beautiful, reads a piece of poetry, or hears an old song. It is natural that in happy and sad moments one remembers his or her loved ones.
3. Home Is Home—Nooristan Awaits
My dear, after almost nine days of ups and downs, forward and backward, of good and bad, and sweet and sour experiences, after having been forced to return to where we started, I am now finally in the place where I always wish to be: Afghanistan. I am in my own land, with my own sun, my own stars, my own sky, my own mountains, my own valleys, my own villages, and, above all, with my own, poor people.
4. Eagles Soar Higher
The weather is good now. No rain, no blustering wind, and no hail. This is a quiet place. You can hear the sound of the smallest creatures moving. The friendly croaking of frogs makes my soul more comfortable and takes me back to the farthest corners of my childhood. Once the night spreads its dark and black wings, the village becomes pitch-black because there is no electricity and there has never been.
5. Grandfather's Castle—Kantiwa, Heart of Nooristan
My dear, this is the birthplace of your forefathers. Your relatives lived here for centuries. I love this place. It is an ancient settlement, wild and green. A beautiful blue river passes through here. I stayed last night at your grandfather, General Wakeel's old, half-ruined castle on top of a high hill surrounded by higher mountains.
6. King of the Passes—Kantiwa Pass
The shepherd's cave we are in now looks like a cave from the time of Prophet Moses. The walls are stained black from smoke. There is barely enough space for the goats, let alone ourselves to pass the night, but what can we do. I am laying in between boulders.
7. Goodbye Nooristan—Welcome Panjshir
My dear, last night, I dreamt of you and little Mahmud. I hugged him repeatedly. My brother Nejatullah and Jafaayee, my friend, also appeared in my dream. The fighting continues at the end of the Panjshir Valley.
8. A King's Wrath, Tears in Herat, and a Royal Wedding
My Dear, the weather is clear today. Though it rained this morning, now the sky is blue once again. The following poem came to mind. If I cannot send you a flower, at least let me share this flower poem with you.
Oh, the autumn wind
Do not come, do not come.
Do not make the flowers dry,
Do not let them die.
My beloved is coming.
Let her dance,
Let her enjoy.
O, the autumn wind,
Do not blow, do not blow.
Let my beloved dance.
9. Crossing the Hindu Kush Range—Wheel of the Sky
10. Poor Jeep, Poor Donkey, Poor Surgery
11. Little Saleha: Onward to the Commander
My dear, I am back now, sitting in a cave and writing to you. All around this area, there are unexploded bombs, mines, and even toy-mines, which are very dangerous, like snakes in the grass. Whenever I walk here, while I enjoy watching small children playing in the fields, my soul is gripped with the worry of what may happen to them if they step on one of these mines.
12. Commander Massoud
13. Battle Preparations
14. Celebration before the Battle
I am speaking to you from Khusdeh, the first village in Farkhar district. We left early in the morning and arrived here at around noon. The pass was not that high and the path was not that bad. The valley of Farkhar is one of the most beautiful valleys in the northern parts of Afghanistan.
15. Battle of the Garrison
16. Onward to Badakhshan, Cradle of Old Culture
17. Afghan Steel Factory
There were molds, frames, pieces of burnt metal, and ashes, scattered everywhere. You could see pieces of destroyed tanks, planes, and helicopters in his small, 6 × 6 meters, workplace.
18. Back on Rocky Track—Village Justice
19. Exorcism, Sufis, and a Royal Hunt
Right now, it is hard for me to write as there is no lantern and it is getting dark. The smell and smoke of the sargeen, or dried combustible dung, have filled the air, heralding the fall of night. In these areas of Afghanistan, the local people use dried dung instead of wood to make fires for cooking and for heating their homes.
20. Yellow Pass: A Lonely Climber
21. Back to Nooristan and Unacceptable Love
22. Back to Kantiwa
23. The Killer Kunar River
Close to the river, the Soviets and their puppets had destroyed most of the houses. The trees had dried up and the water channels were ruined. We walked very fast from Sukee to the river, which took us about two hours instead of the predicted three and half. The closer we got to the river, the hotter the weather became.
I think anyone with a soul or a heart will feel that this is a very special book…your diaries to your dear wife. We are fortunate that you and she have decided to share these with the world.
Current Ambassador of UK to Afghanistan
Whispers of War has captured Afghanistan’s heart. Masood Khalili’s voice is at once soothing and disturbing as he tells of the tragedy that has befallen his nation. His words melt your heart, bring tears to your eyes and then inspire you with stories of courage, of resolve and of love for Afghanistan, and for its people, whose strength reminds us of what life has to give, especially when all seems lost.
Head of Associated Press
Masood Khalili is the wisest man I know. His blend of courage, conviction, morality, and humility has inspired all those who know him. With his essential humanity untouched, indeed strengthened, by the massive challenges thrown at him throughout a remarkable life, this book will ensure he captures the hearts and imaginations of thousands more who may never have the privilege of meeting him. A very rare man whose story I cannot recommend too highly.
General Sir David Richards,
Former Head of NATO Forces in Afghanistan and Former Commander-in-chief of British Army (Land Forces)
I remember you, day and night,
I forget everything, even my sight
I am a memory forgotten
A heart broken,
I am a candle, with no light.
In the Media
Afghan ambassador to Spain, Masood Khalili, talks about the lessons his book Whispers of War, which is based in Afghanistan, has for other conflict areas. Khalili goes on to speculate about the future Afghanistan may have considering negotiations with Taliban and the state sponsored terrorism from Pakistan..
Vivek Gopal speaks to Masood Khalili, about his book Whispers of War: An Afghan Freedom Fighter's Account of the Soviet Invasion.