My Afghan friend Mir saw his cousin Gulabuddin arrested on a rape charge in London. This is what happened nextby James Fergusson / May 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
The story so far In the August/September 2001 issue of Prospect, James Fergusson described how, in 1998, he had helped his friend Mir (then given the alternative pseudonym Wahidallah) to escape Afghanistan and claim asylum in Britain. Mir had worked as a translator for Fergusson in Afghanistan but, as the civil war intensified, found his life under threat in Mazar-i-Sharif and was forced to flee to Islamabad. Fergusson met him there a year later, and agreed to help him get to London and claim asylum on the condition that, once the bureaucratic hurdles had been cleared, Mir would neither expect nor ask for any further help. Once in London, Mir, to Fergusson’s surprise, kept his word. Granted asylum, he contacted distant family friends, found himself a flat in the east end and slipped into the Afghan immigrant groove – signing on, taking a series of badly paid jobs, sending the bulk of his wages back to Pakistan to help support his exiled family. Troubled by the prevalence of sexual imagery and alcohol, and longing for his family, Mir had deeply ambivalent feelings about his life in London. Then, four years ago, two of his brothers and a cousin smuggled themselves into England. Fergusson began to record the story of what looked set to be a family reunion of Afghans in London. In reality, however, it was the beginning of a disaster.
Gulabuddin was always the likeliest of the three arrivals from Afghanistan to make a mess of his life in London, although none of us could have predicted how spectacularly. His depression should have been lifted by the success of his recent asylum appeal. Perhaps it had been – perhaps his subsequent behaviour was a last spontaneous act of joie de vivre before the arrival of his wife and children. Yet what he did was so illogical, so stupidly risky, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that he was still not quite right in the head.
I didn’t know him well. I was only connected to him via his cousin, Mir, my interpreter and fixer from the days when I worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan. I had helped Mir gain asylum in Britain three years earlier. His work for me and other western journalists, notably Lionel David of the BBC, had put his life in danger. I thought that we westerners collectively owed him at least that…