The dedication of the caretaker of Kabul:

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Skynet, Aug 22, 2007.

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  1. The caretaker of Kabul: Afghan dedicated his life to guarding the embassy
    By Terri Judd Guardian
    Published: 22 August 2007
    When British soldiers turned up at the embassy in Kabul following the fall of the Taliban, their path was blocked by an elderly Afghan gentleman.

    For 12 years, Zahoor Shah had tended the roses in the compound, hidden away the silver and barred fighters from entering. It took the British some hours before they could persuade him that the rightful owners had finally returned. By the time the new Charge d'Affaires Stephen Evans and his staff turned up the following day, Mr Shah was properly attired to welcome them.

    "I arrived on the afternoon of 19 November 2001. We came down the curving drive and pulled up at the entrance of the embassy. Mr Shah was at the top of the stairs, wearing his white coat with gold buttons and black trousers to greet us," said Mr Evans.

    He had found heating oil and the old grand table was set for dinner with the ambassadorial china, silver and crystal glasses. "From somewhere he had found a couple of bottles of wine and there were candles on the table," explained Mr Evans.

    Yesterday the current British ambassador Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles paid tribute to Mr Shah after news that he had lost his battle with throat cancer. "We owe him an enormous debt for the loyalty and resilience he showed during the years of Taliban rule," he said.

    Nobody was entirely sure how old he was, though it is believed he had started life at the embassy as an eight- or nine-year-old ball-boy in the forties.

    Mr Evans, who returned as ambassador in 2006 until early 2007, remembered him as a gentle, courteous man who was proud of his job and his embassy. "Because he had worked for the embassy for so long he provided a continuity with the past when Afghanistan was essentially peaceful, before things went terribly wrong in the 1970s. He was someone who had stuck through the Soviet period, through the civil war, through the Taliban era and the later transition. He was very loyal," he added.

    The former Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon founded the embassy in Kabul in the 1920s declaring its ambassador should be the best-housed man in Asia. A large section of it was later passed to the Pakistanis but the smaller "hospital compound" was kept on.

    After the Soviet invasion, the mission was left with only a Charge d'Affaires and by 1989 the last diplomat had gone. Mr Shah and his team of six staff hid away the portraits of Queen Mary and King George VI, the gilded Wilton china service, the silver teapots and monogrammed tureens.

    They stood guard through the fiercest fighting, despite one of the staff being killed by a rocket in 1996, and slept in the gatehouse to repel intruders. The gatekeeper Sayed Afzal once kept a Taliban delegation at bay, informing them there was nothing left but "a few old tables and chairs".

    The British High Commission in Islamabad called regularly to make sure they were alright, while the odd intrepid visitor would drop by. Money for the upkeep was passed through the UN offices until the embassy reopened in November 2001.

    Nine months later, Mr Shah, along with Mr Afzal, was presented with a MBE for devotion to duty through so many years of conflict. At a traditional tea party on the lawn, to the sound of Highland piper, the men were honoured.

    "You have performed remarkable service over very many years," said the then ambassador Ron Nash. "You have worked faithfully to protect our embassy. There has been physical danger and war around you... and you have taken care of your possessions for many years when there were no British officials."

    When the embassy staff moved to new premises a couple of years ago, Mr Shah decided to retire. He developed throat cancer and had been very frail for months when he died on Saturday, surrounded by his extended family.
  2. A wonderfully loyal man and a true friend to the United Kingdom.

    May you rest peacefully with your god now Mr. Shah.
  3. A fine tribute to a true gentleman and loyal retainer. Rest in Peace Zahoor Shah MBE.
  4. I mirror these comments.
  5. TheIronDuke

    TheIronDuke LE Book Reviewer

    Seconded. And proof not all Afghans are zombies.

    Most Brit Embassys are impressive. But Kabul was right up there with the ones you walk in and just grin.

    Lawns, hedges, "How do you take your tea?". More English than a cricket match in Midsomer Norton. I was there a couple of times before the Russians turned an interesting country into what we have today. The plummy chaps and chapesses were front-of-house. The whole magnificent production was held up by guys like Mr. Shah.

    RIP Sir.
  6. RIP Sir

    Many thanks
  7. Biped

    Biped LE Book Reviewer

    Rest in Peace, friend.
  8. Shabash Zahoor Shah MBE!

  9. RIP a decent man
  10. What a simple but wonderful story from an era which now seems to have melted into the mist.
  11. Not quite gone. I was asked to go and have a look at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetary in Baghdad in early '03. There were reports in our media of desecrations and the like. What I found, in addition to a AAA post(neatly taken out too) bracketing the largely intact cemetary, was the caretaker and his son who hadnn't been paid in donkeys but who were still maintaining the cemetary (The memory of the caretaker's son carrying unexploded sub-munitions between rows of gravestones still refuses to go away!).
  12. I am very glad that HMG decided to honour this man and his ilk. Nothing could be more important in today's world than rewarding such loyalty, and I hope that we are able to engender such loyalty in others too. It is trully a sign of hope for this country so riven by destruction in the last few years. I hope we remember to treat all Afghans such as he with dignity. I hope his last days were not too difficult, and that his family were suported where possible.
  13. Hear hear.
    Difficult to think of a more humbling case of loyalty and devotion in adversity. RIP, SIR.
  14. I met Mr Shah in 02. The story of how he kept the taliban out is legendary. He is truly a Great Man.

    RIP Sir.

    Ne Obliviscaris