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The Orphan of Bagram

          Sharina was born in a farmhouse two kilometers north of Bagram, Afghanistan, on 22 Dhu al-Hijah in the year 1410 of the Muslim calendar, or July 15, 1990, on the western one -- a year after the last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan and the beginning of the Taliban reign of terror.  Even though the Taliban banned all books and all education except religious education for boys, Sharina's mother - who received a secondary education before marrying Sharina's university educated father -- taught her from school books she saved and hid in their manure pile.


         Azir is the antagonist in Sharina's story.  He was born in eastern Afghanistan and grew up in a Saudi funded madrassa that taught the Wahhabi sect's ultra-conservative version of Islam.  He quickly learned that acts of violence gave him a feeling of power while at the same time allowing him to feel good about enforcing the Wahhabi version of God's word against kafir unbelievers, Shia apostates and Sunni slackers.  For two years during the Soviet occupation, an American CIA operative names James Singles and his Afghan friend and companion tried to kill him to stop his predations against his own people.  At one point he tried to kill them.  He came into power during the conflict between the warlords and the Taliban after the soviets left in 1989.  He chose the position of vice and virtue judge for a large part of Afghanistan north of Kabul. 

          Taliban enforcers invaded Sharina's home three times looking for the books, physically abusing the family and tearing up their meager belongings. Azir led the fourth invasion and by hurting Sharina and threatening her with more physical violence, he forced her parents to surrender the books. Azir decreed public whippings for everyone, including Sharina. He also ordered Sharina to throw her books into a bonfire near the whipping post.  At first, she refused to throw them into the fire, defying Azir in front of the mob that had gathered to witness the whippings.  She relented only when he threatened to throw her into the fire if she refused. At the post, a mysterious stranger named Ibraham offered to take Sharina's place and was lashed. Azir then lashed Sharina in spite of his promise to let Ibraham take her place.  Ibraham overheard Sharina sass Azir before she started throwing her beloved books into the fire and again when she was tied to the post. 

          James Singles was a former CIA agent who traveled around Afghanistan with his friend Ahmed offering advice, assistance, money, and munitions to the mujahideen forces fighting the Russian Army beginning shortly after the communist coup that ousted a democratically elected government in 1978. They separated in 1986, when the mujahideen's use of shoulder mounted anti-aircraft missiles sounded the death knell for the invasion.  Although Ahmed was marked for death by the Taliban, Singles' CIA runner wouldn't allow him to emigrate to America.  Ahmed disappeared and changed his identity when Singles left Afghanistan for the last time. They were reunited in the fall of 2000, when the CIA sent Singles to Bagram in search of the rug merchant who sent a message promising important information about Osama bin Laden. They were forced to witness the beatings of Sharina and her parents and to join the mob as it cheered Azir on. Disguised as Ibraham, Singles offered to take Sharina's place at the post and became a very important person to her.

          After Singles returned to America with the information about bin Laden, Ahmed told Sharina and her father that he and the stranger who'd tried to take her place at the post had fought with the mujahideen during the Soviet occupation and that they and Azir tried to kill each other because Azir terrorized his own people more than he fought the Russians.  He gave her a note from the stranger that said, in part, that he would never forget her courage in standing up to Azir and that if he had a daughter, he hoped she'd be just like Sharina.

          In the fall of 2001, Sharina's parents were murdered in front of her by Taliban soldiers retreating from the American Army. She remained on the farm with their bodies for several days and then tried to find someone in town who could help her locate her Aunt Mahfuza, who was her only living relative. Mahfuza had been kidnapped by the Taliban years earlier and forced to marry Azir. Under Afghan law, Azir became Sharina's legal guardian. Against Sharina's wishes, Azir had her parents' farm transferred into his name and had her locked in her second story bedroom. She went into a long-term funk.

          Singles left the Army in 1973 as a highly decorated major in the medical corps. He studied Middle Eastern languages and literature at a Washington, D.C. university and became the department head in the mid-1990s. Because of his experience in Afghanistan and his proficiency in Middle Eastern languages, he was made a full colonel and sent to the Air Force base in Bagram to head a joint Army-CIA prisoner interrogation team in the aftermath of the American invasion. Re-united with Ahmed once again, Ahmed told him about Sharina's parents' deaths and her forced captivity under Azir's thumb.  He said that Singles was the only person who could save her from a life of ignorance and subjugation. Singles remembered his wish that if he'd had a daughter, she'd be just like Sharina. He agonized about what to do.  After blaming himself for a 1975 crash that killed his wife and war orphan daughter, Singles spent the next twenty-five years in emotional isolation.  That isolation was reinforced in 1982 when an eleven-year-old Afghan girl he'd saved from being stoned called him "father" and committed suicide because he couldn't take her to America with him.  Her last words to him -- "I can't live without my father!" – still haunted him.


          In spite of his fear of hurting yet another person he loved, he approached Sharina.  In short order, they grew to love each other and began calling themselves "father" and "daughter." Early in their relationship, Sharina received signs from God that Singles was the person who would rescue her from Azir.

         At the same time Singles and Sharina were becoming close, Singles was becoming romantically interested in his adjutant, Major Jane Anderson – something strictly forbidden by Army regulations. They treaded very carefully with their interest in each other. Sharina became fond of Anderson and because she sensed that Singles and Anderson were fond of each other, repeatedly told them that she wished they'd get married so she'd have both a father and a mother.

          In the early Spring of 2002, Singles had Azir arrested and sent to a prison in Uzbekistan. Sharina and Mahfuza were present when the arrest was made by Major Anderson, who told them that Azir would be gone a very long time. A woman named Washma visited Sharina and her aunt shortly after the arrest and invited Sharina to attend the girls' school she planned to open.

         Just when things were going smoothly for Singles, Sharina and Anderson, Azir was released without warning at the request of the Afghan government.  Instead of returning to Bagram, he disappeared for more than a month. He showed up suddenly, closed the girls' school, and was about to beat Sharina for attending when Singles broke down the door and stopped him. Singles took her to live with the attorney in Kabul who was helping him negotiate a bribe to an Afghan judge in exchange for an order making him Sharina's legal guardian instead of Azir.  Because the judge wouldn't give a girl to a single man without a much greater bribe, Anderson became Singles' pretend wife. Negotiations became complicated because Azir had returned and because Singles and Anderson weren't Muslims.

          Sharina was trapped at Azir's the night before he closed the school. She overheard Azir and his brother discussing a rocket attack on the base and told Singles. His Army and CIA bosses scoffed at the notion that the Taliban were organized enough to plan such attack.  They told him that Sharina was probably making it up in an effort to get free of Azir.  Then the teacher's house was firebombed and she and her husband were killed. Singles' CIA and Army bosses ordered him to return Sharina to Azir because of political pressure from the provincial governor, a friend of Azir. The rocket attack took place and badly injured Major Anderson.  Singles' bosses again ordered him to return Sharina to Azir in spite of his warnings that Azir must have planned the attack and was no doubt planning additional ones.  They insisted that his judgment about Azir was clouded by his relationship with Sharina.

         Singles returned Sharina to Azir as ordered. They parted company bereft of any sense that they would ever see each other again. She was forced to strip and be poked everywhere by the man Azir was selling her to. Shortly before the date of her planned marriage, two angels who looked like her mother and father appeared in a dream and inspired her to escape. That same night, she dressed as a boy and walked to Kabul to join a madrassa. She became a trusted messenger for the imam, who was plotting with Azir to bomb the American embassy and military bases. She and Azir met in the imam's office but Azir didn't recognize her.  She discovered the plot while delivering messages for the imam and told Singles about it by sending him a message through an American soldier.  She then delivered a message to Azir about a meeting in his home to discuss details of the bombings.  She feigned illness and was invited to stay in her old bedroom until she felt better.  She was there when the meeting took place and surreptitiously recorded it.  The recorder's batteries died before it recorded the date of the attacks and before Azir and his cronies discussed the fact that the embassy was the real target. Fearing that Singles would be killed trying to stop the attack on the embassy, she gave him a false date. 


         Singles was given a brevet promotion to brigadier general with responsibility for beefing up the security at the two military bases but not at the embassy because the ambassador pooh-poohed the possibility of a Taliban attack.  Anderson was given a brevet promotion to bird colonel with responsibility for the prisoner interrogation unit.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice obtained arrest warrants for Azir and his fellow plotters.  Amidst great fanfare, Anderson arrested him a second time and marched him through Bagram, where jeering crowds threw garbage at him.

        When Sharina's date came and went with no attack, Singles became a laughing stock. He asked her if she gave him the wrong date. She explained why she did and gave him the correct one. As it approached, Sharina became terrified that her father would die trying to stop the attack and that she'd once again become the property of the man Azir sold her to. On the morning of the attack on the embassy, Sharina looked out her window and when the first bomb trucks exploded, she imagined her father lying dead on the ground or flying through the air in a cloud of smoke and flames.

         The night before the embassy attack, Singles and Ahmed went to the embassy dressed in combat gear, complete with pistols and M-16 automatic rifles.  While waiting for the bomb-laden trucks, they called each other "Brother." Although they saved the embassy by killing the driver of a third bomb truck intended to enter the embassy grounds and explode, Singles was badly injured and taken to the hospital at Bagram. He asked his Brother Ahmed to bring his family to America and live with him. Singles and Anderson were finally free to express their love for each other and decided to marry before Singles was sent home for more surgeries. The president called and spoke with Singles, Ahmed, and Sharina, and invited them to a White House ceremony at which he would swear in Ahmed, his family and Sharina as American citizens.