The War Widows of Afghanistan

Zarguna Kargar, author of Dear Zari, casts light on the forgotten widows of Afghanistan in her new TV and Radio documentary for the BBC, The War Widows of Aghanistan

Marzia weaving


As a young girl growing up in Afghanistan I accompanied my mother to a number of funerals. They were mostly for young men who had died fighting the Mujahedeen during the soviet era. War continued in my country as different groups fought, and many men lost their lives on both sides. In 2001 the war changed. Now it wasn’t civil war. Tens of thousands of NATO troops, including five thousand from Britain, were deployed to join Afghans fighting the Taliban. Coverage of the conflict became daily news on international media. For the last 13 years I have reported for the BBC, covering news of soldiers from Afghanistan and NATO countries alike dying in the war in Afghanistan.

However, what’s not reported is the plight of the widows left behind. I wanted to hear from the women here in Britain and in Afghanistan about their experiences. Like Tajbibi, a mother of three whose marriage to a soldier was arranged by her parents. In Afghanistan, women pray every day that they will not receive sudden news of death. But for Tajbibi, the news she had been dreading came all too abruptly one evening 7 years ago. Her husband’s body was brought to her doorstep. He was shot by the Taliban on his way to work. Around the same time Jackie, a mother of five daughters, was informed in Nottingham about the death of her husband Gary. He was killed in an explosion in Kandahar province in the south of Afghanistan. Tajbibi and Jackie both tell of the heartbreak they experienced by hearing the news of losing loving husbands. In conservative Afghan society, widowhood is like a prison sentence for young women. Marzia is 26 and has two children; she can only remain in her parents’ house and weave carpets all day because if she leaves the house she will invite gossip. This is one of the reasons that international journalists have not been able to reveal these stories.

After hours of telephone conversations I managed to convince four Afghan widows to tell us about the sacrifices their husbands made. Most of them said they have never been asked before how they feel, or about how life is for them without a husband.

In War Widows of Afghanistan, we bring you first hand stories of the hidden victims of the war. The Afghan and British widows live in very different places but the war connects them as they tell us about their loves, losses, and hopes for the future.

Lisa’s husband Jonathan was killed in Helmand province in 2012. He was also shot by the Taliban while he was on patrol. Lisa tells us of her memories of Jonathan, and about the fantastic support from her family and the army here in Britain. Jon’s army pension means that financially her circumstances have not really changed since his death. But you will hear that for Tajbibi, it could not be more different. Her husband’s family disowned her after failing to persuade her to marry another man in their family. Without a husband, Tajbibi found herself without status or a means to keep a roof over her head. She came back to her parents’ house in Kabul, where she is only allowed to work at home.Tajbibi ekes out a living doing laundry for her brothers and neighbours. Her situation is typical of many of Afghanistan’s estimated 2 million war widows. Women like Tajbibi just don’t know how to negotiate the bureaucracy of getting what little government support is available.

Afghanistan is a poor country. UN estimates show that 85% of women here are illiterate. Men are the main breadwinners of their families. So when a husband dies, women struggle to find food and raise children. But the pain of being a widow comes not just from poverty. All these women tell us how hard it has been adjusting to life without their husbands. In Afghanistan the law permits the husband’s family to assume custody of the children if the widow remarries outside his family. Most of the Afghan widows I spoke to chose not to remarry so they could keep their children.All the widows share the same hopes and dreams of a better future for their children. Despite the painful price their families have paid all of them recognise their husband’s contribution to Afghanistan’s future.

And one thing that becomes clear is that it doesn’t matter if a widow lives in a mud hut in Afghanistan or a two floor modern house in Nottingham, as women they share the same feelings of love, loss and hope.


You can listen to The War Widows of Afghanistan here>


Our World: The War Widows of Afghanistan will be shown on BBC World News TV on Saturday 26th July at 0410, 1710, 2210 GMT and on Sunday 27th July at 1010 GMT