Mirth and laughter back at Jalalabad’s Behsud Park

From a slaughter place to tourist hotspot, Behsud Park has been the eloquent witness to Jalalabad’s turbulent history

Aimal Faqiri, 34, vividly recalls the horrifying scenes of death and destruction that haunt him even today. A group of gun-toting Taliban insurgents would come in speeding jeeps and stop at Behsud Park, a few hundred yards away from his home. Some men framed under flimsy charges would be dragged mercilessly and executed in full public glare.

It was a daily scene at Jalalabad’s Behsud Park, which had been turned into a slaughter house. Mr. Faqiri saw many people being executed. “I was a small kid that time but I have vivid memories of the brutality and barbarism that had become hallmark of the Taliban regime,” says Mr. Faqiri, who runs a small construction business now.

Once, he recalls, Taliban had announced public execution of an alleged criminal at Mukhaberat Square and invited people to witness the gory spectacle at Behsud Park. “I still shudder to think how they could muster courage to stage such brutal execution,” says Mr. Faqiri. “When we went to the Behsud Park, I saw an aged man with red beard holding a large knife in his hands. The person to be executed was lying helplessly on the ground, his feet and hands tied, and within few minutes he was beheaded.”

Jalalabad, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province, was a stronghold of the Taliban in 1990s. Public executions were common in this city, mostly staged at Behsud Park. “The soil smelled blood for a long time, it was literally a slaughter house,” says Hamid Bahramand, a local medic.

The Taliban regime had the department of vice and virtues that would fix the date and venue of executions and announce it over loudspeakers. The punishments ranged from chopping ears, cutting hands or simply severing head, depending on the seriousness of ‘crime’.

Following the collapse of Taliban regime and establishment of an interim government headed by President Hamid Karzai, the notorious Behsud Park again became the favorite place for hanging out, with lush-green meadow and gentle breeze. “Now, people come here from all parts of the province to chill and unwind. The mirth and laughter is back,” says Khalil ur Rehman Haqyar, a cop.

This year, there was a palpable buzz during election campaigning for Presidential and Provincial Council elections. At Behsud Park, many candidates cajoled people to come out and vote. Aimal Khan Hemat, a Provincial Council candidate from Nangarhar, was elated with the tremendous response shown by voters. “It was wonderful to see people come out in large numbers to vote.” Behsud Park, he says, is an eloquent witness to the turbulent history of Afghanistan.

Behsud Bridge, which is next to the Park, was built by Russians. Jalalabad city connects eastern Kunar and Nuristan provinces with Nangarhar. Recently Taliban again unleashed some of their suicide bombers on the bridge, leaving it partially destroyed.

Akmal Khatak, who works at a local restaurant here, says the rush of people to Behsud Park has tremendously increased in last few years and it has helped the business of local restaurants. “We serve kabab, fish and chicken to guests,” he says.

The best part of Behsud Park, says Mr. Khatak, is that it is situated on the river bed and the area adjacent to the river is lush green that makes the area picturesque. “It is a must visit place,” he says.

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