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The Killid Group

Three decades of work in freezing Salang

Written by Mohammad Reza Gulkohi
Sunday, 13 February 2011 08:50

Three decades of work in freezing Salang "When I was burning in flames and could see my death, I was thinking more about the future of my children than my own survival".

Mohammad Zahir, 66, worked as a truck driver in the Salang Labour Unit for 31 years. Salang is the well-known pass through the Hindu Kush Mountains which connects the north of Afghanistan to its south. The Salang Tunnel was built by the former Soviet Union in 1964. It is 2.6 kilometers long with a width and height of 7 meters and is located at an altitude of about 3,400 meters. The Salang Pass has proved to be a deadly route as dozens of passengers lost their lives in avalanches in 2010.
"My job was to clear the highway from heavy snow and ensure safe traffic in the tunnel," Zahir told Killid in an exclusive interview about his extraordinary job.  He has too many memories from his over three decades of work and has a calm and clean conscience in the retirement. 
He remembers too many faces - men, women and children - and proudly recalls individual incidents in which he managed to save lives.
He told us the story of an army general who had set forth on a risky trip to Kabul in a cold day in 1980s. "The general was in a Jeep with his wife and they wanted to cross the tunnel to Kabul. We warned them not to go because we feared they could be trapped in the avalanches, but the general would not listen." As the general recklessly continued his risky trip, Zahir's supervisor instructed him to be vigilant and monitor the situation closely.
"About one hour later we were informed via the radio that the general had been stuck in an avalanche," the experienced road-clearer said adding that he and his colleagues quickly started a search operation.
After several hours of onerous trekking, Zahir saw a black item in the middle of a snow hill. "It was a radio antenna from the general's car which helped us locate the fainted bodies of the general and his wife." Zahir's rescue team brought the two into the warmth of their office where they were resuscitated and provided with warm food and drinks. "The general was so happy that we saved their lives as he started kissing my hands."
The driver, Zahir, also told us stories about the professional integrity of his co-workers and colleagues.
"Once upon a time about 30 passengers lost their lives in the tunnel due to a lack of oxygen," he said, "when we approached their buses we found a baby boy alive." The scene of a baby lying alive alongside his dead mother deeply affected the entire rescue team and many started weeping.
Zahir did not say what happened to the baby later as he jumped on to another story. "Once there were pilgrims from Balkh Province who wanted to go to Kabul and from there take flights to Mecca. However, they were caught by the cold and snow in the Salang Pass and many of them died."
The great rescuer also faced tormenting moments in his life when he had to fight death.  Zahir was caught in a complex fire incident as a result of which 80 percent of his body was burnt. "Winters are extremely cold in Salang and we usually used fuel and coal to warm up our work rooms. One of my younger and inexperienced co-workers had brought the petrol gallon inside the room which combusted and caused a big fire. In a few seconds, I found my entire body covered in flames."
Colleagues evacuated Zahir to Kabul where his life was saved but scars of the painful incidents are still all over his body. He said the only people he was thinking about while the flames were rambling through his body were his children. Zahir has two sons and four daughters. His elder son migrated to Europe and the younger is a construction engineer in Kabul. He retired from his job a few years ago and now lives in Dasht-e-Barchi in Kabul.
When we asked him about the achievements of his long career, he started lauding his senior managers and supervisors. "I fulfilled my duties owing to the help and support of my managers."
Zahir might have earned little financial wealth from his 31 years of hard work and dedications as a public servant. However, he is happy and content that he was able to serve his country and to save so many lives. "When I look back to my life, I feel satisfied with all what I did. I was a public servant and I did my jobs honestly and to the best of abilities."

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