Afghan psychiatrist Nader Alemi at his clinic in Mazar-e-Sharif
The Taliban's psychiatrist
In the late 1990s the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, but the fighting that brought them to power left many militants struggling with the psychological effects of war. One doctor recognised the problem and, although he disagreed with the Taliban's ideology, agreed to treat them.
"I remember the first group of Taliban who came to see me," says Afghan psychiatrist Nader Alemi. "They used to come in groups, not as individuals. When I treated one, he would spread the word. "Fighters would turn up with my name on a piece of paper. They would say that I'd cured their friend, and now they wanted to be cured too. Most of them had never been to a doctor before."
A familiar figure in Afghanistan, Alemi is based in Mazar-e-Sharif in the north of the country. Taliban forces captured the city in August 1998 and won control of much of the surrounding area. But while they were succeeding on the battlefield, Alemi saw the mental strain of years of fighting. He was the only psychiatrist in northern Afghanistan to speak Pashto, the language of most Taliban. "Language was very important - because I spoke their language, they felt comfortable opening up," he says.
One day the Taliban's provincial governor Akthar Osmani summoned Alemi to see him - Mullah Akhtar was second in command to Mullah Omar, the group's spiritual leader.
"He was hearing voices and he was delusional - his bodyguards told me they could hear him raving during the night," says Alemi. Mullah Akhtar's staff also said their boss often didn't recognize them.
"This man had been on the front line for goodness knows how long, and seen goodness knows how many people killed in front of him. All those explosions and screams may still have been echoing in his head, even sitting in the comfort of his office."
Alemi wanted to see Mullah Akhtar regularly to provide long-term treatment, but his patient would go off on missions every three months, and only kept a few appointments. Much later, in 2006, Mullah Akhtar was killed in an airstrike.
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