Malalai Ishaqzai was anxious to tell her story.
"The Taliban kidnapped my 21-year-old son Mustafa," she said. "They demanded a ransom of $200,000 or else they said they would kill him," she told NBC News. "Then they ordered me to give up my job."
Ishaqzai, 36, is the mother of seven and, as a member of the Afghan parliament, one of the few female politicians in this male-dominated society. She is a prominent figure and well-known in the Afghan capital.
|Iqbal Sapand / NBC News|
|Mustafa, after having survived being kidnapped by the Taliban, safely back at home with his mother, Malalai Ishaqzai, in Kabul.|
News of the kidnapping recently surfaced and had become a hot conversation topic in Kabul.
NBC News went to visit Ishaqzai at her home in an upscale Kabul neighborhood. The family lives well, at least by Afghan standards. An antique red Bokhara carpet covered the entire length of the living room in their fourth-floor apartment. It was bitter cold outside, but it had finally stopped snowing, and it was warm inside thanks to a gas heater.
A houseboy brought tea and Ishaqzai began to tell her story.
"One evening, my son, Mustafa, and his friend, Nek, decided to drive from our home in Kandahar back to Kabul – about a seven-hour drive," Ishaqzai said in a quiet voice as she recalled the story.
"Near the Liwanai Bazaar in Ghazni province, about half way to Kabul – at exactly the same place where the 23 South Korean missionaries were abducted last year – six men brandishing Kalashnikovs stopped their car, checked the license plates and asked which one was Mustafa. Then they wanted to know where I was," she said.
Mustafa had come into the room by now to join us and interrupted his mother. He was clean-shaven and dressed in Western clothes; he seemed to be still in shock.
"Some men, with their faces covered, were standing on the road and aimed a gun at my car," he said. "I had to stop."
"They checked my license plate numbers against a piece of paper which one of them was carrying. I heard one of them say, 'The numbers match,'" Mustafa said. "They were looking specifically for me."
"'I am Mustafa,' I said. And then I asked them, 'Who are you?'"
At this point Mustafa looked over at his mother, who began to cry.
"They slapped me twice on my face and said, 'We are Taliban. Where is Malalai?'" he said, referring to his mother.
Kidnapping for ransom has become a big propaganda business for the Taliban and a seemingly sure road to easy money. The money raised from ransoms paid goes toward purchasing weapons and funding the insurgency.
Shortly after 23 South Koreans were kidnapped by Taliban militants as they traveled by bus from Kabul to Kandahar on July 19, the South Korean government entered into direct talks with the Taliban.
More than six weeks after the kidnapping, a deal was reached in which the South Korean government reaffirmed a promise to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of the 2007. Seoul also said it would prevent South Korean Christian missionaries from working in the staunchly Islamic country, something it had already promised to do.
Some reports said that a ransom of $10 million was paid for the release of the group, but the South Korean government denies the charge and said no money changed hands to secure the hostages release.
The deal reached between the Taliban and the South Koreans was a big win for the Taliban. It gave the militant group the recognition and power it craves and increased their political legitimacy by showing they could negotiate successfully with a foreign government.
South Korea is not the only country accused of paying for the release of hostages. Germany, France and Italy have all reportedly paid huge sums to the Taliban to secure the release of prisoners.
Ishaqzai was well aware that the Taliban show no restraint, and typically behead their captives when their demands are not met.
"I kept calling his phone," she said. "Finally someone picked up and told me my son had an accident and couldn't speak."
By now, Ishaqzai knew that something terrible had happened. She left Kabul and went back home to Kandahar, her ancestral home, in the southeast of the country. The city is also the home and the spiritual base of the Taliban. She begged local officials in Kandahar to intervene. But no one was able, or willing, to help her.
"Five days went by and finally I got a call from my son's phone," she said.
"'I am Mullah Abdullah Jan Mansoor,'" Ishaqzai said the caller introduced himself. "'I am the man who has kidnapped your son. If you want him and his friend back alive, you have to do as I tell you.'"
Ishaqzai knew she was speaking to the same person who had kidnapped the South Korean missionaries.
The Taliban demanded that all their people be freed from the government jails or else her son and his friend would die. Ishaqzai took the demands to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but he refused to intervene. Karzai has come under intense criticism in the West for negotiating with the Taliban and bowing to their demands.
She then went to her tribal elders in Kandahar who contacted the Taliban and worked out a deal for the release of the boys.
"My tribal elders convinced them I could not pay such a huge amount and that it was very important for our tribe that I represent them in parliament," Ishaqzai said. "In the end, my brother paid $100,000, but only my son was released."
Mustafa's friend Nek was beheaded before his eyes.
"They made me watch them do it," Mustafa said, "I saw his blood and then I fainted. I miss my friend; it is all my fault that he is dead."