Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant is not the kind of movie you’d expect from a director of black comedy, but instead, a deeper look into humans and their psyche against the backdrop of a war-torn country. Sergeant John Kinley, the leader of a military outfit stationed in Afghanistan in 2018. Ahmed Abdullah (Dar Salim) is employed by Kinley as the official interpreter for the military team, but when things turn hairy, Kinley and Ahmed end up forming a bond that goes far beyond any monetary agreements. Today we look at Ahmed Abdullah and how his humanity drove him to such immense lengths to save a fellow human being.
We all know Afghanistan is rated the most unsafe country in the world after the US Army pulled out of the nation in 2021, but what about the 20 years when the US military was a common sight in the streets of Kabul? The Taliban has seized complete control of the nation at the moment, but even for those two decades when the US military tried to maintain peace, shootings and bomb blasts by the Taliban weren’t a rare occurrence. One of the most prominent targets for the Talibs, besides the US army, was the hundreds of Afghan interpreters the army used as local guides to help navigate a foreign country. Ahmed Abdullah was one such interpreter, chosen by Sergeant John Kinley to act as an interpreter for his team, and Ahmed opted for the role quickly because he needed money, or that’s what he told the Sergeant.
Kinley quickly learned, however, that Ahmed did a lot more than just interpret; he defied his superior’s authority and threw an extra wad of cash at a captured Afghan with Talib contacts to extract information, even after being threatened to have his bloodline wiped out. The interpreter had a deep-set motive in his mind to learn about the Talibs, the reason being that his son had been murdered by the extremists. With his pregnant wife alone at home, Ahmed knew he had to do anything he could to get her out of the accursed land with the visas that the US promised. A man can turn violent when he’s forced into desperation and his family comes under fire, and Ahmed is the biggest proof of this in Guy Ritchie’s film. Kinley had been previously warned that Ahmed was headstrong, not a team player, and a bane in general, and he got a first-hand taste of the same when Ahmed began speaking out of turn, blaming Kinley’s underling Haadee for intentionally misleading the team. As if that weren’t enough, he started thrashing the alleged liar, pummeling him to the ground. Although Ahmed’s intuition turned out to be correct and Haadee had been acting on Talib’s orders, it was certain that Ahmed was not the ordinary interpreter who spoke Dari and cowered in fear when bullets started flying.
Ahmed, on the other hand, grabbed an AK-47 and opened fire on the oncoming Taliban when Kinley’s team got pinned down during an ambush. After dodging the pursuing terrorists for a whole day, when the duo of Kinley and Ahmed wake up in the abandoned house they were hiding in, things turn bad quickly. Kinley is shot twice in hand and leg and hit on the head with a rifle butt before being dragged to a car to be tortured by the Taliban. All the while watching, the audience might wonder if Ahmed took off on Kinley to save his own hide, and just as you’re about to start hurling the ‘coward’ slur, the interpreter comes in, guns blazing. He shoots down all three gunmen and takes his sweet time shooting the driver in the head, repeating the same with the others quivering on the ground. Ahmed’s mission begins now: taking the semi-conscious Kinley back to the US base, 120 km away. He dumps the US military gear for an Afghan outfit, builds a makeshift stretcher, and begins dragging Kinley across the rocky terrain. The freezing night in the Afghan desert sends chills to the bones of Kinley, and Ahmed hugs the Sergeant he barely knows to give him body warmth and scavenges fruits and roots to feed the man who keeps drifting in and out of consciousness.
Ahmed has no more need to help Kinley logically; if he abandons Kinley there, it’ll be a lot easier and safer for him to just start running back to his home. No US army will look for Kinley here, and he’ll certainly die on his own, so Ahmed can’t be indicted in any way. The only thing that stops him from choosing to save his own hide, though, is his humanity. Ahmed uses the money he’s received from the army to buy a truck and drives until he’s stopped by a few Talibs who need a lift. Realizing the truck is risky, he exchanges it for a cart from a few Pashtun tribesmen, who loathe the Talibs as well. Now take a second and imagine what has become of the good people of Afghanistan having to live in fear of a terrorist-ruled nation, where one’s life is as expendable as the meat the Pashtuns had hunted for dinner that night.
It’s an uphill battle for Ahmed in the literal sense: he has to push the body of a full-grown man on a stretcher through the rocky hills while avoiding detection from the constant Taliban scrutiny. His frustration, sadness, and anger come out as a massive scream, and he slumps down on the side of the hill but realizes they can’t rest. When Ahmed finally pushes the cart to a shop and buys a bottle of water, he gives the first sip to the semi-conscious Kinley before finishing the rest in one large gulp. Trouble follows yet again as a Talib patrol arrives and finds Kinley in the cart, but Ahmed is faster than the militia: he blows two of their brains out and strangles the third with such intensity that his hatred against the militants can be seen burning in his eyes. Soon afterward, the US military arrives on the scene, and Kinley is taken back to the US to be nursed back to health while Ahmed has to go into hiding.
When Kinley returns to Afghanistan to pay his debts, he learns from Ahmed’s brother that Kinley’s beautiful blue eyes are the same as those Ahmed’s son had, the one that Talib killed. It makes sense why Ahmed went through hell to save this man, but it’s more than just the color of Kinley’s eyes: Ahmed is a good man who has been forced into a situation where he needs to cut the throats of Talibs to escape with his family. Kinley does pay his debt in the end, helping Ahmed and his family get US visas after battling against several Talibs, but the bond the two men created by saving each other goes beyond paying dues. It’s proof that good people exist in the midst of evil, and no good deed goes unreciprocated.