August 15, 2021
India celebrates its 75th Independence Day today. Reams of newspapers, hours of TV broadcasts, hundreds of reels, posts, and tweets are being dedicated to freedom and our right to it as envisaged in our Constitution.
Also today, over 2,000 km away in the land of the famed kabuliwalas, freedom (even though unsettled), for lakhs of people is perhaps just about to be lost. As breaking news comes in of the Taliban capturing its’ final bastion, Kabul in Afghanistan, the lump in our throats and the fear in our hearts that was building up over the past months for the Afghan people has just exploded.
Pictures of international governments evacuating their embassies, flying out last of their staff, and reports of thousands of locals scrambling to get the paperwork to leave their country from the only exit point, the Kabul airport is streaming over news wires.
Afghanistan was hoping to come out of a deeply troubled history of terrorism, militancy, and a civil war… however, the dream of a prosperous future of the peace-loving Afghans, looks all but over. Who can ever forget the horrific images of women, children and men being flogged, hanged and shot-at-will for frivolous reasons in football stadiums before the US invaded Afghanistan? They feel like they are coming back to haunt us again.
We are sitting in the relative comforts of our homes, (The ‘lockdown’ that has ironically displaced many) manifesting to the Universe (Taming the Lions, Break over….almost) about the Coronavirus vanishing (The Face Mask), beach vacations (Logged off, Shut Down… Went Outside, Let’s wander where the WIFI is weak), dream jobs and houses, better salaries, or that fast car (all valid, of course). However, I wonder what the Afghans want from the Universe: The safety of their families or maybe just to see a new dawn?
For a media article that I had written for ‘The Pioneer’ (Published!) in 2018, I had interviewed a group of students from Afghanistan studying at Andhra University in Visakhapatnam. They were from Panjshir, Laghman, Bamiyan, Kabul, Kunduz, Logar, Nuristan, Nangarhar, Ghazni, Kandahar, Maidan Wardak and Takhar. Some of these areas have seen widespread persecution and desecration of their cultural symbols for years.
Mahdi Ebrahimi, a Hazara from Bamiyan, one of the most affected regions recalled how they were forced to flee to Iran for many years before the Taliban was overthrown in Afghanistan. Mahdi said to me: “Unfortunately a lot of the culture is lost, but Bamiyan is still a beautiful valley with many natural lakes that attract tourists.” Abdul Zubair Nasraty, from Panjshir, recounted to me his miraculous escape when a bomb exploded at the janaza (funeral) he was attending. “I am lucky to survive, but some of my relatives died that day,” he shared.
Not one of the 25 students I spoke with that day, not want to return back to their homes after completing their education here. They wanted to go back, so they could ‘rebuild’ their country and restore it to its’ former glorious days.
Maswood Sadawat from Laghman said, “I just want to study in a peaceful space, get an Indian degree because it has a great reputation in Afghanistan, go back and be a software developer.” Hikmatullah Ahmadi from Kandahar said the same: “I want to go back. I want to serve and develop my country.”
Women students Aziza Ahmadi and Nadila Bakhtayar both from Kabul also spoke to me. They said, “Our parents fully supported our decision to come to India. But not all girls are so lucky.” Like many Afghans, Aziza’s family lived in Pakistan for years, before moving back to Kabul. “The situation is still turbulent and my family has now immigrated to Turkey,” she had said. Nadila dreamt of being a businesswoman in Kabul.
I remember feeling as hopeful as they were for their future, but in sharp contrast today, there is a sense of total despair. With the Taliban’s hard-line rules and their history of a total clampdown on women’s education and liberty, what happens to the dreams of thousands of women in Afghanistan?
As I type out this blog, I cannot begin to comprehend what these lovely students and their families are going through right now.
Debates will go on for a long time about what the US achieved by this 20-year war. As we read about the latest developments, most of us feel what this soldier who served in Afghanistan then, but is no longer with the US Army, told Clarissa Ward, CNN International correspondent: “I don’t feel so much angry, as much as I feel what a waste, what an unbelievable waste.”
– Tamanna S. Mehdi