By Asma Nemati
After returning over a decade later, Kabul is still a bustling city full of life. The background picture, however, is quite different. Walking around the city or catching a ride on the many types of transportation, it is difficult to ignore the weary faces of people, the weary edifices of buildings that have survived through several wars, and people”s lazy attitude of despair.
Of course, the picture is not too gloomy but when talking to people and listening to their amazing stories, a clear picture appears: Afghans are tired of war. Throughout its history, Afghanistan has been a graveyard of empires, ethnicities, cultures and languages”the famous historian Arnold Toynbee even went on to describe Afghanistan as a roundabout of the ancient world.?
In the beginning of the 20th century Afghanistan was caught between the British and the Russian empire in what is historically termed the great game.? Fast forward to the mid 20th century and Afghanistan is getting a political face life, sometimes voluntarily and other times by force, trying democracy, autocracy, and communism.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Afghanistan became a land grab for various tribes and ethnicities. The Taliban, whose popularity sprung from and within the southern Afghanistan province of Kandahar, had over 90% of Afghanistan under control by the end of 2000, along with almost completely eradicating Afghanistan”s notorious opium cultivation. Afghans have been caught, over and over again, in this bloody power grab of political systems, ethnicities, languages and culture.
Time and over again, Afghans had to move from their lands to simply survive, let alone live a decent life.
A perfect example is Istalif. Two weeks ago a friend and I went to Istalif, a beautiful picnic area popular among the expat and local community here, and before reaching the city center we stopped to speak to the locals.
We found a couple of men working for the Istalif Hydropower Company and after
being offered tea (customary amongst guests here,) we started conversing about Istalif”s history.
Unfortunately Istalif”s location is both scenic and strategic. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, resistance fighters used it as a base from which to launch attacks on the Soviet bases in the valley below. More tragically, it later became a site of major fighting between the Taliban and Northern Alliance Forces, as the Taliban advanced north out of Kabul. For months, the front line moved back and forth across the area, destroying crops and homes.
That was then. In comes the US invasion and the Taliban are temporarily ousted to be replaced by a conglomerate force of over 30 countries, each dividing up Afghanistan under its wing of PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Team.) For the next two years things were looking good in almost all aspects; security was better than before, people could move freely and go to school (especially women), development was taking place in terms of building roads and schools, and the Afghan government was being revamped and shaped into a democratic? entity.
Slowly, however, things began to deteriorate immensely. Today, you find more refugees pouring into small pockets of Kabul than ever before; in fact, there was a recent New York Times article that traced this increase to those people fleeing other provinces due to the friendly fires? that their family and friends died of. This is what war does.
Moreover, it was only a couple of weeks ago when the Red Cross announced that 250 civilians had been killed by coalition forces in the span of six days; these are innocent civilians”many of them were going to a wedding, in groups of women and children and then men and children, in the province of Jalalabad.
Security, ironically, has also deteriorated. Only two weeks had passed after my arrival in Kabul when the Indian Embassy was attacked by a suicide bomber. Over 50 innocent Afghan civilians died, most of them were waiting in line to get visas. I was able to talk to eye witnesses and there was nothing but despair and shock across their faces, their bulging red eyes full of hot tears. Almost every one of the witnesses repeatedly said they were sick and tired of living in war for all their lives; I could only imagine how that felt.
Prices also have skyrocketed in Afghanistan since the beginning of the US invasion. Flour prices reached $50 for a 40 pound sack; this dollar amount is sometimes the only salary a family with numerous children gets.
War has wreaked havoc in this country. The degree of despair painted across all sectors of Afghanistan can be quite depressing and one often ends up feeling helpless; who do you help first? The concept of war and insecurity is simply that”a concept”in our minds, and nothing more. Coming to Afghanistan has made me realize the millions of things I have taken for granted while living in the states, including security and peaceful conditions.
Being immersed into a society which has been in a state of war for over 30 years has opened up many venues in terms of actually understanding the concept of war, living in it, and surviving in this chaotic state with the rest of Afghans. Moreover, the concept of death for me has become more real, especially after the horrendous suicide attack on the Indian embassy here in Kabul, which killed over 50 people.
I headed to the attack scene that same day and I just couldn”t believe my eyes. Seeing the scene near the bombing simply flabbergasted me beyond belief”at some point I even wanted to laugh because my mind just couldn”t come to grasp with what had happened.
Eye witnesses recounted what they saw immediately following the suicide attack, and the image that”s stuck in my head is that of hands, arms, feet and other limbs strewn across the street in pools of crimson blood; this is a consequence of war. As I walked around with my colleague to take pictures of the scene, we stepped on shattered glass, small and large patches of polka-dotted blood, and pieces of burnt car parts.
It was also very difficult to ignore the exhausted and jaded faces of the shop owners. This is what a state of war does to people. This is what life is like in hell, I imagined.
War”s innate nature is animalistic and chaotic”it is the most extreme form of survival and it can, and does, create a destructive environment for those trapped in it.
In fact, even in terms of Islamic Sacred Law, decisions pertaining to law cannot be made by those in a state of war, because of the viciousness of the nature of war. Compare that to today and you have Osamas who not only create fatwas right and left, but declare themselves supreme leaders in a state of borderless wars, all in the name of Islam.
Taking a look at the civilian death toll of war, a perfect example comes to mind. About three weeks ago, a Red Cross study concluded that 250 innocent Afghan civilians had died in the span of six days. Most of these civilians were bombed as they were heading to a wedding with their children and families. This example excludes battlefields; who knows how many more innocent civilians have been caught up in the ebb of war without their deaths being reported?
My experience in Afghanistan thus far has definitely given me a lot to think about. War is not the answer to our [perceived] problems, yet so many a leaders will advocate for war as if it”s a game to be played. It”s not news that civilians are the ones directly impacted by war”so many people have been displaced by war, lost loved ones, and lost absolute hope in life due to the depth of despair present in their pitiful lives.
For Afghans, this has continued for over two generations and its consequences has lead many to be illiterate, scouring daily for food and water, and barely surviving the harsh conditions forced upon them. And, unfortunately, Operation Enduring Freedom hasn”t changed things much. Maybe stories such as Azizullah”s or the people of Istalif, or anyone else that has been through war, can give us a glimpse of the reality of war, through which we can learn to communicate and solve our problems without the use of war. But, it all starts with us taking that first step to say no, war is not the answer?”events around the world surely do confirm this notion.