Donna’s Reports

Hi Folks,

Below are my daily reports from my visit to Kabul in March 2011 as part of a delegation hosted by  the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.

If you want to read the reports chronologically you will need to read from the bottom up!

I will add some geneal summaries and reflections soon,

peace and thanks to all

Donna

Day 14 – Sunday March 27

Our last day in Kabul presented a wonderful opportunity for more listening; this time to Dr Ramazan Barshardost, Member of Parliament, former Planning Minister and independent candidate for President in the 2009 elections. http://ramazanbashardost.com/spip.php?rubrique2

I had heard much about him and his excellent public service and anti-corruption work. He resigned as Planning Minister in protest at rampant corruption he saw around him by governments and NGO’s.

He now moves around Kabul, listening to the people, some people think he is crazy to do this without armed guards. Other MPs would not travel without armed security, but he pitches a tent on a vacant block, sets up some chairs, and people come to see him. This is where we found him today.

Meeting with Dr Barshardost at his tent

Before we start our meeting, two teenage girls – high school students – approach Dr Barshadorst complaining about corruption in their school with reports about bribing of exam results. Then a father with three kids tells his story of having no job and no money – which leads directly into Barshadorst’s pet topic and the focus of his political work: the corruption of the powers in Afghanistan.

“The people are hungry,” he told us when he finished speaking with the man. “But the warlords live in palaces and there are criminals in power.”

“The US embassy recently invited me for a dinner,” he said. “And one of the other guests was a famous soviet warlord who killed hundreds of people. I asked the embassy – is there a place for him in your embassy? He’s a killer. And you talk of human rights. I refused to go to the dinner.

Dr Barshardost then summarised the problem as he sees it: “Your taxpayers work hard, your money arrives in Afghanistan, and the warlords take it to waste on luxury and wealth. I saw this with my eyes. One report said there is $18 billion lost in Afghanistan. Where did it go?

“It’s been 9 years and 40 billion dollars that’s enough money to build five Afghanistans. But Karzai didn’t build one Kabul! Where is the change – why do your soldiers give their blood to keep the same chiefs in power?

“The situation for ordinary Afghans is not better, but has become worse.”

He then provides some context to some of the current violence: “In Afghanistan we have a tradition that if you kill someone no one forgets this. Now we have political leaders who have killed thousands, and no one has forgotten that.

“The people in the market say ‘we are not enemies with the foreign soldiers, but we need to revenge some Afghan leaders because of their past murders and offences against us.’ The foreign troops are guarding the warlords and murderers so people kill the foreign troops to get to the politicians.

“The Governor of a Province might rape a girl in the night and then British and US soldiers protect his house the next day. You give your taxpayer’s dollars and your soldiers’ lives, yet you lose.

“One man said: this man tortured me and now I see he’s a minister, or a governor and I don’t understand: he tortured me.

“If you want to bring peace and build a democratic political system – we must finish with the chiefs and warlords.

“If we find a way like South Africa did, like Mandela…..” His voice trails off with a kind of resignation and then he moves to the issue of the all pervasive corruption.

“In an Afghan court, a judge will openly ask you for money, or in any department whatever you need, they will ask you for money,” he explains.

“The Afghan warlord arranges a luxury wedding with his fourth wife with your money. He has so much. Who pays? You do. It’s a disaster. This war is a great benefit to the politicians; they would like to see it continue.

“If a US soldier gives his life, it’s just a statistic for them, they don’t think about his life for one second. It’s a disaster for soldiers on all sides. It’s not in the interests of your people. “The warlords say they support US troops, but in truth they support their own interests.

“It’s not a war for liberation or human rights or democracy. I think it’s a war for the interests of politicians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, US, Australia, Germany etc It’s a war for them.

“It’s more a business than a war. There are Pakistan government interests and Iran’s interests and India and China.

“Why are you not asking questions, your journalists?

One of the group asked Dr Barshadost a question: What information / vision needs to be given to the people of Afghanistan to change the situation?

“The people of Afghanistan are very tired and have no trust of Afghan politicians and have no political culture,” he replied.

“It’s not possible for thousands of people to protest against Karzai and his corruption. It’s very difficult.

“One way is to work with the people in power in western countries. Western politicians can call for the money to stop; then work with the Afghan people to open cases for the criminals of war.

“Human rights campaigners and lawyers in Europe and US and Australia can speak out; raise the issues at your universities, makes protests.

“Some say they support this war because it is anti-Taliban and they support the rights of women. Well in this war the Taliban has become stronger every day, not weaker. So your money isn’t going to defeat the Taliban. Every day you are losing, you lose more money and soldiers every day.

“If international community had refused to accept fraud in the elections, then MPs would have been challenged to be clean. We need a transparent election.”

So what could be a way forward, we asked: He made a general list, thinking out loud about issues he has mentioned in the past: a gradual foreign withdrawal, a UN transitional government, UN peacekeepers, bring warlords and corrupt people to court and reparations in the long run.

“The UN security Council should organise a court for warlords, for everyone who killed an innocent person,” he said.

“When you say you are for ‘peace’ here, people think you want the return of the Taliban.

“The people want Justice for everyone. Food for everyone.

“I want to meet with the people to understand their problems and what we can do and the best political system for them.

After hearing all these challenges Afghans are facing, I had a question for Dr Barhshadorst: Where do you get Hope? What get’s you up in the morning?

“I believe one day this situation will change,” he said. “I believe in values. You are here today to see and hear. The sun is shining. If we have resolve we have a duty, a vision. If we see results in our life it is good, if not then it’s okay.

“I believe in humanity. Afghan people are your people and American people are my people. There are no distinctions between groups, only humans.

“I hope that in 30 years people will believe in another culture other than a war culture.

“We need to say there is another way.”

After our long (more than 2 hour) discussion with Dr Barshardost, I resolved to raise awareness back in my country about him and his anti-corruption campaign and his vision for justice and peace.

We went back to the Guest House and packed to leave Kabul. Our heads and hearts so full; full of information, of stories, of challenges, of grief and, thanks to Dr Barshadost and the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a little bit of hope.

Dr Barshardost and Donna

Day 13 – Saturday March 26

Today, more listening, this time to two young professionals, one Najib a Hazara from Bamiyan, the other Shafiq a Pashtun, both working in the media field in Kabul. Despite their ethnic differences, which may divide them, they are good friends and had some valuable insights for us.

Najib and Shafiq holding hands as they talk

Before they arrived Hakim told us a story that illustrates the heavy toll that post-traumatic stress disorder is having on the people. Official figures say that 60% of Afghans are suffering psychological problems, but Hakim’s opinion is that it is more than 90%.

 He told the story of an Afghan grandmother in Bamiyan who lapses into periods of depression. During the Soviet invasion her sons fled to Iran and became drug users. The Mujahadeen would come and tie her hands and feet and beat her and accuse her of being a communist even though she didn’t know what it meant.

 Hakim asked her to make a wish for the new year. She though for a long time. “Do you really want to know what I want?” she asked. Then she said she wanted death and started to cry.

As Hakim tried to comfort her he asked her to think of one positive thing that she wants. She replied simply: oranges.

The next day, Hamad, one of the peace volunteers bought her a kilo of oranges. She died that year.

I will share Najib and Shafiq thoughts as they shared them with us, without commentary. Najib is a young man from Bamiyan who has been part of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in the past. He was recently the MC at the recent New Year celebrations in Bamiyan and he proposed to the government officials in front of a 10,000-strong crowd that this be the year of Love.

Shafiq is a journalist, who is described a ‘broad-minded’ in the way that he is looking for a way out for the people of Afghanistan.

Najib says peace is a culture and this culture has been lost from Afghanistan and even the Afghan family unit – if this culture was not lost the Taliban could not make houses of the people into places of war.

 “The people of Afghanistan want peace but cannot find a way,” he said. “They’ve lost the way and so there are international forces here and the people are victims of US/NATO as well as being victims of the Taliban – it’s the people who are suffering.

“The people of Afghanistan and many internationals have realised war is not a solution to problems.

“Peace will not come to Afghanistan in the short-term – but in the long-term we need a change in mind-set of the people – this takes a long time because it’s necessary to start with the family units and local communities.

“The voice of humanity has died here.”

“It’s impossible to struggle for peace in Afghanistan without sacrifice. People should be prepared to sacrifice themselves. (This was the same advice former female MP Malalai Joya gave the AYPV’s. She has received many death threats and lives in hiding when in Afghanistan).

Najib said to get a greater understanding of what is happening, Afghan journalists and others need to move out of Kabul into the areas that are experiencing the conflict, eg Kunnar and Kandahar provinces.

Shafiq agrees and says US forces are killing civilians and the more civilians killed the more people are joining the Taliban. The intention is to take revenge for the civilian deaths which adds numbers to the insurgency.

Shafiq works for Afghan radio and TV so he is not always free to express his views, but he hopes for more opportunities in the future to express his views.

He says if the NATO forces were not here the warlords who have weapons will start fighting again. The warlords have been fighting for 30 years. What is the solution to control them? He asks. Then he answers with a smile: “round them up and detain them in a third country and allow people to reconcile amongst themselves!”

“It’s possible that the people could reconcile but it will take a long time to educate them to the point where they are prepared to demand that the warlords put down their guns. The warlords have the backing of various overseas groups and are supported by the parliament; who are supported by the foreign forces.

Najib, Shafiq and Hakim agreed that if there was a survey done in Kabul that 90% of people would say they do not support the Taliban and this 90% is likely to rise up against them if they attempt to gain power. So it is unlikely that the Taliban will return to power because the people will not allow it, yet this is the narrative of the US/NATO forces. Resilient Afghanis will not allow the Taliban to return, the narrative that the Taliban will return is not realistic.

If NATO forces leave Najib is worried this will allow interference from groups in Pakistan and Iran to create more trouble here.

There was discussion of regional parliaments based on regions and representing the ethnic groups there and a federal parliament in Kabul. But the media here is government controlled so there is no space given for discussion of different options and no coverage of nonviolent options. They say there needs to be a clear voice, and Hakim suggests that maverick MP Dr Barshadost might be able to do it.

Hakim says after years of war and years of lies, the people do not believe anyone. If someone said they had a message of peace, people would say:” you are lying” so we need actions not just words. There is total mistrust, even in families.

People need to see the action.

The three discussed the issue that international peace movements have an anti-war message, and they call on their governments to bring the troops home, but Afghans also need to hear that they are also against the Taliban and the warlords, and condemn all violence. Peace groups who say ‘withdraw’ but don’t provide suggestions on what could then happen are considered heartless and it looks like they don’t understand.

The people are not just tired of US/NATO – they are tired of everyone. The people are cornered from all sides.

Hakim explains that Dr Barshadorst MP, has some ideas on a way forward, it is not perfect, but it’s something. He refuses to stand in parliament when the national anthem is played – he says it is a farce because there is no national unity.

The three says an interesting test will be the six provinces and towns soon to be handed over to local Afghan security. If this works it will give confidence that NATO can withdraw gradually, but if not then withdrawal will be set back. It was noted that the provinces that Karzai announced are relatively secure already, for example in Bamiyan it’s peaceful because troops have not been there. If foreign troops come to Bamiyan, then there will be trouble, because the Taliban will follow them.

The discussion with Najib and Shafiq may have seemed bleak, but one positive note is that one is a Pashtun and the other a Hazara, and it was obvious they had a deep friendship, respect and affection for one another as they held hands many times during the discussion. So such friendship between tribes is definitely possible.

Najib and Shafiq - friendship across the ethnic divide!

Hope House: We returned to Hope house this afternoon to introduce other’s on the delegation to this great local project. Sadiq, the manager told us that he was feeling sad today because of the sight of about 20 children at the front gate this morning seeking help. He said every day there are five or six coming to the door.

“You can see the pain in the eyes of the people as they say they are only just surviving to find food,” he said. “After nine years, after all the aid spending, it’s all getting worse. Everything is heart-breaking.”

“Why are we not getting better? Someone has to answer this. The military say they are here to support the people, but we don’t see that.

“We see they are here to support Mr Karzai. But Mr Karzai never comes to the street to see what the people need. If you’re working for the people of Afghanistan, why are you so scared? The wishes of the people are not big: bread and medicine.”

We suggested the hard-working Sadiq meet anti-corruption MP Dr Barshadost and perhaps they could work together to fight corruption and help the ordinary person on the street.

Also: around town I’ve noticed some ‘peace’ graffitti here and  there, here’s a sample:

Peace Graffitti in Kabul

Peace Dove

Day 12 – Friday March 25

Another Friday holiday, and so we aimed for a quiet day. I’ve not been feeling too well the last days and today I’m quiet unwell, with a fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. (I guess I must have eaten something dodgy). I wanted to use the day to catch up on blogging and writing, but I’m afraid all I could do is lie down, rest and groan. We did head out in the evening for Martin to get something to eat, and we passed some of the antique stores that have amazing woodwork doors. Here’s couple:

a very fancy wooden door

beautiful craftsmanship

Day 11, Thursday March 24

Hope House: Last night we were told that ‘active people with vision’ are needed in Afghanistan. Well that’s exactly the type of people we met today at Hope House, an orphanage and centre for helping widows and poor families, run by Australian NGO Mahboba’s Promise, see http://www.mahbobaspromise.org/

The work began with Mahboba Rawi an Afghan woman living in Australia, who has committed her life to helping the widows and children of Afghanistan. Supported by grass-roots fundraising activity in Australia and small grants, it manages dozens of excellent projects led by ordinary Afghans with big hearts.

Hope House entrance

“We have many problems here,” Sadiq, the manager told us when we visited Hope House in Kabul’s outer suburbs today. “But we are here to solve the problems.”

This ‘can-do’ attitude permeates the whole organisation which runs three orphanages, a community centre, outreach program providing groceries for widows, handicrafts program, permaculture, health and education programs and many more projects that aim to keep families together. “We aim to keep the children with the mother, even though she has no income,” Sadiq explained. “So we rent houses and provide food, shelter and education for the widow and children.”

As we chatted with Sadiq over tea, the topic inevitably moved to the political and security situation in Afghanistan, as it often does. In Sadiq’s opinion the situation in Afghanistan is getting worse. “When we arrived in 2003 the plan was to do this work for five years,” he said. “Then we expected the projects would not be needed because things would improve. Extended families were once able to look after widows, but now it’s so hard for everyone to survive. Now we are planning the work to continue for 20 years.”

Sadiq said the people are disillusioned by promises from the international community. “The foreign forces promised to end the terror and bring security,” he said. “And once there is security the economy will pick up. But the international community did not fulfil their promises despite its massive aid program. It’s going to the wrong people or going back to foreign countries through the high wages of foreign staff, and the wrong people are in charge like Karzai and the warlords in the Parliament.”

The essential problem, Sadiq said is that: “Good people have no power.”

“And the bad people, the warlords, no one can move them,” he said. “The criminals are going up, and the ordinary people are going down, the poor are poorer and the rich, richer. There is nothing left for civil society. The billions of dollars of aid – where is it? The promises have not been fulfilled.”

Sadiq said the people are looking to the western forces for security, “but they cannot deliver.” “Now we have Generals from all different countries who don’t know what to do,” he said. “If they keep going on like this they had better leave. “More Australian troops are just going to get killed. Why do young people come here and die for nothing? In Oruzgan Province, the Taliban goes there only because the Australian troops are there, otherwise they would not be there!

 “A lot of things are so messy; people are asking lots of questions. Why can’t such a mighty force provide security? At least the Russians kept the mujahedeen in the mountains, but they can’t even do that. We ask many questions.”

Sadiq said people are just looking to find food, “their only wish is to find a job and find food for the children.”

He said international NGO’s are increasingly coming under suspicion as people become cynical about the high levels of corruption. “The people are confused. Why after nine years are things getting worse? The ordinary people have no power.”

Good questions, these are the questions from the people on the street, Sadiq says. A lot to think about.

After our discussion we went for a tour around Hope House and met some of the staff. The women showed us their handicrafts and sewing room, we saw a dental clinic and a large room where the children do Tae Kwon Do – and we learnt there are a few Tae Kwon Do champions amongst the children! Then we met the children and saw where they lived, a large, airy, two-story building with several rooms with bunk beds, TV room and bathrooms. The boys are downstairs and the girls are upstairs. The girls dragged me upstairs and proudly showed off their bright, well-kept rooms.

Martin & myself with some of the kids

There were plenty of wide smiles that belied the stories behind why these children are here. Some have no family at all, others have uncles and aunts, and some have a mother but one who is not able to keep them at home. Life has been hard for these children, but here at Hope House they receive good care, education and the chance to go on to further study, job training and to find employment. This had been the story for many children who have passed through the orphanage and went on to study and find good jobs and get married. This place is a family for these children, a caring, reliable family.

Mahboba’s Promise relies on grass-roots donations to continue this wonderful work. But with all the competing needs coming from the natural disasters this year, Mahboba has told me that fundraising has been difficult. She is worried about the sustainability of the projects. Perhaps you could help? http://www.mahbobaspromise.org/

a girls room

the playground

 

some of the girls

some of the boys

Tonight we visited the German Brothers, a Lutheran religious order that have lived and worked in Afghanistan for about 60 years. Each week the three brothers open their home to visitors (mostly German) for a meal and fellowship, and Martin was a regular attender during his various stints working in Kabul.

It was quite a large crowd tonight and Martin enjoyed catching up with some old faces and meeting new ones. These were German people working with international NGO’s in Kabul. I noticed a certain phrase that some of them were using: “after the war…” this happened or “after the war…” that happened. I found this curious and wondered what war they were referring to as having finished. I realised they were talking about the current war, and so felt obliged to make the point that the war is still raging as we speak: civilians are being killed (a large number this month, mostly children), and young soldiers are going home in body bags. So for the people of Kunduz, Kandahar and Oruzgan, the war is every-present, right outside their front doors.

Interesting how there can be so many differing perspectives depending on where you sit.

Day 10, Wednesday March 23

Listening: Today we entered deeper into conversation with members of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and other Afghan people and groups we have met here. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to listen to different voices and opinions, because that was what I came here to do. There’s a lot to take in: strong opinions about the Taliban, about President Karzai and the Afghan Parliament, about the foreign NATO presence, the warlords and possible ways forward. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be a general consensus. Certain views seemed to be common within certain ethnic backgrounds, people from certain provinces, or simply whether the person had a secure job and financial independence.

I’ll just share the different views as I heard them, in no particular order.

We heard a lot of raw anger today about the crimes of the Taliban and the warlords in the years of brutal civil war before 2001. The Transitional Justice group is aiming to address human rights abuses prior to 2001 and are furious that President Karzai passed an amnesty law forgiving war crimes before 2001. There have been protests about this, but they fall on deaf ears, as evidenced by a newly formed “Peace Council” which includes the war criminals of this era.

And now there’s a proposal to arm local militias and have them take on a local policing role and this is causing grave fears within communities.

More than 90 per cent of the population are psychologically traumatised. Hakim, who works as a doctor said many women come to him complaining of headaches, when it’s clear the cause is sadness and grief caused by trauma.

The boys say that the reason some Afghans want the NATO forces here is sheer fear that the Taliban will return. No one wants to return to those terrible days, so NATO forces seem like the lesser of the two evils.

Mohamed said a big problem is the sheer breakdown of Afghan society and distrust amongst Afghans, even in families.

It is observed that those ‘on top of the pile’ are more supportive of NATO forces than those at the bottom. The rich have more to lose. Ordinary people, not in positions of influence, are only after a piece of bread.

Ordinary people, such as the shepherds on the hill don’t like the power-mongers who are not working for the interests of the people.

Ali suggests a responsible, gradual withdrawal of foreign troops that will not allow the Taliban to return or gain ground. He said a sudden withdrawal is impractical. But a gradual withdrawal will provide some space to negotiate with the Taliban and hold them to their word that they will negotiate with the people after the foreign forces leave.

Mohamed said we should explore reconciliation with low level Taliban members and hold the leaders to account and bring them to justice.

There was agreement that there was not enough discussion, locally and internationally, about reconciliation. The only options on the table are military ones. Afghans are not exposed to all the options, so don’t get to talk about it.

A major problem is: holding the war lords and Taliban responsible for their crimes will need honest, transparent government, but that does not exist.

One option is to give them a chance to admit their crimes, ask forgiveness and do compensation. Afghan MP, Dr Barshadost says even the worst people should have the chance to change his ways.

A Norweigan former UN envoy to Afghanistan, tried to suggest non-military options to former military head, McCrystal and the international community, but he wasn’t given the opportunity to explore these options.

A major problem is: President Karzai, most people do not respect him and they know the last election results were illegitimate, so they don’t see him as a legitimate leader.

Another problem: the culture of revenge and violence after 30 years of war and brutality.

Abdullah says the role of women should increase.

At the meeting with the Transitional Justice group we heard the view that the Taliban will never change and there should not be negotiations with them.

“The people want peace with justice,” they said, with an emphasis on the justice being a legal justice, charging people for crimes and holding them accountable.

“There can be no peace without justice,” they insisted.

They said Afghan people know that NATO forces are here for their own country’s self-interest, to protect themselves, the people know that. “We are also aware the formation of the Taliban was supported by the US,” they said.

“So with the trillion dollar, ten-year war, why are they not defeated by now?” someone asked. No answer.

What was agreed upon is that there are criminals sitting in positions of power and the foreign forces are supporting them.

Here are some street scenes we saw on the way to the meeting.

a novel way to fetch water

 

no garbage collection

 

Neighbourhood water pump

local bakery - yum!

This afternoon we sat in on another teleconference call the boys did with people from around the world, and I very pleased to hear a few Australian voices, including a Melbourne woman who wrote a song about peace in Afghanistan and played it over the phone. And a beautiful song it was, very much appreciated by the boys and us.  

“Please come and see we are human beings, please come and see for yourself,” was the invitation one of the boys cheerfully gave to the people on the call.

boys speak to the world on the phone

Tonight we heard from Noor, a mature and experience Afghan agronomist who is in a senior position at the Ministry for Agriculture, which we were told is the only ministry not controlled by a warlord.

He had many interesting observations about the foreign intervention in Afghanistan and was mostly scathing of the aid and development that has gone on here.

“We need to listen to the people,” he insisted more than once, “so that development is relevant and owned by the people.”

He also explained the vicious cycle of corruption when the political system and international aid intersect; he said there is vote-buying, tribal alliances, political favours, bribes, large cuts taken by the MP and then more by the Minister so there is barely any money left for the project!

And as for the military intervention: “Peace and security cannot be imported into a country,” he said.

“If it’s forced then its fake, it’s not in harmony with the mind of the people. Peace and security develop as people develop. We need a movement where people become more aware, and where their voice counts.

“They tried to import foreign values from the Soviet Union, and then the Taliban, but real peace and prosperity comes from the people.

“People here are kept under control,” Noor said. “They are not free to talk to each other and mature. We need active people, with vision.”

Day 9, Tuesday March 22

Today we left the traffic and pollution of Kabul behind and took a day trip to the beautiful Panjir Valley, north of Kabul. We passed through the wide Shomali Plains, once the foodbowl of Afghanistan, now almost wasteland due to war and the planting of thousands of deadly landmines there – although there are signs of rehabilitation now that the area has been de-mined. The earth here is naturally fertile and resilient, and farmers were at work tending the fields to prepare for the fruit crops, most notably grapevines. We stopped at a place where a shepherd was tending his flock and, quite by accident, witnessed the birth of a new lamb right in front of our eyes. I hope there’s some symbolism there! The green and brown plains were framed by the majestic, snow-capped Koh Daman mountains of the Hindu Kush. We passed through several large, bustling villages with colourful market stalls selling just about everything, rickshaws darting in between the trucks and far more women in burqas than in Kabul.

the Shomali Plains

 

A lamb is born in front of us!

 We passed the road to Bagram air-base, America’s largest base here – home to thousands of troops and the notorious detention centre. But we were surprised to see several “new” NATO military bases along the way to Panjshir, surrounded by concrete and shiny razor wire – obviously planning to be here for the long haul. Several military convoys also passed us by. 

new military base

 

military convoy

 

The road led us to a narrow gorge and rushing river – the entry into the Panjshir Valley – a place renowned for its beauty – not to mention its fiercely independent streak, record of defeat of foreign armies and home to a national hero, Ahmad Shah Massoud.

We follow the road along the river, which flows calmly in some places and transforms into rushing rapids in others. The valley opens to up to fertile field dotted with crops, fruit trees and villages, surrounded by the high mountains. At times the view is idyllic.

Beautiful view

But you are reminded of the valley’s experience of invading armies when you see the rusted Russian tanks along the way. The design of the valley made it easy to defend and hard to penetrate thus Ahmad Shah Massoud’s excellent record of victory against the Soviets and the Taliban. It is now one of the most secure places in all of Afghanistan.

Rusted russian tanks by the roadside

We joined Afghan families out for the day visiting Massoud’s tomb, on top of a hill offering wonderful views, with a graveyard of Russian tanks nearby as a reminder of his legacy. Children climbed on the tanks to get photos. There are pictures of Massoud everywhere in Panjshir – poster in shops, billboards on hillsides and photos on car windows. I wondered more than once what might have happened if the independent leader was still alive when the US forces invaded Afghanistan. (He was murdered just a few days before Sept 11.) 

Boys playing on tanks

family out at Massoud's tomb

 

We had a full, wonderful, insightful day out of Kabul to see and learn more of Afghanistan and see and learn more of its complex history. Lots to think about.

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