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.
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.
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: