Afghan Male 2
This interview was conducted over Skype with a man in Afghanistan. Due to privacy and security concerns, he requested to be presented anonymously.
He is from Kunduz and his family had to leave Afghanistan when he was young because of pressure from the Taliban. After living for a number of years in Pakistan, they returned to Afghanistan. He eventually came to the United States on an intercultural exchange program to study for a year. He currently works for a non-profit in Afghanistan.
Interview conducted on January 9, 2016 over Skype
Present: Richard Hayden and an Afghan male
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: Where are you from?
Afghan Male: I am originally from Kunduz, a province in northern Afghanistan but I was born in the northern province of Baghlan which is also in northern Afghanistan in a village called Kelagai.
RH: What is your current role?
AM: My current role, I do not have any involvement with the government but I have been working in various capacities with international organizations, mainly with non-profit organizations but I don’t have any engagement with the government.
RH: What was Afghanistan like when you were growing up?
AM: When I was growing up I was actually living in a village. I knew very little about circumstances beyond my village but I remember that the situation was not very stable in Afghanistan. Most of the country was being ruled by warlords and militias loyal to them. Most northwestern provinces were ruled by the famous General Dostum. In central Afghanistan where they have the Hazaras, they were being ruled by the Hazara leader Mazari. The Tajik dominated provinces of Parwan, Kapisa and Panjshir were being ruled by Ahmad Massoud, the Tajik warlord. And southern Afghanistan was mainly being ruled by Pashtun leaders. So when I was growing up Afghanistan was in a state of chaos, I must say.
RH: What was Kelagai like, specifically?
AM: Kelagai? It was a district in Baghlan province. It was actually a multi-ethnic district. People from different ethnicities lived there – and me – who actually belong to an ethnic minority. Actually, I’m Ismaili. I belong to the Shi’a minority. I’m actually a very small part of the small minority of the Shi’as.
It was not very stable back then. One of the things that led to the war was the ethnic conflicts in Afghanistan. Because Kelagai, the village that I lived, was composed of people from different ethnic groups, it was not very stable – especially during the time of the Taliban. When the Taliban came, the Pashtun settlers in Kelagai became a very huge threat to people living in that village. As the Taliban approached in Baghlan, everybody else had to leave the village and find another safe haven.
RH: What were some of the things your family went through when the Taliban arrived?
AM: When the Taliban arrived, actually, as I said I am part of an ethnic minority here. We had to evacuate the village immediately so as the Taliban approached we had to first go to another village and that was called Sadat. We went there and stayed there for around two months. After that my uncle had a Pashtun friend and he approached us in Sadat and he promised my uncle that he would carry my family safely to Pakistan because as the Taliban was moving into the northern provinces and Afghanistan as a whole, it was not possible anymore to be staying there because of all the ideological and ethnic differences that we had with the Taliban.
We were there for two months and then we came back to the village and then we had to somehow get to Pakistan. It was not very easy to get to Pakistan. We could not actually go through the normal route because the southern pass which Kabul with the northern provinces of Afghanistan was being blocked by the Tajik militia leader Ahmad Massoud. The militias were loyal to him so we had to take a very hard route. We had to go through Bamiyan province. Geographically speaking, Bamiyan province is very mountainous and very hard for transportation to actually take place through the province. So we got to Kabul after three days of travelling and then from Kabul we were sent to Peshawar. We stayed for around two weeks in Peshawar in my uncle’s friend’s house and thanks to him for providing us accommodation and food for those two weeks. And then we were sent to refugee camps in Karachi, Pakistan.
RH: How long were you and your family in Pakistan for?
AM: We lived in Pakistan for almost four years. We went there at the end of 1998 and returned to Afghanistan in 2002.
RH: OK. Where were you on September 11th?
AM: On September 11th I was in Pakistan.
RH: Do you have any specific memories of that day? Actually, how did you find out about the twin towers?
AM: Actually, when the attacks happened in New York on the twin towers, that day I was a small kid. My mother sent me out to the store to buy some groceries. When I got to the store, I saw a dozen people looking at the television in the store. As my eyes hit the TV screen, I saw two planes crashing into the twin towers. I first thought it was a movie because this is what actually happens in the movies but as I noticed that the situation was very concerning, I was convinced that there was something going wrong. Then people started talking about Al Qaeda and attacking New York. While I was too immature to realize its political implications on our region, especially Afghanistan, I could still acknowledge the militants mainly because Al Qaeda had something to do with the attacks and Afghanistan had something to do with Al Qaeda.
So this was the beginning of the incidents coming that would affect the situation in Afghanistan. We also heard that the first wave of strikes started a couple of months after the attack in New York. So I was in Pakistan and I did learn about the twin towers through the news.
RH: You were living among Afghans in Pakistan, correct?
RH: What was the mood among the Afghans in Pakistan that you were living around?
AM: In Karachi, because it was a Pakistani city, people had relatives with high access to media information. We had people who could analyze the situation and predict what was going to come. People looking for word that the US would start striking Al Qaeda targets in the region but it could never be predicted that the full invasion would take place or it would make the situation better for the return of refugees in Afghanistan and result in the installation of a new government in Afghanistan as we currently see. People could never acknowledge America’s long-term vision of Afghanistan.
In my home city in Afghanistan, people neither had access to media or information nor could they analyze the situation. Most of them didn’t know about the New York attack until the US invaded Afghanistan. It’s just that my people were so affect by the Taliban and their supporters, I’m sure that they would have gotten happy seeing an end to the Taliban rule.
RH: You said that you went back in 2002, correct?
RH: Why did you and your family go back?
AM: Well, the reason we went back to Afghanistan at first was that we as Afghans could not afford to be living as refugees in Pakistan because that’s how human nature actually works. If you have peace in your country, why would you want to live as a refugee somewhere? The attitude that people actually displayed towards us and how we were treated there was not tolerable so my family decided to return to Afghanistan.
RH: OK. So you weren’t in Afghanistan for the 2001 US invasion but how had the country – actually, let me ask you this. How did the country change after you returned in 2002? Immediately after.
AM: You mean how did Afghanistan change?
RH: The question that I had was what was the 2001 US invasion like? But since you weren’t there during the invasion, when you and your family immediately returned, how was the country different?
AM: Yes. As you said, during the 2001 invasion I was not in Afghanistan, I was a refugee with my family in Pakistan but I heard from others that people were very excited to see themselves liberated from the brutal Taliban regime. The invasion by America started with offensives in Kabul and the provinces targeting strategic Taliban locations. The Northern Alliance provided aid to the US military finding strategic Taliban locations and, as we saw, Kabul was liberated in a few days. As we started coming from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Afghanistan had recently recovered from an offensive strike by the international coalition so the face of the country had entirely changed. You could easily identify that this was a war zone. You could sense it right there that it was a war zone. It was a country that had recently recovered from a very dangerous war.
RH: Did you return immediately to Kelagai?
AM: No. When we left for Afghanistan we did not go north towards our village because we had nothing left there. Of course we had our house and our land over there but because, as I said previously, the village where we were living was mainly populated by Pashtun settlers and because the conflict had recently ended, we didn’t just want to go there and start another conflict by telling them just to give us our farms and our houses back. So we didn’t actually want to make another travel.
My family had another house in the center of Baghlan province. So we went there and somebody was living there so we told them that you have to leave the house immediately and then we started living over there. We actually lived there for over ten years.
RH: Excellent. How has the US occupation affected you?
AM: Personally speaking, the US occupation has made a dramatic effect and implications for me. Because I am young, one of the main things that is relevant to me is education. As I returned from Pakistan I had the perfect opportunity to attend school. The doors of public schools were being opened to us immediately after I returned to Afghanistan. I was in the eleventh grade when I was awarded the scholarship by the US government and I had the chance to go to the US and study for one year as an exchange student over there. After I returned from the US I started university back in Afghanistan and then after that, I was awarded the opportunity to get a job.
Speaking from the professional development standpoint, I have also excelled dramatically from the US occupation here because I see a lot of changes and I see a lot of developments in myself professionally speaking. I’m a different person now. If the US occupation had not occurred and if my family did not decide to come back to Afghanistan, I can imagine what the future for me would be. I can imagine that I would not have had these achievements that I have right now.
RH: Interesting. How has the US occupation affected your family?
AM: If I talk on behalf of my family there are two things that I can point at. First I can say that my family has been more urbanized. Before the Taliban took control of the country, as I said we were living in a very small village with very limited access to infrastructure or to any facilities being provided by the government. We weren’t settlers. We only had access to agriculture and our style of life was very traditional as it was of any other person in that village. So I have to say that my family had become urbanized and everything that comes with the urbanization. My family got to develop economically. My brothers and sisters managed to go to school and attend education institutions and get jobs for them. I have to say that we’re all now prosperous as a family.
RH: How has the US occupation affected Afghan society in general?
AM: When you ask this question the first thing that comes to my mind is civilization. I can say right now that the Afghan population is more civilized. Those who have had direct interaction and those who have benefitted directly from the US intervention in Afghanistan, they are more civilized than they were before because they had good access to education and they have more access to civilization – how to be civilized citizens from their teachers and from their professors. So civilization is the first thing that comes to my mind.
The second thing that I can think of is economically. The people have prospered economically since the US occupation because when we have this relationship with them, they bring a lot of other organizations with them and these organizations work in the area of advancing the economy of Afghanistan so the people have directly benefitted from this.
The third thing that comes to my mind is the infrastructure. The international military either directly or indirectly through various national and international organizations has engaged in the building of infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, roads and various other things that are required for an organized, civilized community.
On the other hand, I must say that the United States since its occupation of Afghanistan has not been able to find a long-term solution for insecurity because as you see now, the US engagement in Afghanistan is coming to an end and they are preparing to withdraw from the country but we still see that there is no long-term solution. There is actually no solution for insecurity. The peace process is still underway. We do not see a lot of signs of improvement in the peace process and the country is getting insecure every day. We see bombs going off in Kabul and the provinces every day so that’s something I am feeling is very unfortunate.
I also feel that there has been a lack of commitment on the part of the United States as well as its coalition partners to find any long-term security solution for Afghanistan. As we all know the presence of US troops has worsened the security to some extent. That being said, I do not mean to say that the situation would have been better if the US troops had left but the US presence in the country is one of the factors for insecurity. As the United States policymakers make sound decisions for finding a strategic and long-term solution for security, the presence of the US troops, I think, will not have an effective solution in Afghanistan.
RH: Have you had any interactions with US or international forces and, if so, what were they like?
AM: No. As I said in the beginning, I have been working with various national and international organizations. Of course with the US civilians, I have had a lot of interactions and as I said, as I was pursuing my high school studies I was sent on a US government sponsored scholarship to the United States so I do have a better understanding of America, its culture and how people are. I can appreciate how I was being treated well while I was in the United States.
But talking as far as we are talking about interaction with the US and international forces, on the various occasions I have had interactions with them. When I had these interactions, I found out that some of them have limited knowledge of Afghan culture and how the way of life works here. This perhaps makes it difficult for them to be integrated into the Afghan culture. When I was in the university, one of our professors of finance was actually ex-military serving in Kunar, Afghanistan in 2008. He was saying that during World War II and post-World War II when the US military invaded some of the countries – I don’t want to say invaded but when they had military engagement in Europe – they could easily integrate with the European countries and with their people. They communicated culturally with the people but that’s not the way it works here and it’s perhaps because of the cultural differences. I do not see a lot of initiative on the part of the international military to boost this cultural integration as well. I feel that because the international military and those who have a rather close interaction with the Afghans in the villages and in the provinces have limited interactions with the Afghans, their perception of the Afghans is rather negative.
RH: OK. This may be a big question but how do Afghans in general feel about the US forces and the occupation?
AM: To be honest, there is mixed feelings in Afghanistan. People like me and my family have an ordinary life and they’re providing education for their children and they are very much in favor of the US military making this occupation in Afghanistan. But as you have read in history, Afghans in general are not in favor of occupation and we saw what happened to the Soviet occupation. We saw that this was not a successful occupation here so I must admit that Afghans in general are not in favor of the occupation.
But I personally have this belief that if it’s an occupation and if the occupation results in the advancements and developments in society, then we need not be against the occupation. But going back to your question, I think that there is a mixture about the US occupation in Afghanistan and one thing that can really prove this – that some of the Afghans are really in favor of the US intervention in Afghanistan – is last year’s signing of the long-term security agreement with the US. When this agreement was going to be signed by the Afghan government, the Afghan government had represented itself with different people coming together in a council – as we call it jirga – coming together in a jirga to decide on whether the security agreement needs to be signed with the US and the people voted in a majority that it needs to be signed in order for Afghanistan to have sustainable security. So because these representatives are representing the Afghan people, this means that the general perspective of the US involvement remaining in Afghanistan is rather positive.
RH: Alright. Could you talk a little bit about which groups support the US staying and which groups are against it?
AM: I think the groups who support the US presence in Afghanistan are those who are hoping for a good future in Afghanistan like myself. Those are people who are tired of war, who are tired of fighting. They just want to have an ordinary life like an ordinary citizen of any country. Those who would like to have economic prosperity, those who would like to see their children going to school and those who would like to see their children succeeding and those who are tired of being refugees in Pakistan or any other country, those people are in favor of the US presence in Afghanistan.
Those who are against the US presence in Afghanistan are, I must say, the people who are basically supporting the Taliban. Of course, how regional perspective of the Taliban hold in Afghanistan is that the Taliban no more serve as a political entity representing national interests in Afghanistan, they rather are serving a foreign agenda. So these are the people I think who are not in favor of a US stake in Afghanistan.
RH: OK. For Americans or other foreigners who may not have the ability to visit Afghanistan, can you discuss what day to day life is like?
AM: Actually, day to day life in Afghanistan differs in different parts of the country. In different parts of the country it is very ordinary like it is for any other country. People are mostly busy with agriculture. They’re just having a peaceful life. They are engaged with their agricultural farms. Their kids are going to school if that’s a possibility in their village and people are just having, I would say, a very rural type of living. But the people who are living in the urban cities who are more urbanized, they are just busy with doing their businesses or having their own offices. It’s the same way of life that it is in any other country. Day to day life is rather ordinary but in a country like Afghanistan, if you want to do anything you have to accept insecurity as being part of that thing that you are doing. Of course as you do anything, you are very uncertain about what’s going to happen in Afghanistan in the future because the future of the country and the future of the security of the country is very uncertain.
Of course if a foreigner wants to visit Afghanistan, he would not be in a position to conduct travelling or travel to places outside of Kabul or a relative number of cities because of the insecurity. Also for us Afghans, it’s very hard to travel to, let’s say, the eastern province of Wardak which is not too far from Kabul – it’s actually, thirty kilometers from Kabul. We do not take the carriage there because we know that the Taliban are operating there. They will either catch you or kill you or you will be in very big trouble.
RH: Alright. This is a good Segway. Can you discuss the Taliban?
AM: I just wanted to say that for people like me who have a distinctive behavior or idea about the Taliban, they are not an Afghan owned entity. They do not serve the interests of Afghanistan and even if they want to struggle for power and if that power is eventually given to them, this power sharing will not be in the interests of Afghanistan. We have seen the Taliban serving foreign agendas and I think that if they come to power in Afghanistan, their services would not be conciliatory.
RH: Alright. Can you talk a little bit about the government in Kabul.
AM: Yes, sure. The government in Kabul still lacks the necessary unity to carry out a uniform state of reform or agenda. Unfortunately the central government in Kabul still suffers from very deep ethnic divisions. As you have been following in the news recently, there has been the issue of the creation of the fifth pillar in the government and this creation of the fifth pillar in the government is something very concerning for the Afghans. Afghans now are being threatened by this fifth pillar to overthrow the government from inside rather than a terrorist organization like the Taliban doing this job.
In the central government in Kabul, corruption is still a major challenge. President Ashraf Ghani and his chief executive Doctor Abdullah, they do try to fight against the corruption but because the corruption has been very deeply rooted in the government institutions, it’s not something to be easily uprooted from the government institutions. So these are the main challenges we face in the central government in Kabul.
RH: Can talk a little bit about the different ethnic groups in Afghanistan? Actually, two part question. Number one, how did ethnic groups affect the government and, number two, how did different ethnic groups have affected the war?
AM: As you have probably learned about the different ethnic groups in Afghanistan and you know about the history of the Taliban, you probably know that most Pashtuns see the Taliban as an instrument to uphold their dominance over the other tribes. You have been probably following it in the news that some Pashtuns and some government officials in the government are in favor of transferring the war from the south to the north of Afghanistan mainly because the north of Afghanistan does not have a lot of Pashtun settlers. So they are taking this initiative of looking forward to the north.
Unfortunately the Taliban are not yet viewed as the common enemy among Afghans of all tribes. As I said, mainly Pashtun tribes do still use the Taliban as a tool for their dominance over others. That being said, I think that if the Taliban did not have local support in the villages and in the cities of Afghanistan, such a small militia group would not be able to have such large implications or ramifications for an entire state. So it’s the local support that gives the Taliban increased momentum to seek power and authority in Afghanistan.
RH: Can you talk a little bit about the role of women in Afghan society and how it has changed, if at all, since 2001?
AM: To be honest, the role of women has significantly changed since 2001. Because we all see in the international media how the women were being treated under the Taliban regime. Under the Taliban regime, women were not actually being treated more than secondhand citizens. They were just perceived as being slaves to the man with no rights and with no dignity. But the new government has turned that into one of the successes that we can attribute to the intervention and to the occupation of the US into Afghanistan. As you can see, we have now women politicians, we have women representing our people in the upper and the lower houses of the parliament. We have very good women entrepreneurs. They play a significant role in our economy. We have businesswomen, women entrepreneurs and innovators so I must say that the role of women has significantly changed since 2001 and for the good. I think if this will continue like it is in the future, I have no doubt that women will be major contributors in the community.
RH: OK. Good to go. I know that you talked about this a little bit but how do you feel about the withdrawal of US and international forces and the direction that Afghanistan is taking?
AM: Well as I just said in the beginning, the presence of the international military – although it’s not going to bring us peace in the short run, at least – will be very crucial and critical in maintaining Afghanistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The US engagement I believe should not end until the Afghans have a strong government and a strong army. The reason I’m saying this is because once the US tries to withdraw its troops and its presence from Afghanistan, we will have a lot of opportunists taking the opportunity to be seeking grounds in Afghanistan as we have evidence of this in the past as well – especially our neighboring countries of Iran and Pakistan who will have their major interests in Afghanistan as the US leaves.
So for the time being I think it’s not very wise for the US policymakers to be taking the troops out of Afghanistan if they want to keep the achievements that they have secured in the past fifteen years. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan will, of course, guarantee once again a safe haven for terrorists within Afghanistan’s territories because without a strong army and without international support to the Afghan army it will open the doors for international terrorists to be taking refuge in Afghanistan and using Afghanistan as a battleground or as a safe haven to be targeting other countries in the world.
RH: OK. What is the greatest challenge that Afghanistan is facing today?
AM: What we are really struggling about these days is insecurity. The security of the country is not very certain. As I said, everything that an Afghan is doing in Afghanistan today is kind of associated with uncertainty in the security. So insecurity is one of the greatest challenges that Afghanistan is facing today.
The one thing that has been in the headlines of international media as you also see is the migration of Afghans to Europe, especially the migration of the educated Afghans to Europe. I think this will pose a great challenge to the Afghan nation in the long run because in these past fifteen years, both the government in Kabul and the international community have been trying to nurture the people who hold the future of Afghanistan. As we see that we are losing these people so easily, this is going to be a very large blow to the achievements of Afghanistan and the international community.
That being said, I think the insecurity and the migration of educated Afghans to Europe is also posing a threat to a stable economy in Afghanistan. The economy of Afghanistan is continuing to shrink because the economy is mainly dependent on foreign aid and as the foreign aid is decreasing now, the economy is also continuing to shrink. We see a lot of job losses. Because of these job losses, people are very hopeless and they just try to get away from here and find a better life for themselves somewhere else. So, yes. An unstable economy is one of the largest challenges against Afghanistan.
RH: OK. Have events in the Middle East over the last four years affected Afghanistan and, if so, how?
AM: I think yes and as a first token to this, I think the establishing of ISIS has direct linkages with how the security is changing in Afghanistan. Now as you see besides many terrorist organizations like the Taliban, we are having another terrorist organization – now several – here in ISIS. I think ISIS will not only pose a challenge to Afghan security but will be posing a dangerous phenomenon beyond the security. As you might be following up with the news in Afghanistan, recently ISIS kidnapped people belonging to the Hazara minority in Afghanistan. They beheaded them and they even beheaded the children. This is now changing into a national sentiment and changing into a national emotion within the Hazara minority. I think if the ISIS threat is not resolved shortly, it’s going to be creating very deep ethnic divisions between different Afghan minority groups.
Besides ISIS, if you are talking from the economic standpoint I think the stances of the United States and the European countries and the West in general has also had dramatic impacts on the Afghan economy because we are not a producing country, not really a producing country. We are a consuming country. We import a lot of our goods and necessities from the two neighboring countries Iran and Pakistan. With US sanctions in place for Iran it makes it very difficult for Afghan businessmen to conduct large scale business with Iran.
Of course the last thing, the war in Syria has also impacted how things are developing in Afghanistan because until the war in Syria had started, the international community had a major focus on Afghanistan and they were trying to develop all aspects of the Afghan community. But as the war has started in Syria, the international community has really diverted its attention from Afghanistan to focusing on the war in Syria.
RH: OK. Good to go. We’re going to move onto a couple of spiritual questions. Has the war and the last few years in Afghanistan affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
AM: I think yes, it has. If I’m speaking from a personal standpoint I think it has made some very dramatic impacts on me. Especially before the Taliban taking over Afghanistan in 1996, my family was living in a very small village with very limited knowledge. All settlers of the village, all the people just came to the mosque and were learning the Koran. People did not have access to proper education but as the Taliban started to rule Afghanistan and when the twin towers were hit and the US were occupying Afghanistan, we all migrated to Pakistan and we returned here. And this caused us to be urbanized a little more, to be living in cities rather than going back to our old villages.
I personally believe that this is one of the main causes that made me who I am today. I think if I had stayed in that village until now I would have been a different person. I would have had a different mindset towards religion. I would have been a very religious person but now I have a wider knowledge of the world. I have a different knowledge of the world. I know how things work in the world. I know that the world cannot be simplified by what the Afghans and what the Afghan people are thinking about. I must say that I have a wider perspective of the world now.
RH: Has the war changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
AM: Yes, of course. As I hear on the news about how things are going to develop in Afghanistan for the good, it makes me hopeful for a better future for Afghanistan. As I strive as a person to be making achievements every day, this makes me hopeful. This makes me hopeful that one day my country will be very peaceful and that we all Afghans will have the opportunity to be living in unity and in peace. But once I see that the situation, especially the security situation, is getting worse, this gives me a kind of hopelessness again. Even if I want to try and I want to achieve more things than I have right now, one day war will come and then eventually it will swipe everything away. So I have kind of a mixed feeling. If somebody wants to develop personally and professionally, emotions of war and the reemerging of war should not be preventing him from making further achievements. But this is how the human nature works. If you have something like an obstacle in your mind that prevents you from developing more, then of course it stays as an obstacle. Sometimes it’s not controllable and this is the reality that we have to live with.
RH: Alright. We’re going to switch it up just a little bit. Do you have any funny stories about the US occupation?
AM: To be honest, at the time being I do not recall many funny stories of the US occupation but as we are talking among our friends we try to bring some of these funny scenarios going on around the country since the US has occupied Afghanistan and these are mainly about the interpreters.
When the US first invaded Afghanistan, they recruited a local Afghans to be serving as their interpreters. Because at that time Afghans were not as educated as they are right now so there were promises being made by the interpreters to the local people about building infrastructures for them or building hospitals for them or making different facilities for them that were not really being promised by their US counterparts and it was because of a miscommunication that made the people of the village hopeful that the coalition forces would be building facilities for them. So I don’t know if that comes under a funny story but this is what we are making jokes about.
RH: Do you have any funny stories about the Taliban?
AM: Of course I have funny things about the Taliban but the funny stories we always talk about the Taliban is that the Taliban claim to be a pure religious entity. They think that they are practicing a true version of Islam and often we see that this is not true, that they are not following the true Islam. For example, at most of the locations that the Taliban soldiers have been captured on the battlefield, Afghan soldiers have asked them to show them how a Muslim prays, he really did not know it. This makes us convinced that they are not fighting for what they are claiming for. Actually it is an external force that is pushing them to just go there and fight so that our interests are being secured.
RH: Do you have maybe some funny stories about how the Afghan people are dealing with all of this?
AM: Of course as we see all of these stories going on in the Afghan media, this will nevertheless change the perception of the Afghan people and how the Afghan people perceive the Taliban. If the reason that the Taliban are fighting was to liberate people from feudalism and bring people under purely Islamic rule, I’m sure a lot of people would have supported them because the majority of the Afghan people are also religious and they would not have any problem with living under a purely Islamic government or under Islamic rule. But as they see that this is not the reality, as they see that they are serving foreign actors, this is kind of changing the game a little bit. This is something that we have been evidencing in the past several years. The Afghan nation has somehow learned that the Taliban are not fighting for what they are claiming for. Their intention is not building an Islamic state, their intention is to serve somebody else.
RH: OK great. Thank you. Before I get to my final questions, there are just one or two questions that I want to backtrack that I didn’t get to ask earlier. How do people in Afghanistan – and maybe your parents and those of your parents’ or grandparents’ generation – remember life in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion?
AM: When you talk about the Soviet invasion it’s kind of funny to me because when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and when they left Afghanistan I was not even born. But I’m in a position to respond to this question because sometimes my father and my mother talk about their lives before the Soviet invasion.
Before the Soviet invasion my family lived in a village in the Khan Abad district of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. It was called Jelancha. Life before the invasion was relatively peaceful I must say. My family was living in Jelancha among agriculture farms and cattle. People knew very little outside their villages and what was going on in the country. People had their habits and it was strictly traditional style of living and the country was not yet up with social development and modernization.
RH: OK. Alright. Do they ever talk about the period of the Soviet occupation and what that was like?
AM: To be honest, I can probably respond to this question referring back to the knowledge I have from Afghan history. If I refer to the information I get from my parents, it’s not going to be very helpful for this because my parents were living in a village very far from Kabul and from urbanized settlements. They knew very little about how the Soviet invasion and Soviet occupation really affected the Afghan people’s lives.
But going back to how the situation was during Soviet invasion, it was kind of a struggle by different partners to gain power in Afghanistan. You see if you have read in the history that the Soviets didn’t last very long here mainly because the Afghans have a very strict opposition towards communism and that a communist state would be ruling them. So the time during the Soviet occupation was, I must say, also very chaotic and not so stable but people who had close links to the government, people who were benefitting from everything that was given to them by the government, they pretty much enjoyed how life was. Other parts of the country were pretty much insecure mainly because of different groups and factions operating – one under the name of communists, one under the name of Islamists and one under the name of Junbish or the National Movement. The establishment of different factions really made it hard for the government to maintain its central authority. This, again, goes back to the fact that Afghans are always against occupation as anybody would be.
RH: Alright great. Thank you. So my last couple of questions. First of all, you said you studied in the US for a year, correct?
RH: Where were you exactly?
AM: Well, when I was interviewed for this scholarship – actually, I just want to go back to the story of how I got into this scholarship.
RH: Oh, yes. Please.
AM: This scholarship was called the Youth Exchange and Study program which was being supported by the cultural division of the US Department of State. The program was being enforced by local American Council offices in different countries and of course we had one American Council office in Afghanistan as well. The American Council offices were being tasked to go far away into the provinces and identify people who should be taking exams and who should be determined as finalists to be travelling to the US seeking education. Then I was not living in Kabul, I was living in the central Baghlan province in northern Afghanistan. When the scholarship came, a lot of people from my province registered themselves for the exam and they enrolled in the exam. It was a very tough process. We had to go through different layers of examination and interview.
But it was a very fortunate event for me to get to the very last stations because from among six hundred or even more people taking the exam, it was only two people from my province who made it to the final stage of the exam and were nominated as finalists to be travelling to the US. Unfortunately one of my friends could not travel. One of the people who were selected from my province could not make it to the US because of technical reasons and then I was the only person who was selected from my province that years selected to travel to the US.
We first came to Kabul together and we spent one month doing orientation classes for integrating ourselves into American culture and how communication works there and how we should be behaving in certain circumstances. Then after one month of training and orientation in Kabul, we were sent to Texas, a place called San Antonio. It was a very good place. We kind of felt that we were in a rural place in Afghanistan because this is how the situation was there. And then we spent two weeks there doing further orientation. There American teachers taught us how the American school system worked and how we should behave with our host families and whom we should be referring to in case of any problems arising between us and the school or the host family. And then we were being circulated to different states in the US. I was chosen to be traveling to Ohio state with a host family in the city of Canton. I lived for a year in Canton and I got my high school certification from Canton senior high school and then I traveled back to Afghanistan.
RH: OK. So you will have some great insight into this question. What are some of the common misconceptions that the average American might have about the conflict and what the people of Afghanistan have gone through?
AM: Well, to be honest, me as an Afghan, because I have experienced the war myself and because I have actually been through all of these attacks and through all of the things that have been going on throughout this country and these past decades of this conflict, I must say that I have experienced a lot of things. I travelled in the United States and I get it from people’s attitudes and people’s behaviors how they feel about Afghanistan.
I had various interactions and I talked with people were thinking that people in Afghanistan were terrorists. They felt that the US government was really in Afghanistan as they proclaimed in the media. Unfortunately that was something that was very disappointing, that the people of the United States do really believe what is being said in the international media. They did not have a lot of real information and real perception of Afghanistan and how the people are, how culturally civilized they are and how hospitable they are. They only cover Afghanistan as a war zone and think people are as they are being shown in the media so they do not have a very accurate or realistic conception of how Afghanistan is and how its people are. So I must say that sometimes the realities and the facts have been kept secret from the American nation and it is not very shrewd in making sure that that these realities are not being disclosed to the American public.
By saying this I do not want to criticize the American public because of course in a civilized society when you trust the media of course you have to listen to the media because you have no other source of information. But I mainly criticize the US policymakers for really making people believe things that are not really right. That’s my perception of the common misconceptions that’s been going in the American public.
RH: If you could communicate something to US policymakers as they think about their next steps in Afghanistan, what would it be?
AM: If I was going to represent Afghanistan and if I was in a position to communicate a message to the US policymakers, I would have told them, “please be nice to us and please be committed to us. We thank you for all the struggles and all the efforts that you have made in making Afghanistan a better place than what it was during the Taliban rule and before that. But recently you have been saying and we have been seeing that there has not been a lot of commitment on the part of the international community to try and bring peace into Afghanistan. All the Afghans are really tired of war. They are tired of seeing bombs blasting and their children being killed and the mothers being left as widows. People are very tired of this.” My message to the US government would be that they should be committed to a strong Afghanistan and to making a life for the Afghan citizens as they deserve. It really needs commitment.
RH: Alright. If you could communicate something to Afghans going forward, what would it be?
AM: Do you mean the general Afghan public or the Afghan government?
RH: I’d say the general Afghan public.
AM: My message to the general Afghan public would be that they should not be disappointed by things that have been going on in the country recently. I think that they should be focusing on their lives and they should be proud of all the achievements that they have made because, realistically speaking, I have been living in Kabul for a long time now and I have had a lot of travels to other countries as part of my work requirements and I can really see, without being sarcastic, I can really see how the Afghans have made a lot of achievements. They have been going through a lot of hard situations during the past decades. My message to them is that they should be proud of what they have achieved and I think that they should continue to make achievements regardless of whether the security situation is going to be better or not.
RH: Alright. Do you see any way forward for peace?
AM: To be honest, I cannot make any predictions about how peace is eventually going to come to Afghanistan but if peace is going to come at the cost of the constitution of Afghanistan being violated at the hands of a terrorist organization like the Taliban, we would never want that kind of peace. If a kind of peace deal that would prevent Afghan women being engaged in society and representing us in the government, then I really do not need that kind of peace. If the kind of peace that would actually not undermine the achievements of Afghanistan made so far in the past fifteen years then of course that kind of peace would be very much appreciated. But the type of peace that would undermine the achievements we have made so far, this is not going to lead to a prosperous future, I think. But of course as I noted before, if there is commitment on the part of the international community and our neighboring countries as well as the Afghan government, I think the peace will eventually come. We deserve the type of peace that would appreciate the achievements and the accomplishments that we have made in the past fifteen years. That’s all that I have to say.
RH: Alright. Before I ask my last question, is there anything that I left out that you would like to address?
AM: I don’t think so. I think the questionnaire was very comprehensive and it included everything I was going make an address of. I think it was pretty comprehensive. I don’t think that there is anything else that I would like to mention.
RH: Perfect. Alright. So my last question is, what specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your work in Afghanistan?
AM: One of the accomplishments that I am really proud of is that when I returned from the US, despite the fact that I went through many difficulties I still got to enroll myself into the university – of course one of the finest universities that I could find in Afghanistan. And during the period of my university I could also manage to find a good job here in Kabul and through that I could invite my family to come from the northern provinces, from my province, to Kabul to be actually seeking better opportunities here. When I invited them here, my siblings could actually go to better schools here. They could have better opportunities for attending good schools here and although I had to go through many challenges, I could still manage all these at once and that’s something I am really proud of. Now I have graduated from the university and I still have my family beside me here so that’s something I really am proud of.