Behind those images of war and terrorism that we usually associate with Afghanistan, we often forget the people of Afghanistan. The people who lived under one of the most brutal regimes of modern history – the Taliban. A regime that took Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. I always used to wonder how their lives must have been and I think nobody is more desperate for peace than the people of Afghanistan. Only the people who have survived through this hardship can tell you the true meaning of freedom.
Humans of Afghanistan:
Whenever I say that we managed to pull off a safe trip of Afghanistan, a large credit goes to Khan, our driver and guide in Afghanistan.
No matter how much you plan or how updated you are with the latest security situation, you need to have local information and knowledge, if you are planning to travel by road in Afghanistan. Information like which stretch of the road used to have unofficial checkposts, which stretch of the route were the Talibans last seen…such information is almost impossible to find online.
Khan with his son at Band-e-Amir lake
So, without him, this trip would not have been possible. He was actually our backup option as we had planned to take flights from Kabul to Bamyan and Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif. But just 3 days before entering Afghanistan, we came to know that our flights were cancelled because of Id. Now, going to Afghanistan and not visiting Bamyan and Band-e-Amir lake would have been a huge emotional loss for us. And we had no other option but to take the road. In Afghanistan, travelling by road is a little risky and that was where Khan was like a saviour for us. He used to give us regular safety tips like, “OK, this part is dangerous, be quiet and don’t take pictures till we pass this region.” During our entire stay in Afghanistan, we didn’t face a single security issue and this was largely possible only because of Khan. In a way, I can say that we owe our lives to him. And the lack of tourists in Afghanistan makes it difficult for people like him to make a living out of tourism. Last year, we were just his 2nd batch of tourists.
Last heard – He has changed his profession and is doing quite well in his new endeavour.
Kids of Afghanistan:
I can’t even imagine how kids used to live during these three decades of war. I hoped that after Taliban, maybe their lives might have improved but I was wrong. The damage was already done. The effects of three decades of war can be seen through the toys of small children. Kite-flying, the popular pastime among kids of Afghanistan was nowhere to be seen. The kites had been replaced with the plastic Kalshnikovs. And wherever I went, I saw most of the kids possessing these new toys. When you see these kids running on the streets brandishing their plastic guns at each other, it paints a very sad picture. A generation that has only seen war their entire lives, maybe relates to these toys more than kites. The aftereffects of the war were clearly visible.
Poverty in Afghanistan:
Poverty is a big worrying factor in Afghanistan. Now, being from India, this shouldn’t have shocked or surprised me. But there was something different that I experienced here.
While we were eating in a restaurant and almost done with our food, some people came inside and asked us whether they can finish the left-over food. Now, personally I would prefer them having food from my plate rather than eating from trash cans. But this was something very difficult to watch. Imagine sitting inside a restaurant waiting for the bill and a person standing next to you eating leftovers from your plate – this image will haunt me for a long time. I witnessed real desperation.
And if this was so difficult to watch, I can’t even imagine how difficult life during Taliban might have been.
Life during Taliban:
Sadiq, a very good friend that I made in Afghanistan shared some of his stories of life during Taliban including his own, when he was thrown out of school and not allowed to study. And many such atrocities like stoning women to death, hanging people to death in stadiums, ban on music were all true. But his most horrible memory from this period was seeing mutilated bodies of Hazaras in Mazar-e-Sharif. Hazaras are a ethnic group that constitute about 20% of Afghan population. They suffered the most during the Taliban regime. The Taliban hated the Hazaras because they were Shia Muslims and used to massacre them, cut their ears, legs or other organs. Sadiq told me that in Mazar-e-Sharif alone, more than 5000 Hazaras were killed for no reason. Many of them like Khan, our driver, who was also a Hazara had to escape to Iran and other places. And the people who couldn’t escape were let to face the atrocities of Taliban. Many of them died and only a few survived and today those few who survived wish that they had died too, because the memories from this period are too painful to live with.
This was a time when people of Afghanistan were most desperate for freedom and peace. And finally they got it…but there was a price to that freedom..and the price was 9/11. I think history has a very twisted sense of justice. I am sure the Afghan people condemned the horrific act of 9/11 but after what they had gone through during Taliban, can you blame them if there was a tiny bit of jubilation inside them where they might have sensed freedom or just a hope of freedom.