Another day begins with the news of a bomb blast. This time it’s in front of the Afghan Supreme Court.
At least seventeen people die and dozens are injured. I have been back in Kabul for a month after finishing my studies abroad, having rejected many opportunities outside Afghanistan before deciding to come home.
I could have taken a job with a law firm or pursued a graduate degree in foreign services at Georgetown University. Many people told me there was no place for women to be effective in Afghanistan, but I disagreed.
“I will be more effective in my country,” I said.
Now, only a month later, I am not so sure. Am I going to be effective here?
In a discussion with a friend about the outlook for my country, he asks, “What should be the priority for Afghans? The fight against corruption? Peace talks with the Taliban? The economy, women’s issues, roads? Or something else?”
I am astonished by his question. So much has gone wrong. Correcting all these issues seems next to impossible.
People like myself returning from abroad are often told that they see problems because living in a different country has left them with a changed perspective. But how can you not recognize that something is wrong when you are awakened by bomb blasts instead of an alarm clock? When police arrive on Accident Avenue expecting to take bribes, not to solve a problem?
A couple of days ago a family member was in a car accident. A boy received minor injuries and was taken to the doctor’s office, where the doctor told the car’s driver if he wanted the medical report he would have to pay $1,800. The traffic police asked for money; the local police asked for money. The driver who reported the accident wonders why he bothered to follow the law at all. There is no rule of law and no interest in civic responsibilities.
In the markets, the sales people are rude to women. Recently I went shopping with my mother. The behavior of the salesmen was unbearable. When I asked about a price, a salesman asked me whether I am going to buy it or just passing time. Another gives me a price, but when I don’t buy, complains: “When you do not have money, why are you asking for the price?”
I went with my husband to a leading telecommunications company to fix my Internet connection. The salesman told me to sit apart from the men. I can’t sit next to my husband, though there are few men there. After fifteen minutes of listening to the sales representatives shouting at and misleading the customers, I had to get up and leave—without getting my Internet fixed.
Back home that day, I switch on the television to see the vice president of Afghanistan. His memorable comment is: “Mr. President, do something good in your ten years of presidency and change the current system to a parliamentarian system.” Afghanistan is currently a centralized presidential system.
The vice president also warns that it would not be difficult for warlords, including himself, the vice president, to take up arms against the government. It is shocking to see the appointed vice president of a country openly blaming his own president. That evening and over the next couple of days, everywhere I went people were discussing this. Everyone was so ashamed. If the vice president of a country acts like this, there is no hope for stability.
Wherever I go, I hear young people talking about two things: the Taliban’s office in Qatar, and who will become the next president in the 2014 elections. Everyone seems to think that one of the big warlords will win.
This morning, I read in the New York Times that one of President Hamid Karzai’s appointees for the Independent Afghanistan Human Rights Commission is a former Taliban official “who sees Sharia Law as the best (and only) source for human rights legislation.”
The second appointee is in the central bureau of the country’s most powerful fundamentalist party. Another is a bureaucrat close to the president, and the fourth is a retired police general. When a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, a retired police official, and an allegedly corrupt politician come together, it is not likely to bring about enforcement of human rights. Women will not be granted their rights.
Another troubling issue is opposition by parliamentarians to the Elimination of Violence Against Women law. University students and some women protested against passage of the law. Some women parliamentarians also opposed it. One of my friends asks how educated students could oppose a law that would protect girls against underage marriage and support women’s right to education and to travel alone. I think it shows how easily people are swayed by political leaders.
On July 17, United Press International reports how Karzai approved the elimination of a dedicated seat for Afghan Hindus in the lower House of Parliament, and gave it instead to the Nomads. Why do Afghan politicians never miss an opportunity to cultivate ethnic clashes? If Hindus are as much Afghans as Nomads, why shouldn’t Hindus be represented in parliament?
Street harassment towards women is widespread in Kabul. People have forgotten the religious and traditional Afghan values of respect toward women. Commuting to work is disastrous. Politicians, army, and police drive illegally; there are no lights or signs and traffic jams everywhere. It is exhausting. There seems to be no tolerance; everyone is so frustrated, they seem ready to fight for no reason.
After observing all of this in a month, I wonder how to motivate myself, and more importantly, how to be effective in a society where almost everything seems to be going wrong.
I repeat my friend’s questions: What are our priorities, and what should our priorities be?
I am as lost as most of the Afghan youth. There are no easy answers.
Maybe the priority should be that each one of us takes time to ask where we are going. What are we doing? Where is the world heading and how does Afghanistan fit into it?
Why does an ethnic Pashtun see himself or herself as superior to other groups just because they are the majority? Language barriers divide Pashtuns who speak Pashto from Tajiks who speak Dari or Hazara who speak Hazaragi. Will my country be more secure if I speak Dari instead of Hazaragi?
Kabul University was once called Pahanton, which means university in Pashto, while Tajik leaders in Parliament now want it to be called Danishgah, which means university in Dari. Why should language divide us?
If I know driving through red lights is against the law, do I stop or should I just follow everyone else breaking the law?
Asking ourselves such questions will force us to look within ourselves.
Neither external powers nor American money can rebuild Afghanistan. Only Afghans can, and the change has to come on an individual level.
But while I ask these questions of myself every day, I am uncomfortable because I see myself only as a human being—not as a Pashtun or a Tajik or a Hazara—just as an individual lost in the false identities of ethnicity, language, and gender that have been used to divide and destroy us for more than three decades.
Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai (C); first vice-president, the warlord Mohammad Fahim (L); and second vice-president Karim Khalili (R) have been in office since November 2009. AP photo.