Robert Galbraith: Voices of Afghanistan

Voices of Afghanistan By Robert J. Galbraith, Exclusive to The Suburban

Kabul, Afghanistan — For over a month, my colleague Guido Schmidt and myself have been living in and speaking to the people of Kabul, Afghanistan’s largest city. We have grown beards (which is a sign of respect here) and adapted the local dress, so as not to arouse suspicions and also to blend in with the population. We have put ourselves at great personal risk in an effort to gain acceptance and break the cultural barriers between the haves and the have nots.
Sometimes it appears as though the world’s media can’t see the forest for the trees. We report on the shock-and-awe occurring in southern Afghanistan to an increasingly desensitized audience, or we detail the accounts of the generals and politicians haggling over their agendas and what is right for those under their protection. But what is lost in most reporting are the visions and voices of the Afghan people; those for whom every day is a test of survival and a challenge to dignity.
It is important to listen to what these resolute people have to say. Decades of war have not vanquished their hopes nor erased their ambitions to build a better tomorrow for their children.
The five Afghans quoted (out of dozens interviewed) in this article were asked three questions; 1) Do you feel the coalition forces should leave Afghanistan? 2) What would happen to Afghanistan if they did leave? 3) What is the most important issue that concerns you most in your life or that of your family?
Thirty-seven-year-old Sima, a cleaning lady, refused to give me her last name because of the fear of reprisal. For many Afghan women, the fear of repression and even death still clings heavily. Even speaking with a male stranger on the street can lead to the worst from the conservative elements in this society. She fought back tears while describing her plight.
“We’re happy if they (the coalition forces) stay longer and keep the security. I’m definitely sure that if tomorrow they leave, the Taliban will come.
“My husband and 18-year-old son were both killed by the Taliban, before their power collapsed. Now I have no home and I’m renting a place. I am the only one working to raise my five children. My two boys are 9 and 15 years old. My three daughters are 11, 13 and 17.”
There is no social safety net for people like Sima in Afghanistan. It is either work, borrow money from family, send your children out to work, or beg on the streets. This is the reality for many female widows here.
Twenty-three-year-old Sherraz is a baker of traditional Nãm, or bread. For males, it is common practice that they use only one name. He is unmarried though he lives with his 50-year-old mother, 70-year-old father, two teenage sisters and two brothers.
“For the American forces and the other foreign armies to stay is important. If they leave, it will be a very big problem for the country’s security. But if they were all to leave tomorrow, it is not important because the Mojahadeen, the Afghan Army and the police have improved enough that we can defend ourselves.
“I hope our people and families have no war in this, our country. The poor can’t work when there is war. I hope peace comes for our families, it will improve the lives for our families.”
Mohammed Amid Ezmerry is a 53-year-old tinsmith who has been plying his trade of making water containers and heating stoves since the age of six. He is married with two sons aged 12 and 22, and three girls aged 13, 14 and 21.
“Now it is better that they stay because of our security. If they leave, all the people will kill each other and it will be a big problem.
“Our future is not bright. We need Canada’s help. Right now our work is a little better, but after the autumn, I will not be able to afford the rent to house my family. Right now no one can afford the ovens or the wood. It is not good.”
Abdul Setery is a 24-year-old security guard and a married father of four young boys aged six months, 17 months, four and five years of age. When I interviewed him he was guarding the outside of a private residence, cradling an AK-47 assault rifle in his lap. This is a common scene in volatile Kabul.
“Now, the situation is not good. When we find peace then they should leave. They should stay as long as the fighting still continues. There will be a lot of fighting in this country (should they leave) and living here will be very dangerous. I want a good life for our family and for our future. I want my four kids to receive a high level of education.”
Twenty-five-year-old Farhad Hazzatull is a geography student at Kabul University, though he works most of the day as a hotel worker catering to its guests. He is unmarried and lives at home with his mother, his brother, 29, and sister, 28. His father died when Farhad was eight.
“I think they should stay here. It’s not good for the future of Afghanistan if they leave. The Taliban will come here again and start problems for the people. A lot of people would be killed.
“The most important thing to me is the security of my family. When the security is stable I can see a good future for me and my family. I can get a good job and earn a good wage. Without security, I can’t continue university or contribute to the livelihood of my family.”

Special thanks to my colleague Guido Schmidt for his contribution to this story.
2007-11-07 09:21:46

One Comment on "Robert Galbraith: Voices of Afghanistan"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson November 11, 2007 at 5:51 pm · Reply

    Nov 11
    We were delighted to hear Robert Galbraith speaking about this article and his experiences in Afghanistan on Beryl Wajsman’s excellent Remembrance Day radio programme this evening. Although he could not disclose his whereabouts, it seems that Robert is somewhere in the northern part of Afghanistan; he says he is in a mud fort that is a couple of centuries old. Wherever he is, our thoughts and prayers are with him.

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