It is now almost 30 years that Afghanistan is at war. A new generation has been born and grown up with war. The lives of millions of people have been changed due to the war and its dire consequences. The war is not limited to Afghanistan and its people. It had and has direct and indirect effects on world politics and the international community. The big powers were/are involved and each party had/has its own objectives and interests. People around the world are being affecting by this war.
After the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, international propaganda began supporting the Afghans against the occupiers. Billions of dollars, in cash and kind, were used to finance the war in order to bring the Soviets to their knees. Western powers and their regional allies gave birth to Islamic fundamentalism to defeat Soviet communism. Religion was the best option and weapon to use and manipulate. As a consequence of the Western-supported “jehad” (holy war), the democratic forces and “national resistance” movement within Afghan freedom-loving circles were either ignored or, intentionally, marginalized. Fundamentalism got the upper hand and succeeded to break the backbone of the democratic and progressive movements in Afghanistan.
After 10 years of war (1979-1989), the Soviets withdrew empty handed. Afghans defeated their enemies but, sadly, failed to embrace freedom and democracy. Soon after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, people were left alone at the mercy of the Islamic fundamentalists. The tyranny and terror that these religious fanatics unleashed during the brutal civil war (1992-1996), is unparalleled in contemporary Afghan history. Thousands of innocent people lost their lives in Kabul alone; 70 percent of the city was razed to the ground. Millions of people left the country and a new generation of refugees settled down in neighboring countries. Schools were closed down and books were burnt. Girls began committing suicide to avoid rape by the warlords. Rocketfire and shooting at civilians became part of the daily life of the people.
All these facts show that ordinary people are the main victims and losers in recent wars and conflicts in our world. Contradictory interests of international and regional powers are the main reasons for recent hostilities and conflicts. To win the hearts and minds of people, powers, both international and local, have been building public opinion in a wrongful way for a wrongful cause. While “democracy”, “freedom” and “human rights” are the weapons of international powers; religious sentiments, ethnic tensions, race and language are the primary weapons of the local powers for deceiving people and gaining their support.
Recent Afghan history, like that of other poor countries in war, shows that war brings homelessness, poverty, hunger, illiteracy, ethnic tension, lawlessness, cultural decay and violence against women and children. The worst part is that ordinary people are the first and easy targets of all these social menaces. In particular, I would like to mention the following issues that have changed the lives of the Afghan people drastically:
Refugees and identity- With the onset of war and conflict, social and economic institutes and bodies, either partially or wholly, fail to function. Bullets and bombs and rockets create panic and destroy the lives of ordinary people. The uncertain political situation gives rise to oppressive and totalitarian measures to crush any opposition. This scenario causes massive movements and displacements of people in and outside the country. During the Soviet era, the jehadi (literally holy warriors, but in Afghanistan’s case, fanatic warlords) period, and finally during the Taliban regime, millions of Afghans took refuge in other countries, mostly Pakistan and Iran. A whole generation was born and grew up in refugee camps. Poor living conditions and the lack of well-prepared and well-funded educational and health services left hundreds of thousands of people coping with malnourished children. Thousands of mothers died during delivery. Professionals were forced to do menial jobs and children worked to bring what food they could home. Children missed their childhood and the young people lost their youthfulness. Diseases played havoc in overcrowded, unsanitary living conditions.
One of the most important challenges was in maintaining cultural and national identity. While adults were socially marginalized as they were not picking up the host country’s language easily, the children and young people were divided between two cultures and identities. On one hand they had to adjust to their life as an Afghan within the well-established community in refugee camps and on the other they had to accept their status and identity as new residents in an unfamiliar and often hostile country. With the return of some refugees into Afghanistan, the issue of identity and social adjustment has demonstrated its complexity. The children of first generation refugees, having grown up in other countries, are like refugees in their own country, unused to the way of life and culture inside Afghanistan. They have the problem of assimilation within Afghan society. Even those who had been speaking the same language (Persian in Iran and Pashto in Pakistan) feel isolated and unwelcome in Afghanistan. For instance, people make joke about those who speak Persian with an Iranian accent. Also, for some returnees who lead a relatively calm life in Pakistan and Iran, it is not easy to accept and take in the harsh realities of daily life in the devastated infrastructure of Afghanistan.
Education and cultural decay- The Afghan society and way of life is not what it was before the Soviets. War changed some of the country’s cultural and moral values in a highly negative and destructive way. Years of direct and indirect contact with Kalashnikovs, and going through education based on Soviet propaganda, jehadi textbooks in refugee camps, and finally the obscurantist policies of the Taliban have given birth to a new set of rules that, now, are an integrated part of Afghan culture. Perhaps the new aspects are temporary and will vanish once the country embraces true democracy and social development. However, the current situation is not promising to diminish the cultural crises among Afghans in and outside the country. High illiteracy and resentment towards science and technology are legacies of the Taliban and warlords and present strong reasons for cultural decay. The basic fabric of society has been torn, and unthinkable acts before the Soviets are now commonplace: child-rape, child marriage, drug addiction, obscene language, social and cultural intolerance (among different ethnic groups), closed and biased thinking, the culture of guns and knives among the youth, and the harassment of girls are part of the negative aspects of current Afghan culture, and will take generations to reverse.
Women and children, the easy victims of wars- As in every war and conflict in our world, Afghan women and children have been facing uncountable hardships. According to “Beyond 9/11”, a US-based nonprofit group, there are 1.5 million widows out of an estimated 26.6 million people in Afghanistan. Almost 90 percent of widows cannot read and write. Zulaikha’s story is the story of all Afghan widows. Zulaikha lost her husband during the factional fighting between Taliban and the Northern Alliance forces in 1999. She has three children, a son of 11 and two daughters aged 8 and 9. She starts her day with begging in the streets of Kabul from 7 in the morning. She barely earns 2-3$ a day to feed her family.
Like Zulaikha, millions of Afghan women are unheard and underrepresented in public institutions. Those who have lost their husbands and left to care for children are especially vulnerable and insecure. During the infighting between different jehadi factions (headed by warlords such as Rabbani and Masood, Gulbuddin, Sayyaf, Dostum, Mazari, etc.), women and children faced the beginning of the darkest period of their lives. Some small children were sold by their parents because they couldn’t feed them and tens of women and young girls committed suicide to avoid rape and forced marriage by roaming jehadi fighters.
The Taliban then unleashed a reign of terror on civilians, especially women. Their war against their jehadi opponents opened a completely new chapter in Afghanistan. Women were excluded from all kinds of social life and girls were deprived of schooling. Their draconian policies and misogynist thoughts are unparalleled all over the world.
The current post-Taliban period, while an improvement in some ways, has still not ‘liberated’ Afghan women, as promised. The international community has failed to maintain women’s security, and some very strong and active Afghan women have been brutally killed. The culture of impunity has devastated many women’s lives and self-immolation, mostly by fire, is a new trend among some suffered women.
World politics and victims of wars- Indeed, the current “war on terror” in Afghanistan takes its heavy toll from the ordinary people. Wedding parties and funeral ceremonies are being bombed. Peoples’ houses are being searched and women and children are being terrorized. The military operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaida have not brought any fundamental reduction to the Taliban’s fighting capacity, and instead it has cost lives and properties of civilians. On 23rd of August, 2008, the UN and Afghan government announced that 90 people were killed during US bombing of Azizabad in Herat. It is an example that shows how civilians pay the high price of war and conflict. After seven years of the “war on terror”, Afghans are more hopeless and oppressed than ever before.
Billions of dollars have allegedly been pumped into uplifting the living conditions of the people and bring peace and prosperity in the war-ravaged country. Thousands of international and national NGOs have been “implementing” developmental projects and the Afghan government has targeted 2020 for achieving its defined Millennium Development Goals. But the harsh realities on the ground are discouraging. The high rate of corruption within the government, the existence of warlords in key posts, the drug-economy, corrupt judiciary, lack of a strong and effective central government, NGO-ism and the ever-increasing threat of the Taliban are undeniable realities.
Civilians distance themselves from the government, and the international forces are not welcome as they had been before. The death of each person as a result of US bombing turns a whole family, sometimes a whole village, pro-Taliban. Poverty and the lack of basic living facilities stoke up the anger of the people against the government and international presence.
“Freedom” and “human rights” as new tools for waging wars- “Freedom” from the Taliban’s religious fascism was used to win the support of people for the “war on terror”. People were fed up with the Taliban and warlords. But as soon as the Taliban regime was toppled, the public faced another monster: the warlords and drug barons. Peoples’ lives were put at the hands of war-criminals and corrupt politicians. Due to their presence and rulings, peoples’ lives have been passing from bad to worse.
“Freedom” and “human rights” have delivered nothing to Dilawar, an ordinary person in Afghanistan. His wife Sara has been raped by warlords in September 2005 in Samangan province. First the rapists were convicted to imprisonment, but lately Karzai pardoned the rapists. Dilawar is in search of justice in a land where warlords are the de facto rulers and its “President” has been collaborating with war criminals. As talking about rape cases in Afghanistan means further isolation, in responding whether Dilawar minded Sara’s story being publicized, he said, ‘We’ve already lost our son, our honor, we’ve sold our land to pay for legal costs and we’ve lost our home – what else can we lose?’”
The story of Dilawar reflects the story of all the ordinary people who are caught by wars and warmongers. They lose everything in war. The only thing they get is false promises on “freedom” and “human rights”.
As long as we have wars in our planet, every family in the world should be ready to receive bad news about a dear ones, if not today, maybe tomorrow. In war, everybody loses.