Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan: Afghan Youth in India Want Peace At Home
“We cannot go back to the ideas of the 1990s; this is a new Afghanistan’, believe Afghan students studying in India.
Students from Afghanistan, presently living in India, talk about the past and the future with deep trepidation. With the Taliban gaining strength in Afghanistan, again, their battle scars ache in apprehension of what is to come.
Speaking to some students, it is possible to get a sneak peak of the dreams behind the despair.
Sigmund Freud called dreams the guardians of sleep. Before Afghanistan slips into slumber, we must recount and recognise the guardian dreams of the Afghani youth.
The students who graduated recently are not occupied with career plans; they just want to return home, despite the uncertainty.
What Are Memories of Afghanistan Made Of?
“My parents don't want me to come home and have asked me to stay back”, said a student who has just completed his Masters studies from a premier university in India. Two of his friends also narrate similar stories of their parents’ hesitation and explain that they have been asked to stay on in India.
These Afghani men and women in their mid-twenties hail from Wardak, Logar and other provinces adjacent to Kabul. The Afghan peace deal between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America that “ends the war in Afghanistan for the benefit of all Afghans” is no more.
The news of Taliban’s control over 85% of Afghan territories in the wake of US and NATO troops’ withdrawal, has triggered fearsome memories in these recent graduates, of the last time the Taliban was in power.
Most of them were primary school students when the Taliban was removed from power through international military intervention led by the US. They recall with horror, and describe the macabre scenes of bomb blasts right outside their school premises. They remember how they shuddered at the sight of body parts in the streets after the blasts.
They also remember learning to play football, learning foreign languages, enjoying music or family picnics in parks while growing up in post-war Afghanistan. The violence, however, overshadows all these childhood memories. Many of these children of civil war came to India to study mathematics, law, economics, sociology, and biotechnology, among others, in premier institutions.
They dreamt of going back home with acquired skills to serve their nation and society but these dreams are imperilled now.
'Ethnicity Issue in Afghanistan not as bad as Casteism Here'
A general misnomer about Afghan society is, that it is a society with nearly irreparable ethnic divides but many students studying in India refute it. They claim that while growing up they hardly bothered about the ethnicity of their school friends. Instead, many of them took offence when asked about their background.
‘Being Afghani’ came first in the post-war era.
As students in India, Afghan youths believe that ethnicity in Afghanistan is not as bad as casteism in India. Afghan people have the liberty to rise up from lower stratas. ‘Poverty is high but inequality is low,’ they say.
However, there is another debate that divides Afghan youth. Some believe that the famous novel Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is a true depiction of violence-torn Afghanistan while others aggressively deny it.
'The Taliban is Cruel, Anti-Islamic'
Afghan youth claim that the Taliban do not understand Islam. They criticise the Talibanisation of Afghani society in which anyone who speaks for the 'correct' Islamic interpretation, is seen as an enemy.
They recall the execution of the innocent people for petty crimes by the Taliban. It was an anti-Islamic Taliban that did not ensure food for the hungry, education for children, health for the ill, and expected the people to be pious.
The Afghan youth have to choose between the Taliban's interpretation of law, and the Islamic laws enshrined in the Constitution of Afghanistan.
They resolutely believe that “escape is not the solution, we need to fight; its our country and we need to fight”.
They unanimously voice their anxious resolution “we cannot go back to the ideas of the 1990s; this is a new Afghanistan’.
No Rights for Women Under the Taliban
The 1990s saw bans on girl child education, music, and strict dress codes for women.
A student from Logar province cited a recent example of a girls school that was bombed. There was a time when every woman was hidden in a chadri, a burqa covering her from head to toe with openings at the eyes. Only gradually did women start wearing a hijab or a non-face covering burqa, deemed ‘culturally appropriate’ by the social elites. On the whole, Afghani society and culture has been patriarchal.
Technology, Western Ideas Changed Afghanistan, & the Taliban
One cannot deny that the change in mindset in Afghanistan was due to exposure to television and the internet. International organisations like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and GIZ installed satellite dish TVs, even in remote provinces along with solar light panels.
The social and political connection of Afghanistan with the rest of the world facilitated access to movies, music, and information from Europe, America, and even from India. Many family members settled abroad introduced novel ideas that influenced family life and kinship in Afghanistan too.
An oft-heard joke among the youth is, “even the Taliban use Facebook to go live to show the provinces they win; they use WhatsApp to spread messages; and they are active on Twitter too”.
Besides, the Taliban is paying these internet providers hefty sums of money.
Taliban Raises Its Head, Supported by Sections of Society
The youth are, however, aware that the masses in the provinces support the Taliban. This support is rooted in the mass rage with widespread corruption in the government. The Afghan state has misused facilities rather than facilitating the people. Therefore, this need not be the old Taliban that is lurking large at present.
In June 2021, the Nat Geo Instagram handle published a picture of Kabulis picnicking in public parks despite the Taliban gaining in new provinces.
The image evokes emotional optimism amongst the Afghan youth. Despite the situation in Afghanistan turning unpredictable each day, as the photographer mentions in the Instagram post, there is an ‘astonishing resilience’ amongst the Afghani people.
Stuck between hope and despair, many of these students spoke about life and growing up, still staunchly believing that ‘Afghani people are not the same this time’. They acknowledge the force of the gun and executions, yet feel proud and responsible for their homeland. This young generation of Afghanis dream of making peace with the Taliban hardliners, not war.
(The names of students have not been mentioned to maintain anonymity)
(Dev Nath Pathak is a founding faculty of Department of Sociology at South Asian University (a SAARC initiative), New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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