There is an Afghanistan that is constantly changing but for those who migrate, it feels like a moment frozen in amber. They carry those moments and I get glimpses of them. Sometimes I don't know if what I glimpse tells me enough about their country. I just spent a day with a wonderful researcher who has worked with the Afghan community in the U.S. and Afghanistan. It felt like a pilgrimage. Replete with photographs, anecdotes, and the opportunity to imagine that wondrous land and its people.
So I asked this learned researcher, what seems to be in store for the Afghans in Afghanistan? Knowing about ground realities there always helps me know the source of tensions for my participants in the U.S. She said that the return of the Taliban is imminent and people are just gearing up to find ways to adapt to those realities. We, the people outside Afghanistan, should be ready to receive those who will begun to flee a few months after the U.S. pulls out. It's easy for spectators to think the Afghans can't survive without the U.S., that the Afghans 'need' the U.S. The truth is far more complex than that. She said that the most painful part is knowing how much hope everyone had when the Taliban fell in 2001. To me, the Taliban's resurgence is a tragic and grotesque mockery of that hope.
It seems like the people who continue to live in Afghanistan dwell less on hope or hopelessness but more on how they will make things work. Water will seep into whatever space it finds, that is it's job. That is the nature of freedom too, people will exercise whatever freedom they will find.
We talked about our work and saw the different vantage points we had both gained by virtue of the different times and spaces in which we did our research. She in the 90's whereas I did mine post 9/11. 9/11 was when the destinies of both countries intersected in terrible ways. I read a tribute to New York at the Seattle Center, where a rock was inscribed with the message "To the people of New York City, Washington DC and Philadelphia. Here is Seattle. We are very far from you physically but near in our hearts. Sept 11, 2001". I remember reading it and feeling this lump in my throat for all that the U.S. had lost of its innocence on that terrible day. And a little later my thoughts went to Afghanistan. That tragic day had also started a new chapter in their history. A chapter marked initially by hope (even though the bombing killed many innocent people) and later by unrelenting violence. 9/11 was when the war on terror began whereas the war for Afghanistan simply began a new chapter.
I remember thinking that there is no tribute to the Afghan people who had to withstand severe bombing after the attacks on the World Trade Center. They experienced death and destruction too. Where is their memorial site? And how do the Afghans in the U.S. reconcile their sense of loss for what happened to Afghanistan AND the U.S. after those planes crashed those towers.
She and I agreed, no matter where they were, the Afghan people always stood alone. They had each other and that was all.They didn't just share war stories but also a macabre humor that war fosters. As the troops pull out, Afghanistan threatens to fall out of our collective consciousness. And that will be a terrible tragedy too. There were good Kharijees who came and turned up the volume on those voices that nobody heard. Or atleast they tried.
Now it is time for people like you and me to stand in solidarity with the Afghans. You have the luxury of saying 'we will not negotiate or cooperate with the Taliban' but remember, you will have to find ways to support every ounce of resilience that the Afghans have shown and will continue to show. If you want the Afghans to feel less alone, they need to know that we are here and they have not been forgotten.