Sunday, October 24, 2010

Back in Kabul
Tuesday, 17 August 2010

After a year of study, I am back in Kabul. Although, I never felt I was away from Afghanistan and its issues and was following up every news very closely, distance impacts relationships
It is originally cliché to claim that the current circumstances are critical in Afghanistan because our past 10 years have been consistently critical and troubled. Every year that passes in Afghanistan, there is a feeling that things don't change for the better but get worse, while the reality might be a bit different.

Things have changed in Afghanistan. Only for some. Some of the people who were not even able to discuss matters critically in a simple meeting, are now parliamentary elections candidates. However, some very qualified individuals too are running for the elections which brings hopes of change. The muddy and dusty city has turned blacker and grayer as the newest models of vehicles gashing the already wrecked roads, amaze everyone coming new to Kabul.

This week I visited some women groups in the rural areas of Kabul's district 6. The place is called Gulkhana, which means the ‘home of flowers'. As I entered the first tiny street, the suffocation and smell of septic wells flowing on the streets could not be tolerated for a second. But saw small children playing around those open waters as if they were really in the ‘home of flowers'. This gave me a little courage to move on. The tiny street led towards a house built by raw bricks and I was directed towards the muddy yard, inside which some 50 to 60 women were waiting to talk to me and tell me about their issues. As we began interacting with each other, the women started complaining about everything from the bad road conditions to lack of girls schools to lack of clinic staff and even complained that they don't know if there are any parliamentary candidates from their district. I tried to remind myself that I am not in Daikundi or Ghor, this is the 6th District of Kabul, the capital of this country. The city that talks of tall towers and internet banking, the city that roars the 21st century technology.

I could not help but asked them why is it that we are ready to kill when it comes to religion but do not practice the teachings of the same religion that says hygiene and cleanliness is half of the faith and why don't they clean their community themselves rather than waiting for the government to come and remove their garbage . Some of them remained silent while some started blaming each other that its actually the community members that throw their garbage outside their doors and don't close down their septic wells. While asking about their local Wakil-e-Guzar (the locally elected representative), all the women present started cursing him that he does not care about his responsibility and is a corrupt man. I asked again if they had voted for him, they all confirmed that they had voted for the same man to be their representative for the second time even though everyone of them were angry on his incompetence.

While discussing about how this community impacts the local decision-making, the women themselves started realizing that they are themselves part of the problem that they are cursing. One of them wondered " ok...so even if the women of this community stand against Wakil-e-Guzar, and seek accountability on how he is elected and how he carries his responsibilities, we will be able to change him and elect someone better..." and the women present agreed, all saying in one voice. " The next Wakil could be Seema jaan..." said a woman who was sitting quiet in a corner.

This one-day incident exemplifies the bigger challenges of Afghanistan. The government and the non-governmental institutions have not been able to work with communities and didn't struggle hard to empower the communities to stand and speak for themselves, but rather treated the community members as beneficiaries, illiterate and un-aware. Each society has its own strenghts and I believe we Afghans too have a lot of strenghts that could be utilized to recover Afghanistan from its current chaotic dilemmas. Even if the project of nation-building is not part of the larger Counter-insurgency strategy, one of the only ways that works in Afghanistan is empowering the local communities, who can in turn challenge the centralized, power focused around -individuals state in the country.