I came across an article recently on Afghanistan by Hugh Sykes who works for the BBC News. While describing the politics relating to the country “stranger than fiction”, he narrated the miserable conditions that prevail in it today. According to him, even after a lapse of more than 8 years of the launch of “War on terror” and billions of dollars poured into the country to prop up Hamid Karzai, life in Afghanistan has not improved. He quoted a passage from a novel Blood Meridian, a one-time best-seller, (by Cormac McCarthy the famous American novelist and playwright) which was about Mexico around 150 years ago but, he said, fits the present-day Kabul so snugly.
The passage was: “Old alms seekers, with their seamy palms out-held and maimed beggars, sad-eyed in rags and children asleep in the shadows with flies walking their dreamless eyes... Naked dogs that seem composed of bone entirely and small orphans abroad like irate dwarfs”.
To complete the Kabul picture, Sykes said, one had only to add, “children in rags tug at your coat and you fish out a battered Afghan note...Then there are 10 small children grabbing at your hand and you cannot get away as the children are blocking the pavement...A woman with a baby under her burka sees you giving money to the children and begs for some herself... The daylight thickens into night and there are no street lights. A young man, desperate for work, weeps...and through his accusing tears says: you have been here eight years now, and what have you done?” (Lyrical and evocative but very distressing!)
That is precisely what I ask too.
For eight long years Afghanistan has been kind of “killing fields”. Before that the murderous Taliban who did the Soviets in but, later, did likewise with the Afghanis – their own kind. It wasn’t like that when I spent two summer months in 1983 in Kabul (doing a consultancy on behalf of the Universal Postal Union).
Back then, under the occupation of the now-defunct Soviet Union, Kalashnikov-toting Red Army men used to be ubiquitous. They had pickets around every hundred meters on the arterial roads (perhaps, now substituted by the men of the “Coalition of the willing”). One could feel the Mujahideen activity up and beyond the surrounding hills. Blasts and rat-tat-tat of gunfire could be heard almost every night. As the day dawned, however, life would resume and pretend to be normal – yes, far too normal for the prevailing conditions. Importantly, no child would ever tug at your jacket for the stapled-together Afghani currency notes. Nor a burqua-clad woman – generally seen in the Old Town across the Kabul River – would ever think of asking you for alms. (The newer areas had signs of once-having-been plush where women were mostly westernized). Most of them were in dire straits, but, clearly, their pride would not permit them to beg.
A dangerous place even then, with death lurking at every corner! Many must have been shot out resisting the Red Army. Yet, in the midst of the ongoing fireworks all around, Kabul was hospitable and apparently well-fed.
That was then! It is so sad now – more so when one sees what man can do to man and ruin a people in a matter of few years – the saga of post Zaheer Shah Afghanistan. Currently, a lethal mix of bigoted murderers and western forces is ravishing the country and devastating its beautiful people. So down and out now that it will be a miracle if Afghanis are ever able to pull themselves out of the depths they have been dragged down to. Obama’s proposed pull-out by 2011 will leave behind ghosts or, at best, zombies.