A U.S. soldier from 127th Military Police (MP), Task Force "Cacti" and a linguist walk along a road during a patrol in Khas Konar district in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan October 6, 2011. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
Hameed Tasal was 13-years-old in the fall of 2001, when he saw trucks full of Taliban fighters speed out of Jalalabad with only dust left in their wake. For Hameed, like the majority of the population of Afghanistan, the nation’s recent history can be clearly divided into two parts - before and after the fall of the Taliban regime.
For the 50 per cent of Afghans under 30, the past 10 years have been a time of great accomplishment and dashed hopes as foreign forces looking in search of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda members also drove Taliban rule from the Central Asian nation.
Now 10 years after the start of what was dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom, Al Jazeera’s Ali M. Latifi
speaks to three young Afghans about a range of experiences: growing up under Taliban rule, returning home after years in exile, witnessing corruption at the polls, women’s rights, and even rocking out to the sounds of Afghanistan’s first music festival in over 30 years.
Hameed is a 23-year-old graduate of Nangarhar University. He was born and raised in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where he first became interested in technology and social media in high school. This interest led Hameed to apply his knowledge of technology to development applications.
After graduating from Nangarhar University, he opened his own technology-development company in Jalalabad. His team, the Jalalagood Geek Squad, works in mapping, crowd sourcing, solar power, and social media. He has also travelled extensively throughout Afghanistan for work.
Twitter: @Jalalagood How old were you when the US mission in Afghanistan began?
I was 13 years old when I heard the Americans were coming. I personally celebrated when I heard the Taliban were being driven out because I had no life during the Taliban.
For me and many other young Afghans, our only ambition, if we had any, was to memorize the Koranic verses the mullahs assigned to us. We were afraid of being hit, so we would commit the Arabic verses they picked to rote memorisation. Organisation How do the youth differ from the older generations in Afghanistan?
The youth are very different [from older generations]. They are more democratic. They have more modern views. More and more people are going to get an education. Their ambitions now are to get an education because if you look at the people in their 40s and 50s, they are so much less educated than the younger generations.
Parents who have lived through the fighting also see how important education is, so they say, “It’s okay, I will work harder so you can go to school.”
How does Jalalabad differ from Kabul?
I was only able to go to Kabul after the Taliban left. Jalalabad is different from Kabul in many ways. When I come to Kabul men and women work in the same offices. More and more women have access to the outside society in Kabul.
In Jalalabad even after the Taliban left many women continued to wear their burqas. My mother, who is a school teacher, didn’t wear a burqa before the Taliban. Now that the Taliban have left she still wears it because she feels others may talk about her, saying she has brought disrespect or dishonor to her household.
There is a difference between the women who grew up after the Taliban and those that grew up during the Taliban’s rule. During Taliban [governance], one of my sisters went to Pakistan for education because she was not allowed to go to school in Afghanistan. When she came back she was not wearing a burqa.
There are fewer girls who grew up after the Taliban [wearing the] burqa than those that grew up during the Taliban or the civil war.
What has changed in Afghanistan since the Taliban left?
I personally have more ambition now. During the Taliban I had to work and support my family because my mother, who had been a schoolteacher, was not allowed to work, so I didn’t have many chances to dream of what I could be.
In school, I would have questions [for] the Islamic teachers and they would just respond that you have to believe what’s written.
Then at home, because in Afghan culture you [follow a hierarchy] by age, I had to defer to my father and older brother.
[Back in 2001], what did you imagine Afghanistan would look like in 2011?
Everyone had high expectations. I thought there would be less corruption and that people would come together to reconstruct their country. I thought it would be like Japan after World War II when people came together to rebuild their country out of patriotism.
A lot has changed, but it’s not to [the degree] people expected or what should have happened after 10 years and billions of dollars.
If you go to Kabul and see all these new buildings you will think there has been a lot of advancement, but those buildings are not development, they are personal interests and personal money. Those who think they are smarter will take their money outside to places like Dubai, like the President’s brother [Ahmad Wali Karzai] did.
Why is there so much corruption?
People think that if you steal from the Americans it is somehow okay but that you should never steal from an Afghan or an Afghan commander. My own mullah once told me, “You’re working with Americans, so it’s okay if you steal from them.”
All that aid money comes to Afghanistan so people feel like they can pocket the money but they don’t realise that one day the foreign forces will leave and we will be left to ourselves to run the country.
What will happen when the foreign forces leave?
There will be another civil war. Already all of the commanders have inserted their people into the armies and police, so that if anything goes bad they already have people on the inside. Basically, they are saving out of fear for the day when they will once again have to sell potatoes on the street. They don’t want to go back to that, so they are doing everything they can to be ready.
Do you remember your first time voting?
I actually shouldn’t have voted the first time. I was in Khogyani [in southern Nangarghar], where there is very little government presence. My cousins who were from the area forced the team registering voters to make me a voter registration card even though I was underage at the time.
That day I saw many, many people who voted 25 times for a single person. I saw just how easy it is to make an election if you have connections to the people running the voting stations.
Even though I wasn’t supposed to vote then I was still excited because it was my first time to vote. I was happy that I did it, because growing up during the Taliban I felt like that was the first time that opinion mattered in something big like my president.
Do young people have faith in democracy?
I was very happy the first time I voted, but I didn’t believe the results would be accurate. I was glad that at least I voted, but I knew I couldn’t trust the results. I saw the corruption first-hand.
There was a lot of talk about who people were going to vote for before the election and even after people had come out of the voting station people would talk about who each had voted for.
Many of the young people in Afghanistan though, will follow the political allegiances of their parents. In my own family my mother is a jihadist and my father is a communist, but I am none of those.
My mother says “vote for this guy” my father says “vote for this guy” and then I go vote for someone different, but many other young people are very influenced by their parents.
Masuma Ibrahimi has a master’s degree in theatre directing, and she now serves at the General Director of the Afghan Cultural House in Kabul. In 2008 she participated in Afghanistan’s first blogging workshop. She currently lives in the Khushal Khan area of Kabul.
Website: http://www.ach.af/ How old were you in 2001 when you heard the Americans were coming?
I was 19 years old and living in Iran. I remember my mother and father were talking about how the Taliban were leaving. To me, I thought that meant that the fighting would stop and that finally we could go back home.
My family left when I was one year old to come to Iran during the civil war, so everything I knew about Afghanistan was things that were told to me but it was always my hope to go back to Afghanistan one day.
I used to think that once the fighting ended everyone would be able to go back, so it was a very joyous time for me when I found out the Taliban were leaving. I waited until I completed my studies in Iran in 2003 to return to Afghanistan.
What were your expectations of Afghanistan in 2011?
The things that should have been here and I was waiting for are not here. Still I am not hopeless even though the things I was expecting have not yet come.
I have great fear about what the state of politics and the economy will be like once the foreigners leave. The people who are able to lead their lives right now are doing it because of foreign intervention.
In the past eight years I have come to realise that things will only get better in Afghanistan if the Afghans themselves make an effort to create a better Afghanistan.
Are the Afghans making an effort?
Are the people afraid of a Taliban return?
In the bigger cities, yes, but in the smaller cities and further out in the provinces, life hasn’t changed enough for them from the Taliban time for them to be afraid of a Taliban return. In many ways, for those people, the Taliban never left.
How has life changed for Afghan women in the past 10 years?
It is doubtless in these past 10 years that education, work, freedom have all gotten better for women in Afghanistan.
I do not know one woman who speaks well of the Taliban time or wishes for their return.
You have had the opportunity to travel to many of the provinces in Afghanistan, how does the rest of the country differ from Kabul?
I have been able to go to Herat, Kandahar, Ghazni, and Bamiyan several times. I have seen life in those areas up close.
People in the bigger cities do have more of a sense of democracy because they feel like they have at least had some experience with it. In the villages and the provinces though, the people are more susceptible when mullahs say things like that foreigners want to take veils off the face of women.
But since 2007 things have only gotten worse, even in Kabul. In 2003 you could go to Kandahar and Herat with much less fear as compared to today. Today even in Kabul you cannot be certain that once you walk out your door there will not be an explosion or that you will find yourself in the middle of a tragedy.
Now, 10 years after foreign intervention, the people do not have faith in the democratic process or their leaders. Some will even say that at least if the Taliban slapped you, they didn’t take bribes.
The people don’t feel like the leaders will look out for their interest so they return to that civil war mentality of supporting ethnic leaders because they feel at least people of the same ethnicity will protect their interests.
Some people say at least if Afghanistan could get to where Iran is now it would be an improvement. Do you believe Iran to be a good model for Afghanistan to aspire to?
Absolutely not. I grew up in Iran, it is my second home and I can tell you that the Iranian system is not appropriate for Afghanistan. The Iranian government is a government without freedom.
In Iran, there is dictatorship and people are stripped of their posts at the whim of the rulers. Yes there are some freedoms, but it is democracy by name. It is still a country where the leaders do as they wish and the people suffer.
Mohamad Jawad is a 28-year-old ethnic Hazara from the Ghazni province. During the civil war, his family moved to Quetta, Pakistan where he attended a Japanese-funded school for Afghans. In 2002, he returned to Afghanistan and began working for US Special Forces as an interpreter. He is now a social research analyst for a Kabul-based consulting company.
How old were you in 2001 when you heard the Americans were coming?
I was 18 years old in Quetta, Pakistan, where my family had been since I was 7 or 8 because of the civil war.
I remember I was teaching English at an Afghan school in Quetta when I first heard about the 9/11 attacks. I was drinking tea in my classroom when news of the attacks came.
Then a few weeks later, there was talk that the Americans were coming to Afghanistan because of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban’s ties to al Qaeda. Most of the people were happy when they heard this.
I remember my father saying, “The sword of the Taliban would be taken from our throats.” We were all so excited, but no one could have imagined that even after billions of dollars no real change would come to the country.
[Back in 2001], what did you imagine Afghanistan would look like in 2011?
I had an image of a free Afghanistan in 10 years. We all thought that with elections and democracy, Afghanistan would be once again rebuilt into a peaceful country. We thought our days as immigrants — 2 million [Afghans] in Pakistan and 1.5 million in Iran — would be over.
Growing up in Pakistan what did you know of the Taliban?
We knew [the Taliban] came to take people from the Pashtun areas of Pakistan for “jihad.” Even the people who would wash our plates and deliver the bread were being recruited into [fighting for the Taliban].
These are uneducated people who only tasted success through the sword. They wanted to place another donkey on a golden throne and expect people to call him a ruler.
It was a very bitter period full of fighting for the people of Afghanistan, no one speaks well of it.
How has life changed for the Hazara since the Taliban [was ousted]?
I am a Hazara myself and I can tell you nothing good came to my people under them. We suffered a great deal in the time of the Taliban.
We have seen some advancement, but if the world leaves, our future will be the same as our past: we were the maids and we will continue to be the maids.
If the foreign forces leave, what will happen in Afghanistan?
If the world leaves, we will fall even below the condition we were in before the foreign intervention. The people who brought Afghanistan to this state are still very much alive and active.
Yes, there are changes in the architecture of Afghanistan but those are their buildings, not ours. Those are the buildings of the people who left to work outside and came back. Otherwise, they are the work of Jihadis who have taken money of the people to build them.
How did you envision Afghanistan in 2011?
Not like this. The roads have not been rebuilt: we still drive on dirt and rocks. When the money does come into Afghanistan, it is not evenly distributed among the provinces. If one province gets $300 million, another will not even see $1 million.
Everyone is looking out for themselves. No one [is looking out for] those who have stayed in Afghanistan these past 10 years and never fired even a single bullet.
You went to the Sound Central rock festival in Kabul. What was that like?
I have been a longtime fan of rock music so it was very important for me to see bands from Afghanistan, whether it be Morcheh from Herat, or Kabul Dreams from Kabul, performing.
These are young kids who want to spend their youth in joy. Seeing the 300 young Afghans in attendance was very important because the youth are not even able to have interests any more.
What has changed for women in Afghanistan?
Very little. There is still a lot of judgment. I have a wife and a daughter, and my one hope is to be able to take them every with me without fear of judgement or harassment, but now even 10 years later I still can’t do that.
Is Pakistan a good model for Afghanistan to aspire to?
I wouldn’t dare to say that Pakistan should be a model for the Afghan government. It is the Pakistani government that the Afghan government learned bribery from. It is the Pakistani government that the leaders of Afghanistan learned corruption from. The government of Pakistan is full of fundamentalists who take bribes rather than protecting the interests of their own people.
For example, the last floods in Pakistan there were 3-4 million people affected, but the government was barely even set up to help them.