Laughter in Kabul

If I got a pound for every time someone asked me to take care as I talked about visiting Kabul I’d be a millionaire by now. I do promise to take good care of myself, and I mean it, but as soon as I reach my city of birth I feel safer than ever. This safety is not logical, of course, because statistically Kabul is getting more and more dangerous with the rising number of suicide bombings, kidnappings and armed robberies.  Perhaps my feeling of safety comes from sentimentality; pure irrational love and deep sympathy for my city. I love everything about my city, its people, its ever increasing paved roads, its ugly glass buildings, the great kabab, sheer yakh (Afghan ice cream)...

Last year when I entered Kabul from its eastern gateway I missed a suicide bomb by less than an hour. The car I was in drove very slowly so the passengers could watch Afghan Police wash the blood off the road and remove a blown up car from the street. What this evoked in me was not a feeling of fear but more of anger because Kabul was harmed. The suicide attack had happened in what was then dubbed the ‘suicide mile’, the next day I was back on the same stretch of the road.

Yesterday I went for a long drive with my brother. Driving on the road leading up to Kabul airport, he showed me a patch of road that was repaired. He said that few months ago a suicide attack had taken place there. The debris from the explosion had flown all the way to his friend’s house about 500 meters away.

Driving on, my brother told me about his day at work. He works in the booming private sector and is responsible for the company’s finances. Earlier that day one of his colleague had confessed to stealing over $80,000. They took him to the police station but the police officers refused to arrest him. The guy just left. Maybe the police didn’t arrest him because they were scared of him or maybe the police in Afghanistan don’t yet have the   concept of white-collar crime. Whatever the reason, the Afghan police action is, at the best, comic – tragic, at the worst. Of course my brother was extremely annoyed with the situation but we laughed at our police, at the suicide-bombing and our Don Quixote like politicians and drove off. This is what everyone does in Kabul, be angry but cope, laugh and continue with life.

So the talks of insecurity, low morale and weak governance are part of the daily discourse for Kabulis but not as much as in the West. While the West, especially its media at the moment, is declaring the immanent failure of the country and its state, Kabulis are busy understanding, debating and complaining about these failures.  Kabulis have optimism too and a broader perspective.  They can see the achievements of their country as well as its failures. So my brother and I complain and make fun of the country but we also are extremely glad that we can go for a long drive on Kabul streets and come to the Internet café and write about it.

I don’t understand. Why is the West concentrating on failure? Why is Afghanistan being punished for its failure to achieve highest standards of governance and human rights in less than seven years, when its starting point was 25 million, mainly displaced, people over half of whom were confined to their houses under Taliban rule; a country with an almost non-existent education system and a cursed geographical location?

As a person deeply rooted both in the political Left in the West and in Afghan society, I see naivety in the West’s approach to my country. People in the West signed petitions against the Taliban; the same people took to the streets when the international community took action against the Taliban. People in the West applauded the new Government when it took office, but soon afterwards, when the new administration failed to bring Afghanistan to the international standards of democracy, the same people vilified the new regime.

I think people in the West must honestly reassess their understanding and relationship with Afghanistan. Maybe they will reach the same conclusion as I have about the country, which is that it has suffered a lot, it has achieved a lot in the past six years. However, it is facing difficulties you would expect of a young democracy which has limited capacity and is a prime target for global terrorism. It is weak but it can be strengthened. Maybe I am biased because I am an Afghan but I firmly believe that we should not be abandoned for the sake of creating sensationalist news.  

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