As Afghanistan undergoes yet another period of uncertainty, it is time for the diaspora to pause, self-reflect and evaluate their role in their country.
Afghanistan is currently at a critical juncture in its history. In recent months and weeks, we have observed the tumultuous chain of events that have shook Afghanistan and the world to their very core. This presents its inevitable challenges. Afghanistan could slide further into not just political instability and conflict, but food insecurity as part of a humanitarian crisis, the likes of which we have not seen. Yet, there are also opportunities.
As the diaspora, there is a crucial point we should realise above all else. As an educated and multilingual diaspora with access to the internet, we have a much greater capacity to be influential than those in Afghanistan. There is a more sinister side to this reality, however. We have the capacity to be destructive, just as we have the capacity to be constructive. Being constructive, however, requires taking lessons from our recent history.
The primary lesson to draw is that trying to impose our own understandings on Afghanistan, which are products of our education and experience overseas, is to head down a slippery slope. Making an ideological and resultantly incorrect rationalisation of Afghanistan’s contemporary problems has not and will not work.
The Problem with Ideology
Why? An ideological perspective creates an incorrect analysis that leads to a misdiagnosis for how to remedy the country’s many ills. We live with the consequences of this, which plunged our country into an ongoing four decade long war, to this very day. The most glaring examples of these are the zeal that led to the Saur Revolution in 1978, the Mujahideen and Taliban’s failure of governance in the 90s, and the subsequent aspiration to Western liberal democracy that has, together with foreign occupation, suffocated the country for the past two decades.
The results of these are before us: the communists triggered a war which only ceased two months ago. The American invasion and occupation was replaced by the very thing it set out to replace: the Taliban.
Simply put, Afghanistan’s problems do not align with the ever-shifting taboos, red lines and terminology of foreign ideologies, especially those of Western university campuses. Analysing Afghanistan through ideologies, products of centuries-old social and political evolutions unique to Western civilisation, is to analyse Afghanistan detrimentally. Doing so handicaps us. By prioritising our personal understandings, we will not address the actual needs of Afghanistan and our compatriots therein, but only the figments of our imagination, infused by ideology often times divorced from Afghanistan.
In order to avoid that, first of all, we need to be aware of our own inherent shortcoming. We are diaspora. We don’t live in Afghanistan. This makes all of us liable to being uninformed, or even worse, misinformed. An introspection is needed in which we acknowledge our biases. If we subscribe to an opinion, a political philosophy, or identify with any specific political entity or ethnic group, and only look at Afghanistan’s current affairs through that perspective, it means one thing. We would not be helping or serving Afghans. We would merely become party to the conflict.
Let us ask ourselves: is that really what we (should) aspire toward?
Is that really what motivates us to become involved in our fatherland?
What is the point of being involved in our own country, when we, who escaped Afghanistan and grew up in safety, only involve ourselves to perpetuate the pre-existing problems from which we and our parents fled?
This is something we should avoid. We need to be aware of our biases. We cannot afford to attempt solving problems merely based on our own ideological assumptions, irrespective of whether we are secular, socialist, Islamist or nationalist. That would only worsen an already unenviable situation. What we need to do is firstly accept indisputable realities: Afghanistan is a severely underdeveloped country now confronted with famine as the ponzi scheme economy of the last two decades collapses, as the aid which propped it up dries up.
Afghanistan is rural, conservative and steeped deeply in its proud Islamic and cultural identity. This itself is not inherently blameworthy. From an economic and political standpoint, however, it is still stuck largely in a premodern paradigm. Most of the country is agricultural, rural and knit together by long standing familial, regional or tribal bonds.
Whilst urban areas indeed grew, the economic model underpinning this was based on the oppressive and artificial foundation of tens of thousands of foreign troops, and aid.
The soldiers are, at long last, gone.
The aid has now ceased.
The results, in the form of famine, poverty and economic collapse, are staring us in the eye.
The Long Path Ahead
We need to elevate the voices of people who truly want peace. We need to avoid aligning with people whose whole role in politics in Afghanistan is entirely dependent on war and its crises. We need to be aware of what a problem such people pose. We must raise awareness internationally about the plight that Afghans face as the winter approaches, poverty rises and their funds abroad remain frozen. We must identify those groups and entities and those people who built whole organisations ostensibly for lofty ideals, but depended on endless war. Above all, as Afghans, we should strive collectively to hold any government in Kabul accountable, based on an Afghan-centric framework, not one imposed from the ideologies of abroad.
With all of the energy and passion that comes from being young Afghans, we must be cautious so as to not be weaponised by others with their own agendas.
The principal question, however, is how to do this? We need to organise amongst each other so that our voices can be amplified. No one else will do this for us. We must learn how to talk to each other, respect each other’s opinions and cooperate, even amidst disagreement. This can be a daunting task because we are fragmented, physically dispersed around the world and mentally tainted by generations of war. However, with the right attitude, right state of mind and positivity, we will be able to reach out to other Afghans and create a bond of trust.
The Afghan Eye is a testament to that. Our founders are from two different countries, hailing from two opposing sides of the Afghan political spectrum. Together, we have built a community of fellow Afghans around us who all share our values and outlook. We wouldn’t advocate for this if we had not achieved this by ourselves. Neither of us is unique or exceptional. If we can do it, others should follow suit.