Unravelling Afghanistan: Understanding the Nuances of a Troubled Nation – Jalal Ahmadzai
Jalal Ahmadzai is one of the many Afghan nationals evacuated from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021. Jalal has since established his life in Australia and currently works at AMES Australia. He is an active member of the Afghan community in Australia. Here he shares his take on Afghanistan’s fight for stability and the role of the people in it.
Nestled in the heart of Asia, at the meeting point of the ancient trade route, the Silk Road, is a nation with a rich yet unsettling history. A history of shattered dreams yet relentless determination; a nation whose peace is fragile but hope eternal.
Afghanistan’s strategic location and size, often regarded to as both a gift and a curse, has made it a battleground of world and regional powers and has cost it its present and future.
Today, Afghans have spread around the globe and have formed communities in the most unlikely corners of the world, and in most cases not been necessarily by choice.
A brief history
The history of the Afghan diaspora in Australia goes back almost 160 years when the first groups of Afghans arrived in 1860s as camel drivers, working in outback Australia for over 70 years.
Collectively referred to as “Afghan cameleers”, “Afghans” or at times “Ghans”, they helped facilitate and shape the settlement of the outback Australia. Over seven decades, thousands of Afghans were brought into Australia alongside their camels to explore, ship cargo and lay down tracks for a railway network that would eventually cross the entire country. The Afghan cameleers played a significant and sometimes unacknowledged part in Australia’s history.
Later on during the 1980s and 1990s as unrest flared in Afghanistan, thousands of Afghans arrived in Australia as refugees. After 2001, the flow of Afghans to Australia continued at a slow and steady pace. In August 2021, when the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan collapsed at the hands of the Taliban, Australia and the world once again witnessed large scale migration of Afghans out of their country.
Afghanistan, a landlocked nation in Central Asia is home to an estimated 38 million people that belong to a number of different ethnic groups. In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani united the Pashtun tribes in the south of the country and set about establishing an Afghan empire also known as the Durrani Empire.
As its peak, it encompassed the modern day Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of eastern Iran and Northern India. Over the next two centuries, Afghan influence over the neighboring areas dwindled and the nation reduced to its current borders.
Currently sitting as the 41st largest nation by land, it encompasses a fairly large area of central Asia and houses the multiple ethnic groups that have called this region home for centuries.
The largest of these groups are the Pashtuns at 42 per cent and the Tajiks at 27 per cent. The two other major ethnic groups include the Hazara and the Uzbeks, both of which make up about 19 per cent of the total population.
An additional ten smaller ethnic groups are recognised and even referenced in the national anthem. These include the Turkmens, Aimaq, Baloch, Pashai, Arab and Gujjar.
The unrest in Afghanistan that has led to the displacement of millions of Afghans began in 1978 with the assassination of President Daoud Khan at the hands of the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan.
Within a span of nearly 22 years, three more governments collapsed until the 2001 intervention of the United States, brought the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan into power.
However, 20 years later, the Republic once again fell in 2021 marking the re-emergence of the Taliban.
Breaking down the dilemma
Forty-five years of unrest has paved the way for Afghanistan to remain one of the poorest and most backward countries in the modern world despite the steady growth it had in the early and mid-20th century.
Political interventions and meddling by foreign powers especially neighboring countries has pushed the country into a loop of back and forth conflict among its own people.
One of the biggest causes of Afghanistan’s existing dilemma spurs from the inability of its various ethnic groups to get along with one another.
This inability to get along paired with foreign meddling driving proxy groups has led the country into a quicksand of commotion and chaos. History shows that the majority of the Afghan population have mostly been divided into their respective ethnic groups, lead by demagogue figureheads who display themselves as the promised saviors.
The majority of these leaders have done little but fuel the fire of division within the country. This, however, is a topic for another day.
A portion of the Afghan population who migrate out of their country tend to carry with them these divisive sentiments and feelings towards their fellow Afghans who belong to another ethnic group.
Since arriving in Australia in 2021, I have often felt the unfortunate presence in the Afghan community of the very issue that got us here in the first place.
What to do?
It is important that the severe consequences of disunity are deeply understood by Afghans everywhere, and especially by those who have migrated out of the country.
The events of 2021 have left Afghanistan in a terrible state of humanitarian chaos. The country will need the collective effort of Afghans around the world to battle its way out of these dark times.
Afghans around the world, and especially in Australia, need to realise and reflect on the very reason that caused them to leave their homeland behind. It should go without saying that anyone who comes from Afghanistan is an Afghan and none is superior or inferior to another. Afghans need to put an end to glorifying notorious warlords who have done little but divide and exploit them for their own benefit.
On the morning of August 15, 2021 as Kabul was falling to the Taliban, I was trying to get home and witnessed Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and every other Afghan watch as everything they had worked for fall into the wrong hands.
Those responsible were already in planes out of the country or were evacuated from their embassies. It was we, the ordinary people, who would bear the cost of the betrayal and who would have to go back to the drawing board and rebuild our lives at the starting point.
In just a few days, an entire generation of educated, forward looking young Afghans – women and girls among them – saw their hopes and dreams for a modern, tolerant and democratic society go up in smoke
It is vital that every Afghan understands how crucial it is for the future of every Afghan child that we eradicate the roots of disunity among us, leave our disputes to one side and work towards building an Afghanistan where everyone’s rights are recognised.
The caretaker government of the Taliban needs to realise that it is impossible to rule with fear. History has shown that no government has lasted in Afghanistan without the support of the common people. It is vital that we free ourselves from the influences of the foreigners who exploit us for their interests and think deeply about how we can allow our children to live a life in Afghanistan that we, our parents or grandparents could not live.
Read Jalal’s account of leaving Afghanistan here.