- Notes From A Broken Land
is now winter in Kabul, end of February 2017. At
night the temperature gets near zero. The mountains
surrounding the city are covered by snow.
It feels much
chillier than it really is.
Soon it will
be 16 years since the US/UK invasion of the country,
and 16 years since the Bonn Conference, during which
Hamid Karzai was “selected” to head the Afghan
everyone I spoke to in Afghanistan agrees that
things are rapidly moving from bad to rock bottom.
home and abroad, are deeply pessimistic. With hefty
allowances and privileges, at least some foreigners
based in Kabul are much more upbeat, but ‘positive
thinking’ is what they are paid to demonstrate.
Historically one of the greatest cultures on Earth,
Afghanistan is now nearing breaking point, with the
lowest Human Development Index (2015, HDI, compiled
by the UNDP) of all Asian nations, and the 18th
lowest in the entire world (all 17 countries below
it are located in Sub-Saharan Africa). Afghanistan
has also the lowest life expectancy in Asia (WHO,
officially, the literacy rate stands at around 60%,
I was told by two prominent educationalists in Kabul
that in reality it is well below 50%, while it is
stubbornly stuck under 20% for women and girls.
are awful, but what is behind the numbers? What has
been done to this ancient and distinct civilization,
once standing proudly at the crossroad of major
trade routes, influencing culturally a great chunk
of Asia, connecting East and West, North and South?
how permanent is the damage?
visit, I was offered but I refused to travel in an
armored, bulletproof vehicle. My ageing “horse”
became a beat-up Corolla, my driver and translator a
brave, decent family man in possession of a
wonderful sense of humor. Although we became good
friends, I never asked him to what ethnic group he
belonged. He never told me. I simply didn’t want to
know, and he didn’t find it important to address the
topic. Everyone knows that Afghanistan is deeply
divided ‘along its ethnic lines’. As an
internationalist, I refuse to pay attention to
anything related to ‘blood’, finding all such
divisions, anywhere in the world, unnatural and
thoroughly unfortunate. Call it my little
stubbornness; both my driver and me were stubbornly
refusing to acknowledge ethnic divisions in
Afghanistan, at least inside the car, while driving
through this marvelous but scarred, stunning but
endlessly sad land.
One day you
and your driver, who is by then your dear friend,
are driving slowly over the bridge. Your car stops.
You get out in the middle of the bridge, and begin
photographing the clogged river below, with garbage
floating and covering its banks. Children are
begging, and you soon notice that they are operating
in a compact pack, almost resembling some small
military unit. In Kabul, as in so many places on
earth, there is a rigid structure to begging.
while, you continue driving on, towards the Softa
Bridge, which is located in District 6.
are appears to be all messed up, endlessly fucked
told to come to this neighborhood, to witness a
warzone inside the city, to see ‘what the West has
done to the country’. There are no bullets flying
here, and no loud explosions. In fact, you hear
almost nothing. You actually don’t see any war near
the Softa Bridge; you only see Death, her horrid
gangrenous face, her scythe cutting all that is
still standing around her, cutting and cutting,
working in extremely slow motion.
so many times before, you are scared. You were
scared like this several times before: in Haiti, in
the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kashmir, Sri
Lanka, Timor Leste, Iraq, and Peru, to name just a
few countries. In those places, as well as here in
Kabul, you are not frightened because you could
easily lose your life any moment, or because your
safety might be in danger. What dismays you, what
you really cannot stomach, are the images of
despair, those of ‘no way out’, of absolute
hopelessness. Lack of hope is killing you, it
horrifies you; everything else can always be dealt
People you see
all around can hardly stand on their feet. Many
cannot stand at all. Most of them are stoned, laying
around in rags, sitting in embryonic positions, or
moving aimlessly back and forth, staring emptily
into the distance. Some are urinating publicly.
Syringes are everywhere.
living in holes
holes, deep and wide, filled with motionless human
drive around, photographing through the cracked
glass, then you roll down the window, and at the
end, you get out and begin working, totally exposed.
You have no idea what may happen in the next few
seconds. Someone begins shouting at you, others are
throwing stones, but they are too weak and the
stones just hit your shoulder and legs, softly,
without causing any harm.
Then a bomb
goes off, not far from where you are. There is an
explosion in the 6th District, right in
front of a police station. You cannot see it, but
you can clearly hear the blast. It is a muffled yet
powerful bang. You look at your phone.
It is March
1st, 2017, Kabul. Later you learn that
several people died just a few hundred meters from
where you were working, while several others
perished in the 12th District, another
few kilometers away.
begins rising towards the sky. Sirens are howling
and several ambulances are rushing towards the site.
Then countless military Humvees begin shooting one
after another in the same direction, followed by
heavier and much clumsier armored vehicles. You are
taking all this in, slowly; photographing the scene,
and then snapping from some distance a monumental
but still semi-destroyed Darul Aman Palace.
And so it
concrete walls are scarring, fragmenting the city.
In Kabul, almost anything worth protecting is now
fenced. Some partitions and barriers are simply
enormous, almost unreal. There are walls sheltering
all foreign embassies and government buildings,
palaces, military bases, police stations and banks,
as well as the United Nations compounds, even most
of the private schools and hotels. The Hamid Karzai
international airport is encompassed by perimeters
that could put to shame most of the Cold War lines:
from the parking area one has to walk almost one
kilometer to the entrance of the international
terminal, with luggage and through the countless
Western institutions and organizations have the most
impressive fences, as well as the Afghan military
and military bases and government offices.
surveillance drone-zeppelins are levitating above
all be seen as thoroughly grotesque, even laughable,
but no one is amused. It is all very serious, damn
has been gradually overtaken by something absolutely
foreign: by the Western-style security apparatus.
Tens of thousands of highly paid North American and
European ‘experts’ have been getting extremely busy,
fulfilling their secret wet dream: fencing
everything in sight, monitoring each and every
movement in the capital city, building taller and
taller barriers, while installing the latest hi-tech
cameras at almost every intersection, and above each
from the Embassy of the United States of America (or
more precisely, not far from the Great Chinese
Wall-size fence encompassing it), I noticed a
familiar complex of buildings, reminding me of those
that used to be constructed in all corners of
Eastern Europe and Cuba. I asked my friend to drive
into one of the compounds.
This is how
I entered “Makroyan”. We killed the engine, and
everything around us was suddenly quiet, almost
dormant. Time stopped here. There was a certain mild
decay detectable all around the area, but upon a
closer look, those old apartment buildings were
still looking decent and strong, with very
impressive public spaces in between them. Here I
felt that I was allowed a rare glimpse of an old,
in between two entrances of Block 21: No.2 and No.3.
I looked up to the 4th floor. Who is
living there now? Who used to live here before, some
25, even 30 years ago?
office chair was standing aimlessly in the middle of
a parking lot, and an old, disabled man was crawling
desolately on all fours, moving away from the block.
There was a Soviet-built school right next to Block
21. It used to be known as Dosti primary school, and
I was told that during the war, it was bombed a
couple of times and lots of kids died inside it. Now
the school is private and it has a new name – it is
‘Alfath’, a high school.
a few loose, rusty wires and fences, everything
looks decent and semi-neat. This is where many
members of the diminishing Kabul middle class still
prefer to live. Blocks of Makroyan are reassuring;
they radiate safety and permanency, while being
surrounded by a volatile and frightening universe.
All of a
sudden, I imagined a boy and a girl, who perhaps
used to live here, so many years ago. As children in
all other parts of the world do at that age, they
were just slowly beginning to discover life,
starting to formulate their dreams and expectations.
In those days, the new leafy neighborhood would have
been like a promise of a brighter future, of a much
suddenly, full stop.
A war. A
sudden end to all that the future was promising.
Collapse of optimism, or enthusiasm, of confidence.
Only death and destruction, and shattered dreams,
remained. For those who were at least somehow lucky:
a bitterness and then a hasty flight, instead of
ultimate misery and death. Full stop. Total reset.
Everything collapsed. But life never stops, it goes
on, it always does. Things re-composed, somehow, not
idyllically, but they did.
For a long
time, I kept staring at Block 21. Memories kept
coming, as if I used to live there myself, many
years ago, when I was a child. I hardly noticed that
it was getting very cold. I began to shiver. I
didn’t want to leave, but I had to. Fresh
pomegranate juice at a local street stall brought me
back to reality, it woke me, but it didn’t managed
to warm me up.
GREAT HISTORY, CHANGING CULTURE, AN ON-GOING
OCCUPATION AND FEAR
Afghan intellectual, Dr. Omara Khan Masoudi, who
used to be, among many other things, the former head
of the National Museum, is now bitter about the
changes invading the culture of his country:
the past, we had also many ethnic groups living
in this country, but they used to coexist in
harmony. Then, our culture got influenced by
conflicts and violence.
Before the war, it was the culture that used to
represent us in the world. However, during and
after the war, our cultures were used to justify
told me that he thinks it is wrong when culture
falls into the hands of divisive politicians. “If
culture is politicized, it loses its essence”, he
I asked him
whether he thinks it also applies to Latin America,
to the former Soviet Union and China, where (at
least to a great extent) ‘politicized culture’ has
been playing an extremely important role,
determining the course of development. He smiled,
be precise, politicizing cultures is not always
such a bad thing… When it’s done, for instance,
in order to achieve social progress or equality,
I have nothing against it. But I am outraged
when people like some religious leaders; Shia,
Sunni or even some extremists, do it… Culture is
very broad, and religions are only a part of it.
But in Afghanistan, religious leaders have been
using the culture for their narrow-minded
In a coffee
shop, which is lost somewhere inside the wilderness
of an international and United Nations compound
called ‘The Green Village’, my Japanese friend and
Head of the Culture Unit of UNESCO, Mr. Masanori
Afghanistan or Ancient Ariana, as many ancient
Greek and Roman authors referred to the region
in antiquity, can be acknowledged as the
multi-cultural cradle of Central Asia, linking
East and West via historically significant trade
conduits that also conveyed ideas, concepts and
languages as a cultural by-product of fledgling
international commerce. As a result,
contemporary Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic,
multi-lingual society with a complex history
stretching back many millennia. The numerous
civilizations are attested to in the
archaeological record, both indigenous and
is well aware of the complexities faced by the
country and the culture torn apart by lethal
conflicts of the last decades and centuries.
Afghanistan is unfortunately also a nation
fragmented by a history of protracted conflict,
exacerbated by geographic isolation for many
communities and limited or unequal access to
infrastructure and resources, both regionally
and demographically. As a nominal starting
point, the ongoing rehabilitation process in
Afghanistan needs to address these issues if the
nation is to unify under a common objective,
fostering a veracious society free from conflict
and where ethnic diversity is recognized for its
social, cultural and economic benefits rather
than, as is often the case, seen as a hindrance
to particular developmental objectives. Part of
the solution to this problem lies in the
campaign of a positive public discussion to
promote inter-cultural understanding and to
raise awareness of the potential that such
discourse has to contribute to the broader goals
of rapprochement, peace-building and economic
development in Afghanistan.
I flew to
the city of Herat, where I witnessed tremendous
masterpieces of architecture, from the marvelous and
recently restored Citadel (as valuable as the
citadels of Aleppo and Erbil), to the Friday Mosque
and amazing, unique minarets rising proudly towards
familiar all those architectural treasures appeared!
On several occasions I approached Nasir, my local
friend who was always eager to share the impressive
history of his region: “Look, this could be in
Delhi… and this in Samarkand!”
enough, the most visited world heritage site in
India, Qutub Minar, situated right outside New
Delhi, is perhaps the greatest symbol of the
Indo-Islamic Afghan architecture, while both Herat
and Samarkand were connected by the Silk Road and
historically kept influencing each other.
Afghanistan, the history, the occupation and the
on-going conflict: everything seems to be thoroughly
took over ancient Citadel in Herat City
During my work there, the Citadel of Herat was
literally taken over by Italian troops. I was told
that some high-ranking NATO officer was visiting the
site, and with no shame, a fully armed Italian
commando was roaming around, “securing” every corner
of the vast courtyard. As if Afghans had lost
control of their own country!
examination, the madrassa of Hussein Baiqara is, in
reality, still a minefield. In between four stunning
minarets, a de-mining team from local “Halo Trust”
was manually searching for unexploded ordinances. I
was allowed to enter, but only as a war
correspondent and at my own risk, definitely not as
site, we already found two mines and 10 unexploded
ordinances”, I was told by one of the Halo Trust
experts. “Now this entire area is off-limits to the
public. Not long ago, one child was badly injured
here; he lost his leg.”
peaceful in Afghanistan, not even ancient historic
Not much is
talk about the ancient history and culture is
generally encouraged, but to discuss dramatic
changes in modern Afghan culture, those that
occurred as a result of the US/UK invasion and the
present on-going NATO occupation of the country, is
almost entirely off-limits. In fact, even the word
itself – ‘occupation’ – could hardly be heard.
Instead, such jargons as ‘protection’, ‘defense’ and
‘international help’ have been implanted deeply and
systematically into the psyche of most Afghan
that was known for long centuries for its passion
for freedom and independence seems broken. While
Afghans resisted heroically against all past British
invasions, while some of them fought the Soviet
incursion, there is presently no organized and
united (national, not religious) opposition against
the Western occupation of the country.
academic Jawid Amin, from the Academy of Social
Sciences of Afghanistan, in a small guardroom in
front of the Museum of Modern Arts in Kabul.
him, whether there is any art, or any group of
intellectuals openly critical of the United States,
and of the occupation. He replied, sincerely:
don’t have anyone openly critical of the US or
the West here, because it is simply not allowed
by the government. I personally don’t like the
Americans, but I can’t say more… Even I work for
the government. My brother and sister are living
in the United States. And about critical arts:
nothing could be exhibited here without
permission from the government and since Karzai,
the government is controlled by the West…
Afghan intellectual, Omaid Sharifi, explained over
the phone: “In the provinces, you can still see
paintings depicting killing of civilians by the US
drones… but not in Kabul.”
to work as fast as possible, meeting people who are
helping to shed light on the situation. Eventually,
a dire picture begins to form.
I met a
Japanese reporter who has been living in Afghanistan
for almost a quarter of a century. Her assessment of
the situation was to a large extent pessimistic:
Afghans had very little choice… It is 100% true
that behind Karzai’s government was the US…
Afghans didn’t want to accept foreign
intervention, but soon they learned how money
plays an important role. The entire Afghan
culture is now changing, even some essential
elements of it like hospitality: people don’t
want to spend money on it, or they don’t have
any that they can spare…
I asked Dr.
Masoudi why Afghan culture did not accept Soviets
and their egalitarian, socially oriented ideals,
while it seems to be tolerating the Western
invasion, which is spreading inequality, desperation
and subservience. He replied, passionately:
biggest mistake the Soviet Union made here was
to attack religion out rightly. If they’d first
stick to equal rights, and slowly work it up
towards the contradictions of religion, it could
perhaps work… But they began blaming religion
for our backwardness, in fact for everything. Or
at least this is how it was interpreted by the
coalition of their enemies, and of course by the
Now, why is the Western invasion ‘successful’?
Look at the Karzai regime… During his rule, the
US convinced people that Western intervention
was ‘positive’, ‘respectful of their religion
and cultures’. They kept repeating ‘under this
and that UN convention’, and again ‘as decided
by the UN’… They used NATO, a huge group of
countries, as an umbrella. There was a
‘brilliantly effective’ protocol that they
developed… According to them, they never did
anything unilaterally, always by ‘international
consensus’ and in order to ‘help Afghan people’.
On the other hand, the Soviet Union had never
slightest chance to explain itself. It was
attacked immediately, and on all fronts.
to Western occupation? Anti-Western art?” A Russian
cultural expert in Kabul was clearly surprised by my
First of all, the Taliban destroyed most
artistic traditions of this country. But also,
the economic and social situation in this
country is so desperate, that hardly anyone has
time to think about some larger picture. More
than 60% of Afghans are jobless. One thing you
also should remember: Afghan people are very
proud and very freedom loving, as the history
illustrated, but they are also extremely
patient. Go and see The British Cemetery. It was
built in 1879 to hold the dead of the second
Anglo-Afghan War, but despite all that the UK
did to this country, and despite all recent wars
and conflicts, it was never attacked, never
It is true.
I never heard anyone discussing this topic. All
horrid British crimes committed on the territory of
Afghanistan seem to be forgotten, at least for now.
not all: nobody here seems to have any appetite for
recalling those horrors of the last decades,
triggered by Western imperialism. Not once I
observed any discussion addressing the main topic of
modern Afghan history: how the West managed to trick
the Soviets into invading Afghanistan in 1979, and
how it created and then armed the vilest bunch of
religious fanatics – the Mujahedeen. And how,
subsequently, both countries – Afghanistan and the
Soviet Union – were thoroughly destroyed in the
done, of course, with “great respect” for the Afghan
nation, for its culture and traditions, as well as
(how else) religion.
I’d love to
be an invisible witness in a modern history class at
the American University of Afghanistan, a ‘famed’
institution that is literally regurgitating
thousands of collaborators, manufacturing a new
breed of obedient pro-Western ‘elites’.
As we drive
past Jamhuriat Hospital (Republic Hospital), which
had a new 10- story building, with capacity for 350
patients, constructed by China in 2004, my driver,
Mr. Tahir, sighs: “This was really a great gift from
China to us… the Chinese really work hard, don’t
plenty of zeal and enthusiasm”, I uttered carefully.
“Socialist fervor, you know. They sincerely believe
in building, improving their country and the world.
It is quite contrary to Western nihilism and extreme
love their country…”
“Afghanistan is poor”, Mr. Tahir’s face became
suddenly sad. “Our people don’t love their country,
anymore. They don’t work to improve it. They only
work for themselves now, for their families…”
different before? You know…” I made an abstract
gesture with my hand. “Before all this…”
it used to be very different”, he replied, grinning
NOTHING SOCIAL LEFT, NOTHING SOCIALIST WANTED
several people who were just walking down the
street, in various parts of Kabul. I wanted to
understand some basics: was there anything social
left in Afghanistan? Did Western ‘liberation’ bring
at least some progress, social development and
improved standards of living?
answers were thoroughly gloomy. Only those people
who were working or moonlighting for the Western
military, for the embassies, the NGOs or other
‘international contractors’, were to some extent
explained that almost everyone in the countryside
and provincial cities were out off work.
Unemployment among university graduates stood at
In Herat, a
city of almost half a million inhabitants, a long
and depressing line was winding in front of the
Iranian embassy. I was told that tens of thousands
have already migrated to the other side of the
border. Now Afghans who were attempting to visit
their relatives living in Iran were told to leave a
300-euro deposit, in case they decide not to return.
what Herat is producing, and was told, without any
irony: “mainly just some washing powder and
biscuits”. Tourism from Iran stood at only about 150
people a year! The area between the city and the
border has been dangerous, and there are frequent
provincial cities, a regular family has to get by on
2.300 – 2.500 Afghanis per month, which is not much
more than US$30.
supplies run water mainly to the government housing
projects. People living elsewhere have to dig their
is expensive, and an average family in Kabul is now
expected to pay around US$35 per month. Even in the
capital, many people have to get by without
electricity. Indian ‘investors’ are in partnership
with the government. Electricity supplies, and even
water, are perceived as ‘business ventures’, not as
basic social services.
a decent public transportation in the past, Kabul is
now forced to rely on private vehicles, and on those
few ‘city buses’ that are ‘pro-profit’ and mainly
privately owned and operated.
government schools in Afghanistan, and in theory
they are free, but books, pencils, uniforms and
other basics are not.
perhaps the most impressive modern structure in
Kabul, is actually the 10-story building to
Jamhuriat Hospital, a gift from the People’s
Republic of China, not from the West.
where is that fabled great ‘assistance’ from the
United States and Europe really going? Perhaps to
the millions of tons of concrete, used for
construction of the massive fences? Perhaps money
sponsors’ purchases of high-tech cameras and
surveillance systems, as well as the high-life of
thousands of Western ‘contractors’ and ‘security
I spoke to
more than hundreds of Afghan people. Almost no one
was ready to mention socialism. As if this wonderful
word disappeared, was erased from the local lexicon.
actually remember socialism very fondly”, my
Japanese acquaintance based in Kabul once told me.
“However, talking about it is not encouraged. It may
cause all sorts of problems.”
WESTERN (TEMPORARY) VICTORY
Kabul, I was told by one of the local experts
working for an international organization:
National Education Strategic Plan (NESP) for
Afghanistan was just drafted… The funding came
from the West. Many meetings were held directly
at the US embassy and at the offices of the
World Bank. The Afghan Ministry of Education had
very little say about the curriculum, which was
basically dictated by the Western countries…
quote the source of this information, as she would
most probably lose her position for expressing such
policy decisions on education are proposed by
donor parties, which are mostly Western
countries. The Ministry of Education, with
limited capacity, has a lesser role in drafting
the NESP III policy. Instead of building the
capacity of the government, donor countries are
taking the leading role in changing the
education system and this does not ensure a
sustainable education for Afghanistan
As in all
client states of the West, education in Afghanistan
is manipulated and geared to serve the interests of
the West. It is expected to produce obedient and
unquestioning masses. Instead of determined and
productive patriots, it is regurgitating butlers of
the regime, which is in turn serving predominately
information flows through the channels that are at
least to some extent influenced from abroad: social
media, television networks as well as the printed
Afghan spirit of resistance and courage has been
(hopefully only temporarily) brutally broken, under
the supervision of highly professional foreign
indoctrinators and propagandists.
are willing to collaborate with the occupation
forces are suddenly not even hiding it, carrying
their condition proudly as if a coat of arms, not as
a shame. Many are now delighted to be associated
with the West and its institutions.
the occupation is not even called occupation,
anymore, at least not by the elites who are well
rewarded by the system for their linguistic and
intellectual somersaults and pirouettes.
people keep leaving.
is shedding its most talented sons and daughters,
every day, every month, irreversibly.
Matsuyoshi, a former Japanese diplomat, presently a
UN education expert, is worried about the current
trends in Afghanistan, a country where she spent
the social classes have been re-created after
the fall of Taliban, but the country seems to
have no ideology. People just follow trends that
are thrown their way. There is corruption, there
is that huge poppy business, and there are
palaces. And there is misery in the countryside,
hardly any access to information. Afghans are
leaving their country. Whoever can, goes: good
people, government people…it seems like everyone
tries to escape.
All of a
sudden, the West is perceived like some Promised
Land. Those who make it there are bragging about
their new ‘home’, sending colorful images through
social media: Disneyland, Hollywood, German castles…
I have seen
the other side of the coin, in terrible refugee
camps in Greece, in the French Calais camps; people
drowning while attempting to cross the sea from
Turkey to the European Union.
There is no
discussion whether Afghanistan should be capitalist
or socialist, anymore. Debate has stopped. The
decision has been made, somewhere else, obviously.
of Northern Alliance leaders are ‘decorating’ (or
some would say, ‘scarring’) all major roads on which
I drove. Ahmad Shah Massoud became a national hero,
during the Karzai regime.
more than 100 kilometers north, to see Massoud’s
grave, or a thumb, or whatever that monstrosity they
erected above the splendid Panjshir Valley really
is. Hordes of people drive there on weekends, some
all the way from Kabul, and there are even those who
pray to the ‘leader’.
“anti-Soviet” and anti-Communist fighter, he is
certainly a perfect ‘hero’, whose memory is groomed
by the pro-Western regime.
through the Panjshir Valley, I saw several Soviet
tanks and armored vehicles, rotting by the side of
the road. I also saw a destroyed village, an eerie
reminder of the war. It is called Dashtak. Clay
houses look like a cemetery, like a horrid monument.
Village in the
North destroyed during the war
photos and sent them to Kabul, to my friends, for
identification. I want to know, I felt that I had to
know, who razed this town by the river, surrounded
by such stunning mountains.
came in a just few minutes: “I think it was in 1984,
by the Soviet Union”. What followed was a link
leading to a book published in the West, quoting
some former Ukrainian, Soviet adviser to an Afghan
battalion commander. The name of the book was “The
Bear Went Over the Mountain”.
did not sound too convincing. “Let’s go back”, I
asked my driver and translator. “Let’s talk to
people on the other side of the river’.
three inhabitants, in three different parts of the
village; three people old enough to remember what
took place here, some 30 years ago. All three
testimonies coincided: Massoud’s forces brought
refugees from several other parts of the valley.
Before the battle began, all of them left. During
the combat, clay houses were destroyed, but no
civilians died inside.
always many different interpretations of the
historic events. However, the analyses of modern
Afghan history disseminated by the West and the
Afghan regime among the Afghan people, are
suspiciously unanimous and frighteningly one-sided.
I am definitely planning to revisit this point
during my next trip to the country. I see it as
essential. The future of Afghanistan certainly
depends on understanding the past.
huge zeppelin-drones, vile-looking airborne
surveillance stuff, hovering over the US air force
base near Bagram. The same drones could be seen
levitating over Kabul, but in the Bagram area, with
the dramatic backdrop of the mountains, they look
force base is huge. It appears even bigger than
Incerlik near Adana in Turkey. It is an absolute
masterpiece of military vulgarity, with watch towers
everywhere, with barbed wire, several layers of
concrete walls, surveillance cameras and powerful
lights. If this is not an occupation, then what
driver is totally cool. I want to photograph this
monstrosity, and he drives me around, so we can
identify a truly good spot. I’m ‘calculating light’,
looking for the correct angle, so during the sunset,
those who would be observing us from inside the
‘castle’, would be blinded, and we could get at
least a few decent images.
of the fact that in Afghanistan, the Empire often
kills anything that moves, at the slightest
suspicion or without any suspicion at all, as for
them human lives of the local people count for
sun goes down, I begin working fast.
feel that my visit to Afghanistan would be
incomplete, without getting at least some images of
the base – one of the most expressive symbols of the
So this is
what Afghanistan became under the Western
‘liberating’ boots! Barbed wires, foreign jet
fighters, concrete walls everywhere, battles with
the religious fundamentalist elements (invented and
manufactured by the West), grotesque savage
capitalism, ignorant or shameless collaboration, and
guns, guns and guns, as well as misery in almost
every corner, and one of the lowest life
expectancies and standards of living on Earth! And
of course, people escaping, leaving this beautiful
country behind – a country, which is suddenly
unloved, humiliated, abandoned by so many!
This is all
happening only roughly four decades after the heroic
attempts to build some great social housing
projects, after the implementation of a
well-functioning public transportation network,
public education and medical care, as well as an
attempt to introduce secularism, while building a
decent, egalitarian society.
glorious victory of Western imperialism over one of
the oldest and greatest cultures seems to be
complete. The Brits tried, on several occasions;
they murdered and tortured, but were defeated. They
never forgave. They waited for decades, and then
returned with their muscular and aggressive
offspring. And here they are, all of them, now!
appears to be exhausted and defeated. It is badly
injured, and it has been dragged through
But I don’t
think it is crushed, by the West or by the religious
fundamentalists, or by these two historical allies.
inside, Afghanistan knows better. It already
experienced many years of hope; it knows the taste
of it. During long centuries and millennia of its
existence, it survived several dreadful moments, but
it always stood up again, undefeated and proud. I’m
certain that it will rise again.
driving or walking through its magnificent
mountains, I often felt that Afghanistan is like a
living organism, it was winking at me, letting me
know that it is alive, that it sees everything that
goes on, that it is not futile at all to struggle
for its future.
the stubs of the electric contacts that used to
hold, some decades ago, those long wires used by the
legendary Kabul trolley bus network.
beautiful vehicles came from former Czechoslovakia”,
a man, an office worker, whom I stopped in the
center of the city, told me. “They were beautiful,
and do you know who used to drive them? Some young
girls; optimistic women who were for some reason
always in a good mood.”
Kabul had three trolleybus lines, one of them
originating (or ending) at the ‘Cinema Pamir’. What
color were Kabul trolleybuses? I saw some photos,
but those I could find were black and white. When I
was a child, growing up in Czechoslovakia, ours were
red. The ones in Leningrad, the city where I was
born, were blue and green, some red as well. When
they were accelerating, it was as if they’d be
singing a simple song, or whining, complaining
mockingly about their hard life.
a strong-minded, professional woman, boarding these
trolleybuses. Perhaps eager to catch one of those
old great Soviet movies at the Cinema Pamir, perhaps
“the Dawns are Quiet Here”, or going to
work or to visit different parts of the city. She
would snuggle into a comfortable seat in the
electric vehicle. It was getting dark, but the city
was safe. A woman behind the wheel was really
smiling. There were flags flying all around the
city. There was hope. There was a future. There was
a country to build and to love.
can still fly
suspected that the Kabul trolleybuses were actually
light blue. I have no idea why. It was just my
heard a loud bang, and then the squeaking of brakes.
the window!” my driver was shouting. We were getting
into a slum inhabited by IDPs. We left the road.
Dust everywhere, absolute misery. Bagrani town, now
Bagrani slums, just a few kilometers east from
Kabul, on the Jalalabad Highway.
the heavy metal body of my professional Nikon.
about Afghanistan of the 70’s, a gentle and
enthusiastic country, abruptly ended. Now all around
me were children suffering from malnutrition. I
heard excited, accusatory voices of men and women
who were forced to come from all corners of
Afghanistan. We drove on a bumpy road, towards
numerous half-collapsed clay structures and dirty
fighting in Shinwar, Helmand Province, from around
Jalalabad and Kandahar”, several internally
displaced persons living in Bagrani were shouting at
have 1.000 families from Helmand and more than
1.000 families from Kandahar, living here. We
lost our houses back in our villages and towns…
People around Jalalabad lost their homes, too.
Daesh (ISIS) is operating in several parts of
the country… Taliban fighters are frequently
changing sides, joining Daesh. There is fighting
going on everywhere: Daesh, Taliban and the
government forces confronting each other.
involved is NATO in general and the US in
particular, I ask, through my interpreter.
Americans are there, of course. Mostly they are
fighting from the air, but sometimes they are on
the ground, too.
do… Our sons, our husbands are regularly murdered by
them”, shouts a woman clothed in a blue burqa,
holding a small child in her arms.
everywhere, destroying the country, I’m told. And
there is almost no help coming from the corrupt and
the near bankrupt state.
an elderly lady, is shouting in desperation and
anger: “We have nothing left, but no one helps us!
We don’t know what to do.”
photograph, a small cluster of people begin to rock
the car. Things are getting tense, but I don’t feel
that we are facing any immediate danger. I continue
working. This is all becoming very personal. I don’t
understand why, but it is…
silently, a small group of people approaches us.
Among them are a man with a very long beard, and a
girl, with a beautiful and tragic face. She is
wearing a t-shirt depicting several cute white mice,
but the right sleeve is empty. She is missing her
A girl without
Her face is
striking. She stares directly into my camera, and
when I lower the lens, I feel her eyes begin to
pierce mine. Without one single word uttered, I
sense clearly what she is trying to convey:
you done to me?”
I try to
hold her glance for at least a few seconds, but then
I lower my eyes. Now I‘m in panic. I want to embrace
her, hold her, take her away from here, somewhere,
somehow; to adopt her, airlift her from here, give
her a home, but I know that there is no way I would
be allowed to do it. My glasses get very foggy. I
mumble something incoherent. I am tough, I witnessed
dozens of wars, I faced death on various occasions.
I try to keep calm whenever I’m in places like this;
whenever working. What is happening to me here and
now happens very rarely, but it does happen.
It is March
4th 2017, Afghanistan. My flight is schedule to
depart the next day, late in the afternoon. I know
that I will take it. But I also realize, and I
silently make my pledge to this tiny girl with the
cute mice and an empty sleeve, that I will never
fully leave her country.
happen later is predicable: yet another sleepless
night. Everything will be back, play itself like a
film inside my brain. Bagrani provisional camp,
another camp that is housing evacuees from Kunduz,
some active mine fields in the middle of Herat,
those hundreds of living corpses vegetating in the
middle of District 6 in Kabul, then several
explosions, innumerable rotting carcasses of Soviet
tanks, the eerie and enormous US air force base near
Bagram, Massoud’s bizarre grave, white
zeppelin-drones, concrete walls, watch towers,
security checks, and hollow muzzles of various types
of guns pointing in all directions.
I’ll be tired,
exhausted, but I’ll be well aware that I have no
right to rest, not now, not anytime soon.
thinking about Cinema Pamir, about Kabul
trolleybuses, and Block 21 in the socialist-style
neighborhood of Makroyan … 4th floor,
entrance 2 or perhaps 3… I’ll keep imagining what
could have taken place there, if life had not been
so abruptly and so brutally interrupted.
Afghanistan, a stunning but terribly scarred and
injured land has been suffering from a concussion.
It has been dizzy and disoriented. It can hardly
walk. Still it being Afghanistan, it has been
walking anyway, against all odds!
night, I’ll recall what one great Cuban poet and
singer Silvio Rodriquez once wrote about Nicaragua.
And at one point, only a few moments before the dawn
would begin returning bright colors to the world,
I’ll replace Nicaragua with Afghanistan, and
suddenly realize that it is exactly what I feel
towards this beautiful and shattered nation:
“Afghanistan hurts, as only love does.”
terribly. Therefor, it is love.
would happen later, hours later. At the end I’ll
stop fighting it, and simply accept.
the old Toyota climbs back on the paved road. I can
hardly keep my eyes open. The last several days I
slept very little.
my driver and now my comrade, looks surprisingly
composed and unworried. After all this time working
with me, he is clearly ready for any adventure, or
He hands me
a bunch of tissues. My left wrist is bleeding,
although not too badly. Most likely I hit or
scratched something in the slums, without realizing
it. My cameras feel increasingly heavy and my
notebook looks filthy; I keep dropping it on the
floor. My clothes look dirty, too. But we are going,
we are moving forward, and that is good!
“It is all
fucked up, Mr. Tahir”, I inform him, politely.
he replies, with an equal doze of respect. We are a
“But we are
going”, I remind him and myself.
head drops on my chest. I open my eyes just a few
minutes later. It is already very dark. Kabul all
around me; Afghanistan. It feels good to be here.
I’m glad I came.
Jalalabad is behind… And at this hour…”
He is not
saying no. He never says ‘no’ to any of my requests,
during all those days. He is just informing me. If I
was really crazy enough and insisted, he’d just take
me. He knows we’d get fucked, perhaps even killed,
but he would not refuse. He’s my comrade and I feel
safe with him.
fell asleep… What I mean: we’ll go to Jalalabad
soon, when I return to Afghanistan.”
thinking for a few seconds. This drive, just being
here, all of it feels right, exactly as it is
supposed to be. I’m not certain where exactly I want
to go right now, but one thing I know for sure: I
have to keep going.
just drive, Mr. Tahir.”
He asks, intuitively. I know that he knows. We both
know, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
please. Drive forward. Always forward!”
Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and
investigative journalist. He has covered wars and
conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his
latest books are revolutionary novel
and two bestselling works of political non-fiction:
Lies Of The Empire”
Against Western Imperialism”.
View his other books
Andre is making films for teleSUR and Al-Mayadeen.
his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and
DRCongo. After having lived in Latin America, Africa
and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides in East Asia
and the Middle East, and continues to work around
the world. He can be reached through his website
views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily
reflect the opinions of Information Clearing