I have been in Afghanistan for just over a week. It has been eventful in that I have been meeting a host of new people, getting adjusted to a new work environment, getting adapted to the food, weather and of course security.
I had the opportunity to travel into rural Afghanistan last Wednesday. On my way I went through the famous Salang pass in the mighty Hindukush mountain range. Also visited the town of Istalif which is an hour away from Kabul and (in)famous for the devastation caused by the civil war and its traditional pottery.
There are two things that have struck my mind in this one week and this is what I am going to write about.
The impact of nearly three decades of war on this beautiful land is palpable. You cannot escape it. Be it burnt down tanks / troop carriers abandoned on the side of roads or in the mountains, broken down homes, building walls pockmarked with bullets or armed soldiers / militia on the street. Oh yes.. there is another thing.. There are a disproportionate number of men with injuries and disabilities – almost certainly carried from the war. The images are everywhere and they haunt you all the time. When I visited Istalif, it was almost hard to believe the local person who told me that the town was a great picnic spot for the rich and elite of Kabul only a few decades ago. Most of the houses are broken down (bombed out) and the local populace has fled never to return. This town is located at a strategic place and whoever controls it can control a large surrounding plains … anyway.. this is apparently what has happened all over the country.. Sad.. what humans can do to each other.
Another aspect is the security restrictions under which most of the expatriate community lives. Things that are perfectly normal for me when in India are just not possible here. No shopping unless I go by car to specific areas only, eating out in ‘approved’ restaurants only, no walking unless there are two of us at any time and that too on ‘approved’ roads, no driving, car checked for limpet bombs when one comes inside the compound, three doors to any restaurant with only one opening at one time, frisking, metal detectors… etc etc.. But then one can never get too relaxed about security. A few restrictions are better than being sorry later. I intend to fully comply with these restrictions that are meant for my safety anyway. At the end of the day abductions for ransom, bombings are not exactly uncommon here! At the same time I must say that it is not as if the local population is hiding behind locked doors. All around one can see evidence of a life that is as normal as it can be in these circumstances. Anyway, this experience has and will make me value the liberties that we take for granted back home.. Never again shall I be able to do the ‘normal’ things without a small thought for this experience.
As I sign off for now I can only promise (threaten!) to come out with more of these impressions in course of the next year.