Home but not yet home. Though many Afghans brave the threats of insecurity and the difficulties of living in Afghanistan in order to live in their homeland, an
Home but not yet home. Though many Afghans brave the threats of insecurity and the difficulties of living in Afghanistan in order to live in their homeland, an increasing number of them working with the government, the international community or in organizations which are seen as pro-government, are finding it difficult to return home.
Attaullah Ahmadi heads the IT section in the Government’s Department of Communications in Ghazni city. His home is in the Kakrag area, not very far from downtown Ghazni city. For the past one year however Ahmadi has been renting a small room in Ghazni city, unable to go home because of insecurity. This was not how Ahmadi had visualized his life turning out and he is depressed about living away from his family. “I really don’t know what to do. I was away from home for many years for my education so that I could get a good job and serve my country. But even now, I am forced to be away from home.”
Worsening security and targeted assassinations of those working with the Afghan government or in its support are causing many Afghans to stay away from their homes in the volatile parts of the country. Unfortunately the number of people suffering from this enforced separation looks likely to grow with little to indicate an improvement is around the corner.
Nooria is a 5-year-old girl whose father works for a non-governmental organization in Kabul. Speaking with childish innocence, she says: “I love my grandmother, but I don’t even know her.” Nooria’s grandparents live in the volatile southern province of Helmand, a place which is particularly dangerous for people working with governmental and non-governmental organizations. The young girl has imbibed the fears related to the family living there and sobs nervously when she says “my grandmother (last) came to Kabul when I was just new born baby.”
The plight of Afghan refugees forced to leave their homeland has been well-documented as has the equally spectacular return of over 5 million back to Afghanistan. Less well-known is the phenomenon of internal displacement, which has forced a much larger number of people out of their homes and provinces to more secure areas, a problem which is growing once again as the conflict intensifies and spreads.
Hamidullah, a 24-year-old man has just returned to Afghanistan to visit his family after several years away from the country. But now he is conflicted between excitement at being back and frustration that he may still not be able to see his relatives as he cannot return to his home in Kandahar. “It was impossible for me to grasp during my journey that though I was on my way to Afghanistan, I wouldn’t be able to visit my family that lives in Kandahar. But now I am faced with the reality that I may not be able to visit them.”
It is not just that the volatile places cannot be visited. Travel to and from the areas is sometimes far more dangerous. Whereas local knowledge and local contacts may provide a measure of security to an individual once he or she reaches the village, the journey through unfamiliar territory can be a greater hazard. Most Afghans cannot afford to use air travel and are forced to go by road risking ambushes, kidnapping and explosions. Even for those who can afford airfare, the travel from the airport to the home may be fatal. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a government employee expressed frustration over the fact that the government hasn’t been able to ensure security in the provinces. He cannot afford a plane ticket and says: “I’m a government worker and my family is in Helmand province. I get to go home once a year. Even our neighbors don’t know about my presence there because I fear there would be consequences.”
As insecurity has spread, areas which were considered safe till recently have also become out of bounds. Muhammad Ali Ghaznawi, a resident of Ghazni, recalls going to the Qara Bagh district of his province last year for the inauguration of a school. “Last year, you could comfortably travel back and forth to Qara Bagh district”, he says, adding “but this year it is impossible to do so.” It is not just the fear of random violence but reports that anti-government insurgents are singling out government supporters. “I was told that the list of people helping with the school building has fallen into the hands of the Taliban – it is life-threatening”.
The government emphasizes that it is making all efforts to improve security, especially in the volatile areas. “The leadership of the Ministry of Interior is working on a number of plans aimed at eliminating the security threats” says Ministry spokesman Zamaray Bashary. “If we’re talking about the south of Afghanistan, there are plans for out there.” Siamak Herawi, assistant to the president’s spokesman also confirms this saying: “There are long-term and short-term plans. As capacities of Afghan security organizations are built, more attention will be given to the south of the country.”
The promises offer but a faint hope to Afghans who live amidst the day to day tension without the support and succor from their families from whom they are separated.
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