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Young and Minority Leaders

Fighting History With a New Future

Soraab Balkhi asked:

It has been two years since I’ve found an interest in my country’s history and political happenings. It’s a natural process that a person goes through as they mature, to think of more serious issues in life. And anyone from Afghanistan would have an abundant amount of unanswered questions and he or she finds that they can no longer be indifferent about the state of the country. Any responsible person with a conscious would have questions and once they examine the events they won’t judge the situation but instead make up their own mind about what went wrong within the society. I feel that everyone has a responsibility to go through this process.

I was born under the umbrella of the destruction and bloodshed and sadly it was considered the norm of my time. I have heard the cries of mothers who have lost their children. I have heard the sound of war planes passing over my head, dropping the bombs that destroyed the towns and villages that people called homes. I have seen and known people who, in less than one minute, have lost their houses, their families, their entire livelihood and these people will have to remember the horrific events that changed their lives forever. I remember one day when I was playing with the neighborhood kids on the dusty streets of Kabul and we saw the streams of Kabul flow with blood instead of water. I have heard the whistling sound of the rockets as they showered down on my neighborhood, breaking the windows of my house as they hit my neighbors all around. I’ve seen whole families die in the wreckage, the blast destroying everything near them and they were heard of no more. Every day, every hour, every minute, we were waiting to see who would be next to be hit by these blind rockets. I have seen and known the bestiality of human nature, the barbarism, the horrors of what people are capable of. I will remember it all for the rest of my life.

I am not alone, though. Most people in the cities and countryside have witnessed the same thing. There were days in Kabul that were much darker than the night. I remember once a starving blind man who the Taliban had caught stealing a pair of shoes was made to ride atop a carriage, his face blackened and the shoes tied together and thrown around his neck like a mock necklace, made to parade around the streets in shame. Afterwards, in the infamous stadium, the same man’s hands were cut off. In that same stadium, I have heard the cries of women who were being whipped and who were shot with AK-47s. All for petty crimes like stealing a loaf of bread to feed their children, or venturing out without a male family member. The fire from all of this violence and hatred and deaths was ignited and fueled by years of ignorance, intolerance and a lack of acceptance of one another. And this fire has been passed from one era to the next, from one generation to another and each generation has made the gap of hatred wider and the situation worsened as the years passed by. Eventually the outcome will be the destruction of us all.

Unfortunately, Afghanistan does not have competent politicians or intellectuals or leadership. There are people who claim they will put the country on the right track and they promise utopia for the people but they only worsen the situation. They hold a pen in their hands and they call themselves intellectuals but their fantastical writings on supposed past patriotism and heroism will not help the country or its people at all. These kinds of writings will not solve the immediate needs of the people. The politicians who grab all the power always talk about gaining and keeping the national unity. If one asks these politicians what is their definition of national unity they would make up a definition that would serve their agenda. Basically, our elite group – the so-called intellectuals – has lost their ways and their goals have changed. They have lost their morality and can no longer tell the difference between right and wrong. They are more interested in fulfilling their own immediate needs and they are nothing but opportunists who are after their own personal advancement. One day they are supporting one group and the next day they are with a different group altogether. For example, some people supported the Taliban when the group was in power but once they were toppled and Karzai was instated as the president, those same people changed their support from the Taliban to western-back Karzai. Is it possible, now, to label these people as intellectuals? Their greed has taken over their conscious and they care more for filling their pockets more than they do about taking care of the people. To be an intellectual should be based on a moral and principled phenomenon not on a materialistic one.

One of the topics that have captured the attention of these writers and intellectuals is the issue of national identity. It is agreed upon that an important aim is to unite the individuals of a country full of multi-ethnic minorities. In this society, the lack of this unity is the reason why the people have suffered for so long. Bringing about this national unity is the key to tolerance and co-existence because, so far, the lack of it has kept the people apart for centuries. If it is not taken care of soon, this dire situation that has befallen the country will keep repeating itself and the cycle of horror will continue. However, the current suggestion of maintaining the name ‘Afghan’ as the unifying identity of the people and the name of the country is no longer acceptable nor is it fair. At this point, it’s a given that the names ‘Afghan’ and ‘Afghanistan’ refers to only one of the ethnic groups, Pashtuns. I do not want to spend my time disputing this issue because at this point everyone knows it. The real problem is that this word, this name, is being forced upon the country for all the other different ethnic groups and they are told to go by this name as well. It is registered in our constitution that each person should be referred to as an Afghan.

This name ‘Afghan’ would have been easier to accept if it did not have its roots in the bloodshed and deterioration of our people and country. But the fact is that in the past two centuries, all of Afghanistan’s dictator, leaders, sellouts were a part of this one identity, the Afghans. I wish that instead of these horrendous injustices and crimes, these leaders would have known something about equality, brotherhood, unity, justice, and tolerance. I wish that so many horrible crimes had not been committed under this ‘Afghan’ name against the other ethnicities of the country. But the fact remains that under the name of ‘Afghan’ the other ethnic groups were oppressed, killed, their rights were taken away, their homes were stolen, and under this name extra privileges were given to the Pashtuns. I do wish that all of this had not occurred but it can not be changed or undone. ‘Afghan’ is connected to all that has gone wrong with the country.

It’s only logical and rational that every individual should be proud of their identity and their country, both names are important because wherever he or she goes, they are known by them and connotations of those names follows them. These two names, the identity and the country name, should also be willingly accepted by everyone in the country, not forced on them. Only then will everyone be proud of the names and they will have a sense of belonging and they will willingly defend them as well. This is why the first positive step we should take toward national unity is to collectively agree on a more representative name because ‘Afghan’ is not working out and never will. Once we have established a fair identity, then it will refrain people from taking advantage of a weakened country. The gap between us all will shorten and we will no longer be used by others whose intentions are to gain as mu
ch as they can from promoting the name ‘Afghan.’ There are people who adamantly try to push the name of ‘Afghan’ because they have finan
cial and personal gain at stake, they make up songs, slogans, and mottos that they want the public to swallow. It is these same people who oppose the name-change are the ones who can help open the door to peace. They have always had a biased stance when it came to this issue.

The interesting thing is that those who oppose the name-change attack those who support it by calling them traitors and accusing them of not wanting national unity. They fail to see or they intentionally ignore the fact the name change is to support a national unity, not go against it. They think that those who ask for social justice wish to divide the nation. Their other excuse is that changing the name of the country will not solve the problems of the country and that the name is not important. These people who refuse to discuss this issue in a mature and open manner are only looking at the surface of the problem. The name of our people and of our country is very important because it should acknowledge the diversity of our country. Each ethnicity is important and by recognizing the value of each group it will encourage them to get closer to one another. They will be able to allow the past to stay in the past and start anew. They won’t be compelled to remember the horrors of what the name ‘Afghan’ represents because they have moved on from that era. Everyone knows the weight a name has on an individual. The first thing parents do for their baby is think of a name; before the child is even born, the parents go through a vigorous process of thinking of the right name. Afterwards, everything good or bad the child does in their entire life is recorded under his or her name. The same goes for Afghanistan and the Afghans. If I were to meet someone named Gulbuddin, the first thoughts to come into my head would be associated with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his crimes. I would be extra cautious of that child named Gulbuddin even if I don’t know them and I would also be extra wary of the child’s parents for willingly naming their child after such a man. Almost every name comes with preconceived notions attached to them. Why continuously enforce a name like Afghan that has nothing but bad attributes?

It’s my belief that every honest intellectual has a positive and willing stance on this issue because it will benefit our country. Everyone will be a winner because everyone wants justice and equality. I suggest that everyone who seeks justice should campaign for this in any way they can: write letters to your representatives in Parliament, bring the issues to the attention of the provincial authorities, hold gatherings, write articles about it, tell your children and encourage them, and so on. Do not allow the media to ignore it any longer.

My aim is not to take any legitimate rights away from any ethnic group and to give extra illegitimate rights to another group. I’m just another young Afghanistani immigrant who lives in near poverty in an alien society outside of Afghanistan. I think the only way to bring unity to the country is for us all to tolerate and accept each other, not in pretense but with honesty and sincerity. If we do not want the dark history to repeat itself then we need to abolish the shaky foundation that we currently have and establish a foundation based on understanding and equality that can only be achieved with a fresh start. This must take part in Afghanistan as well as outside it because those Afghanistanis who live outside of Afghanistan must advocate the name change and must no longer act indifferent to the needs of their country. We must find a solution instead of adding more fuel to the fire.

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